People who were not directly involved with the Apollo 11 moon landing, 50 years ago, experienced the event in a passive manner, sitting in front of an analog television set, watching the transmissions from the lunar surface while commentators described what was happening on another world in awestruck, breathless tones. It is estimated that 500 million people watched the first moon landing on a planet that contained just 3.5 billion people. Apollo 11 was the most watched and most expensive reality show in human history.
Roger Launius, quoting polling data, suggests that Americans by and large opposed spending money on flights to the moon. The exception occurred during the flight of Apollo 11, when 53 percent favored lunar exploration. On the other hand, roughly 1 million people came to what was then called Cape Kennedy to witness the departure of Apollo 11. The dichotomy will likely be debated by historians for the foreseeable future.
Fast forward 50 years. NASA is embarked on its third attempt to send Americans back to the moon, called Project Artemis. Noting a sense of urgency, President TrumpDonald TrumpGraham says he hopes that Trump runs again Trump says Stacey Abrams 'might be better than existing governor' Kemp Executive privilege fight poses hurdles for Trump MORE has ordered the space agency to land the “first woman and the next man” on the lunar surface by 2024. Meeting the deadline will be daunting, from a technical, fiscal and political standpoint. Then again, a number of media talking heads back in the 1960s thought that landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the Earth by the end of the decade was unrealistic, too.
What will the day we return to the moon be like? One has to remember that media technology has changed remarkably since the three big networks beaming images into living rooms. The experience of the next moon landing will be far more interactive for the now billions who will follow it.
The people of Earth will be able to comment on, argue about, and express their emotions on the mission to return to the moon on social media in ways that would have been almost unimaginable 50 years ago. NASA, its international allies, and commercial partners would do well to monitor these social media activities, and even participate in them. The powers that will execute the lunar mission will be able to keep tabs on political sentiment about what they are doing and, in some ways, to help shape it.
Even today, five years from the planned moon landing, personalities such as NASA Administrator Jim BridenstineJames (Jim) Frederick BridenstineSpaceX all-civilian crew returns to Earth, successfully completing 3-day mission SpaceX all-civilian crew calls Tom Cruise from space How will Biden's Afghanistan debacle impact NASA's Artemis return to the moon? MORE and SpaceX CEO Elon MuskElon Reeve MuskElon Musk, Grimes split after three years together UN secretary-general blasts space tourism Elon Musk promises upgraded toilets, Wi-Fi on next SpaceX flight MORE have become social media influencers, directly communicating their vision to millions. In turn, people have been able to respond, having been granted access to the famous and powerful that was impossible just a few years ago.
People will have plenty of opportunities to experience the next moon landing just as their grandparents did the first one. All three cable news networks will cover the event, wall to wall. Talking heads will interview an endless number of guests and will hold endless round tables trying to grasp the meaning of the event. In the meantime, cable networks such as the Science Channel and the History Channel will broadcast specials leading up to and following the next moonwalk.
For people who think television is so 20th century, a load of live streaming options will be available, helpfully provided by NASA and other organizations involved in the return to the moon. And here a unique, 21st-century opportunity exists to allow people to experience walking on the moon in a way that would be second only to being on the lunar surface.
Police officers regularly wear body cams to record their interactions with the public and to record the true story of controversial events such as officer-involved shootings. The Artemis astronauts should wear similar cameras on their suits, to transmit live what they experience on the moon.
The images from those suit cams could be transmitted live to millions of screens around the world. Indeed, the images could be transmitted to virtual reality glasses. People who wear them would be, at least visually, on the moon with the astronauts. How that capability will shape public attitudes about going back to the moon can only be imagined.
If NASA or one of the commercial companies involved in returning to the moon is not diligently working to provide the capability to take the people of Earth virtually to the moon, someone would be well advised to do so with all due speed. Reality show? Try reality experience.