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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Ted Gioia on the Moon Landing and Science Fiction

Long before NASA was founded, the ABCs of sci-fi (Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke) and others of their profession had been chronicling the exploration of the universe in works of imaginative fiction. The moon landing was their shining moment, and the public recognized it as much as did the writers themselves. When the TV networks sought out talking heads for their coverage, science fiction writers were on the top of their list.

At the moment that Eagle landed, Arthur C. Clarke was sitting next to Walter Cronkite. Earlier that day, the writer told millions of viewers, during an interview with Harry Reasoner, that the space mission was a “down payment on the future of mankind.” After the moonwalk, Cronkite engaged Clarke and Robert Heinlein in their favorite activity— speculation about the future. The sci-fi veterans could hardly have been more optimistic. Heinlein refused to put limits on where space travel might lead. “We’re going out indefinitely,” he proclaimed.

ABC countered with Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl, pulp fiction veterans, interviewed by Rod Serling. Ray Bradbury, for his part, had always been more partial to Mars than the moon in his writings, and he proved to be the spoilsport of the day. Bradbury walked out on David Frost’s Moon Party, a peculiar British TV concoction which countered the news coverage of the historic events with strange entertainment, featuring everything from Englebert Humperdink to a discussion on the ethics of the lunar landing involving A. J. P. Taylor and Sammy Davis, Jr. Bradbury was so moved by the Apollo landing that he was in tears. The irreverence of Frost’s coverage was more than he could bear.

link: Curse You, Neil Armstrong!

[Click over and read the whole piece: it's terrific.]


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