Some Thoughts on Walter Cronkite and the Space Program


Walter Cronkite covering Apollo in the 1960s.

Walter Cronkite covering Apollo in the 1960s.

Walter Cronkite (1916-2009) was the longtime anchor of the CBS evening news between  1962 and 1981. A dedicated journalist, he became a voice of trust for many Americans in the 1960s, providing news summaries and commentary on the most critical stories of the decade. One of them was the space program, which he covered personally from both studios in New York City and the Kennedy Space Center. He was a self-proclaimed space advocate and he is closely identified with the human spaceflight efforts of the 1960s, especially the Apollo missions to the Moon which he anchored. Here are a few facts and quotes about Walter Cronkite:

  • He was on NASA’s list of potential journalists in space (one of 40 finalists), “I can’t imagine any red-blooded person not wanting to get into space,” he said. “My biggest problem would have been that I would be disappointed that I was only going into Earth orbit. I would love to go deep in space, to the moon. I’d like to get out there and get a look at our planet, our little blue planet out there in the sea of dark.”
  • His interest in flight began with a biplane ride with his father in the 1920s. The plane’s engine failed on takeoff, but the pilot managed to hop over a fence and land in a field.
  • During the launch of Apollo 4, the first launch of the Saturn V rocket, he exclaimed: “The building is shaking. Oh, it’s terrific. We’re holding the glass wall with our hands. The roar is terrific. Look at that rocket going , look at it going! You can see it, you can see it! Part of the roof has come in here.” (November 9, 1967)
  • Art Buchwald once wrote about how his wife identified with Cronkite more than the astronauts, virtually believing that he was responsible for whether things went well or not on Apollo. His mood was a barometer for how things were going on Apollo 10 in May 1969.
  • During the 1960s, it was “Walter’s extraordinary coverage of space, more than anything else” that enabled the CBS Evening News to overtake NBC’s Huntley-Brinkley report in the network ratings. (CNN/USA president Rick Kaplan, once one of Cronkite’s producers at CBS). “In that age of TV, Walter Cronkite was as well-known as John Glenn.” (60 Minutes creator Don Hewitt).
  • Cronkite wrote a stirring ode to space exploration near the end of his life. “Yes, indeed, we are the lucky generation,” he wrote. In this era we “first broke our earthly bonds and ventured into space. From our descendants’ perches on other planets or distant space cities, they will look back at our achievement with wonder at our courage and audacity and with appreciation at our accomplishments, which assured the future in which they live.”
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3 Responses to Some Thoughts on Walter Cronkite and the Space Program

  1. James Oberg says:

    I agree on every point, and share some specific memories, with the cautionary nuance [that Cronkite would likely have agreed with] that he wasn’t the ultimate expert and made some significant factual flubs, forgivably: http://www.thespacereview.com/article/570/1

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    • John Getter says:

      Jim is so right, and the piece upon which he comments is right on. Writers like Jim are a rare and critically important part of capturing detailed history. He brings a scientist/engineer brain to his storytelling. Walter Cronkite brought the utter passion that drove people like astronauts and those who, like Jim supported and enabled them. He made the public feel as though they were [part of the team. As an admitted space cadet, I remind all that long after people forget what you said, they’ll recall how you made them feel. Walter made them feel like the daring explorers he covered. He excited and motivated the public. Sadly, NASA has lost that ability. I mourn that.

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  2. krafft@starpower.net says:

    For your enjoyment, see attached.

    Krafft Ehricke explaining to Cronkite the operation of an orbiting hospital, Sept. 26, 1966. (courtesy of Krafft Ehricke)

    Like

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