This past President’s Day marked the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Friendship 7 Mercury spaceship, manned by astronaut John Glenn, who took off into outer space on February 20, 1962.
This was a big day in American history. President John F. Kennedy, in his inaugural speech, stated that it would be the goal of the U.S. to launch an spacecraft carrying American astronauts to the moon, landing on the surface, and returning them safely to the Earth. America was behind the Soviet Union in term of space travel and Kennedy wasn’t satisfied with that. He wanted us to be #1.
I was only 7 years old at that time and was in the second grade at St. Michael’s School in Dallas (in the Preston Center area). But I remember the teachers and the staff bringing in TV sets to have the kids see the launch live. Even to this date, I can remember CBS’s Walter Cronkite anchor the coverage. Cronkite had not yet taken over the reigns of the CBS Evening News yet but was definitely showing the CBS brass that he was their man for the big events. And he was their man for all future space launches, including that day in July 1969 when we landed men on the moon safely. Cronkite was, according to his peers, the most curious individual they had ever met. He wanted to know everything about the who, what, where, why, and how of journalism and even in the tough times, if Cronkite was there, you knew he would get us through it.
At NBC News, Chet Huntley and David Brinkley did a lot of coverage for that network on space launches. At ABC News, it was Jules Bergman and Frank Reynolds.
TV made space travel come alive 50 years ago and to this day Americans remain fascinated with it.