Space Coverage

How many of you remember where you were and what you were doing on October 4, 1957?  That was the day the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth. Interestingly, the Eisenhower administration did not see the launch as particularly noteworthy.  But newspaper headlines the next day showed the public was in a state of shock and fear about this Russian “moon” flying over American cities.  In fact, there is evidence that the Sputnik “debacle” was more of a media-generated frenzy than an actual failure of American science and engineering.

How many of you remember those early days of the space race, when every rocket launch made the front page of the newspaper, and television coverage sometimes lasted all day?  Those were heady days then, when everyone recognized project names such as Vanguard and Explorer, and personal names like Gagarin, Shepherd and Glenn, and the world was thrilled by the sound of rockets with names like Delta and Atlas blasting into space. Of course, the last Space Shuttle launch last week generated almost non-stop news coverage, but only because it was the last shuttle launch.

My guess is that now news coverage of space activities will become as adrift as our space policy itself.  Space exploration, robotic and human-based has almost become routine, and the news doesn't cover routine events. We’ve all heard the expression, “Nature abhors a vacuum.”  In the case of science news and science education, that vacuum is too often filled by pseudo-science, paranormal claims and, as I read just last week, claims that people can communicate telepathically with animals.     Whether or not we should even be in space is still a topic that spurs heated debate and passion among scientists and observers.  But space technology benefits all of our lives, and the more we know about it, the better.  And the better the news coverage ought to be.
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