Sometime in 2011, if all goes as planned, the United States will launch the final mission of the Space Shuttle and, thereafter, this country will no longer have a vehicle to carry men and women into space. The last four missions of the Space Shuttle, the next of which, STS-131, are scheduled to launch on or after April 5. These final missions should complete construction of the International Space Station but, ironically, when completed, the United States will have no way to get there on its own.
I first went to Cape Kennedy on December 6, 1972, to cover the launch of Apollo 17, the final American mission to the Moon. The Apollo 17 launch was the culmination of whirlwind programs that had begun only 11 years earlier, in May 1961, when President John Kennedy declared America would land on the Moon before the end of the 1960s and safely return the crew to Earth.
Kennedy would not live to see it, but on July 20, 1969, NASA put not one, but two men on the Moon (a third remained in orbit above the Moon). It was a stunning technological and scientific achievement. The United States likely would have walked on the Moon at least a year earlier; a fire in the Apollo 1 capsule killed three astronauts and delayed the program.
At Cape Canaveral, December 6-7, 1972
The mood at the Cape the morning I picked up my press credentials was festive. The Apollo program may have been ending, but NASA had aggressive plans for the exploration of space. Everyone I visited with that day was certain that this was the dawn of the age of space.
Funding from the federal government had been limitless, and the goal simple: Put a man on the Moon as fast and possible and get him back alive. Cost was not the issue – speed and safety and beating the Russians to the Moon were. Support for the program was huge – over 4,000 journalists from around the world joined me at the press site just three miles from the launch site.
After picking up my credentials, I had to keep moving that morning…
Photograph Apollo News Center, December 1972, by petecrow
Content of this Site includes copyrighted excerpts from a forthcoming book; entire site, contents and photographs are © 2010 by either Peter M Crow, by Seine/Harbour Productions®, Studio City, California, or by both.