Covering Apollo: Jules Bergman at ABC News

Jules Bergman demonstrating Skylab/Apollo in 1973.

Jules Bergman demonstrating Skylab/Apollo in 1973.

The son of New York business people Irving and Ruth B. Bergman, Jules Verne Bergman was born to cover the Apollo program in the 1960s and early 1970s. Educated in journalism Bergman went to work for CBS, then Time magazine, and later WFDR-FM radio in New York City. After a stint in military service during the Korean War, Bergman returned to New York City in 1953 and became a news writer with ABC Television and Radio. He remained with ABC News for the rest of his career, progressing from a junior staff writer through reporter to science editor.

When named as science editor for ABC in 1961, Bergman became the first network correspondent in the United States assigned to report exclusively on that subject. It was a recognition of the significance of science in American life for ABC News, but it was also an opportunity for Bergman as a relatively young reporter to carve an important niche for himself covering such dramatic and photogenic news stories as the American space program.

As science editor for ABC News Bergman made his reputation covering the nascent U.S. space program. He especially focused on the activities of the astronauts, helping to put a human face on a highly technological endeavor. Early on, Bergman went on location for his reports on the space program to give his audience “not an ivory-tower discussion of science, but an on-the-spot report of discoveries, which are changing the lives of human beings daily.” He covered all 54 human spaceflight missions in the United States between the first launch of Alan Shepard on 5 May 1961 and the Challenger accident of 28 January 1986, many of them from the launch site at Cape Canaveral, Florida, or mission control in Houston, Texas.

Bergman brought a special zest to space program reporting by traveling with the astronauts and participating in their training and exercise regimens.  For instance, in one report he road a centrifuge to the sustained force of five gravities to demonstrate how astronauts prepared for launches into space, and his on-camera wrap-up called the experience “exhilarating.” During the Mercury program’s flight of M. Scott Carpenter in 1962, Bergman reported on the biomedical monitoring of astronauts by being placed in a harness with sensors to record vital signs. The instruments showed that he was under as much stress during his twelve hours on the air as the astronaut in orbit.

Jules Bergman and Peter Jennings at ASTP launch in 1975.

Jules Bergman and Peter Jennings at the ASTP launch in 1975.

In the end, Bergman’s linkage to the space program proved a symbiotic relationship. His reporting helped to make the U.S. space program one of the best known and best liked activities of the federal government. At the same time, the space program helped to make Jules Bergman a household name in the America of the 1960s. Officials in charge of the space effort solicited his assistance both to explain their complex technologies and the rationale for their program. In turn, Bergman sought their support to give his reporting more credibility, insight, and excitement.

Jules Bergman also developed a series of award-winning documentaries for ABC News during the 1960s and 1970s. In 1962 he developed the special, “90 Seconds in Space,” about Project Mercury, and in 1965 “Anyone Can Fly.” In 1974 he wrote and narrated the documentary, “Fire,” which received an Emmy Award. He also produced “Weekend Athletes” (1975), “Danger in Sports” (1975), “Crashes, Illusions of Safety” (1975), “Asbestos, The Dusty Way to Death” (1978), and “Dupont” (1982).

In the latter 1970s Bergman was diagnosed with a meningioma, a nonmalignant brain tumor, which was removed but he was plagued for the rest of his life with growths from his skull and had several operations to remove them. He also developed epilepsy during this period and took medication to control seizures. These health issues slowed Bergman’s career significantly in the 1980s. He died of an apparent seizure at age 57 in his apartment bathtub on February 12, 1987.

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3 Responses to Covering Apollo: Jules Bergman at ABC News

  1. spacegary says:

    Thanks for this. I always enjoyed Jules’ serious approach to space coverage but never knew of his health problems.


  2. David Shomper, ex-Apollo engineer says:

    I was an engineer on Gemini and Apollo at KSC. In April of 1985, I was in town on business out in Clear Lake and was staying at the Hilton right across from JSC. I was swimming in the pool after work and recognized Berman, so I went over to him and we had a nice chat about the early days. He asked me to keep an eye on him while he swam per his doctor’s orders, due to the epilepsy. He then invited me to tour the ABC news studio which was up and running during STS-51-D. He introduced me all around and invited me to an ABC party that night, but I foolishly passed. Everyone seemed to be very protective of Jules. I always enjoyed his space coverage; a real pro, no goofing around.

    Liked by 3 people

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