Saturday, June 15, 2013
THE DAY TV NEWS SET ITS EYES ON THE SKIES - THE FIRST AMERICAN LAUNCHED INTO SPACE - NBC-TV - CIRCA MAY 5, 1961
It took less than 15 minutes for Astronaut Alan Shepard, supported by thousands of NASA technicians, government contractors and military personnel, to accomplish a daring dream of human adventure and scientific exploration, that would come to typify the baby-boom generation's sense of bravado : putting an American into space.
Shepard, a decorated Naval aviator and an accomplished engineer, was among the first class of 7 Astronauts who would risk
their lives to launch the America's manned-spaceflight program, NASA's Project Mercury.
On May 5th, 1961, in the face of uncooperative weather and technical challenges, Shepard's Freedom 7 capsule , mounted atop a Redstone guided missile, thundered into space from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
It was a sub-orbital flight of 15 minutes duration, but it was this country's first step into space.
It came at just the right time for a nation was that unsure it could find the footing to take its first steps toward the stars. The Soviets had just put Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin into Earth Orbit, while American missiles, designed by German scientists who had emigrated to the US after World War II, kept exploding on the launch pad.
Shepard's flight gave America the confidence to move forward and upward into space.
At NBC News, division president Robert Kitner had launched his own experiment in broadcast journalism, the INSTANT NEWS SPECIAL.
His innovative vision was to produce wide-ranging, LIVE, special coverage of major stories as they develped, that would culminate in a prime-time, news program.
The Race For Space Between the United States and what was then the Soviet Union, offered the perfect opportunity to test this new and vibrant form of journalism.
While the US and the Soviets battled for supremacy in space, NBC and CBS ran the race for ratings.
At NBC, the smart and savvy Frank McGee anchored the network's television coverage of Project Mercury with superlative support from radio correspondent Jay Barbaree, whose daily beat was the manned space flight program.
At CBS News, anchorman Walter Cronkite owned the story. In years to come, he would fly with Astronauts in simulated weightless conditions and is alleged to have inquired about the possibility of being the first Journalist in space.
This was also one of the few stories on whichthe fledging ABC News division would shine, based on the expertise of the late Jules Bergman, who was as knowledgeable about NASA and the science of space fight
' as any Astronaut.
Just as Project Mercury was a Templar for the missions to the Moon that followed, NBC's coverage of early space exploration laid the foundation for major, breaking news coverage at the network level and for cable news.
Below, from the MR. DAN BEAUMONT YOU TUBE site,is a rare excerpt from an NBC NEWS SPECIAL REPORT WITH FRANK McGEE on THE FLIGHT OF FREEDOM 7.