The news that NASA is considering a scheme to send a crew of astronauts on board an Orion spacecraft, launched by a heavy lift #Space Launch System, in a trip around the moon has caused a range of reaction from people who follow space issues. The reactions include deep skepticism and even scorn from some to thoughtful acknowledgments that the thing is likely technically feasible, albeit risky and likely expensive.
But, an unofficial poll by this writer of people who do not follow space from day to day elicited a universally enthusiastic reaction.
The media does not do event space missions any longer, which is to say voyages of discovery that are so profound, so exciting that coverage goes wall to wall. More typically, news media will break in for just a few minutes and announce, for example, SpaceX has launched the latest Dragon cargo ship to the International Space Station and, by the way, landed the first stage back at the Kennedy Space Center. The latter feat, considered so extraordinary, has become routine, at least in the minds of the media if not the engineers at SpaceX.
The Apollo flights to the #moon were events covered extensively by the media, though with decreasing levels of enthusiasm as voyages to Earth’s nearest neighbor seemed to become annoying and people started to complain about their favorite soaps and game shows being preempted. The reading living in the 21st Century may find that fact incredible, but there it was..
If NASA decides that a flight around the moon can be done, the Trump administration approves of it, and Congress funds it, people should get ready for the return of space as a #Media Event. The phenomenon will take place in an era where platforms for experiencing news have vastly expanded from what was the case in 1972, the year of the last Apollo mission to the moon.
Remember, only three major TV networks existed in the United States when the Apollo missions landed on the moon. Time spent covering the moon missions was time not spent on the episodic television. No such thing as DVR, cable news, the Science Channel, and indeed not live streaming on the Internet existed. All of those platforms and more will be available in 2019.
The closest analog to traditional TV news coverage of the first voyage by astronauts beyond low Earth orbit will be on the cable news networks, with the bonus that some of the opinion talking heads on Fox, CNN, and MSNBC will weigh in with panel discussions, special guests, and monologs. If you are a former astronaut, a science fiction writer, a retired aerospace engineer, you might want to start contacting bookers to get some air time..
The traditional networks, by the way, will likely try wall to wall coverage as well, but their style will seem stale and uninteresting.
What if you’re tired of cable news bloviating? No doubt the Science Channel, the Discovery Channel, and so on will have a lot of special programming and even some live coverage. For people who find any kind of TV to be so 20th Century, live streaming from various organizations on the Internet will be available. SpaceX has a great operation for its space launches in which some of their more media savvy young engineers explain what is going on without the filter of network journalists.
In any case, if the return to the Moon is a go, get ready for the greatest reality show since the last Apollo moon mission, not decades from now, but in a couple of years. And it really will be a reality, with the possibility of death and the hope of triumph and awe present.