48 years ago on this date, July 20, 1969, about 600 million people gathered by their radios and televisions to watch and listen in real time to the landing of astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on the surface of the moon. This event not only marks an influential moment in technological history, but also in the history of media and communication.
Interestingly, all of the shared enthusiasm and positivity around the NASA mission was close to not being possible, as many NASA engineers believed that live broadcasting from the moon would take too much effort and money. The public affairs team for NASA was forced to step in and insist on the importance of the live video due to the community support they had to gather for the Apollo missions, which was garnered to justify spending billions of tax dollars. Once pride abounded in the country, NASA was able to do more than just promote their cause. They educated the media, who became third-party spokespeople for the program, and through both television and newspapers, they would tell the space story the public was so eager to hear. In their own publicity efforts, however, NASA was strategically avoiding the argument over cost and previous failures. Instead, the agency positively branded the astronauts’ faces as representing American ingenuity, pride, and bravery. Many believe that public relations played a crucial role in getting public support for America’s race to the moon, which it ultimately reached before the Soviets.
Richard Jurek, a public relations specialist, referred to the significance of the event by claiming that, “Apollo’s place in our collective memories is chiseled there because we experienced it together. NASA didn’t just send three men to the moon on the Apollo 11 mission, they sent more than 600 million of us—men, women, and children from all over the globe—to the moon and back, thanks to live television.”