Recently Tim Peake, a British astronaut who did a six-month tour on the international space station, sat down for an interview with Amanda Holden on ITV’s “This Morning” that airs in the UK. Holden asked Peake a peculiar question. “When you went to the Moon did you take a piece of the Moon and bring it back with you?” Palms struck faces and jaws dropped across the United Kingdom. Apparently Ms. Holden, who also hosts “Britain’s Got Talent,” was unaware that the last man to walk on the moon was the late Gene Cernan in December 1972, long before Ms.

Holden or Peake had been born. Peake blandly explained that he went to the International Space Station and not the moon.

The quality of TV space journalism wasn’t always so weak

Once upon a time, when the United States was racing the Soviet Union to the moon, the quality of TV space journalism was far more exceptional than it was now. The most knowledgeable talking head of that era was ABC News’ Jules Bergman, who could always be counted on to relate accurate facts and figures during the coverage of space missions of the time.

The journalistic face of the Apollo program was CBS News anchorman Walter Cronkite, who covered just about every major news event in that position from the JFK assassination to the 1980 presidential election.

He was not as knowledgeable as Bergman (no one was then) but he was able to express the excitement and awe of watching men from Earth working on the moon. Uncle Walter, as many called him, would never have made a rookie mistake as Amanda Holden did.

Space journalism in the 21st Century

Space has not been the focus of media attention as it was in the 1960s.

News from the ISS, while of interest to space fans, has not been as exciting for a mass market as moon landings were. To be sure, every time a robotic probe such as Cassini or New Horizons returns spectacular pictures, the media takes notice for a moment or two. By and large, Washington scandals and terrorism have dominated the news for most of the 21st Century.

That situation is about to change. Space travel, both by NASA and by commercial companies, is about to take off, to coin a phrase. The Google Lunar XPrize is likely to cause one or more private moon landings in the first quarter of 2018. American astronauts will soon be riding to the ISS on American commercial rockets. In a few years, people will be back on the moon.

Space journalism is going to have to step up if the new age of space exploration is to be adequately covered. We’ll examine how in Part II of this essay.

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