Apollo 7: A Turning Point in Public Perception of the Space Race

Apollo 7, launched on October 11, 1968, marked a significant milestone in NASA’s Apollo program and the broader space race between the United States and the Soviet Union. This mission, the first crewed flight of the Apollo spacecraft, aimed to test vital systems and procedures necessary for future lunar missions. While the technical aspects of Apollo 7 were crucial, equally important was its impact on public perception and media coverage of the space program.

The launch of Apollo 7 occurred against a backdrop of Cold War tensions and national pride. The mission’s success was critical for NASA, as it followed the tragic Apollo 1 fire that claimed the lives of three astronauts in 1967. Public and media scrutiny was intense, with varying opinions on the value and risks of the space program.

Popular magazines of the era captured the excitement and apprehension surrounding Apollo 7. Life magazine’s October 11, 1968 issue featured an article titled “The Moon in Their Pocket: The Manned Space Race Heats Up,” which reflected the competitive nature of the space race. The article’s tone was one of cautious optimism, acknowledging the risks while emphasizing the potential rewards of space exploration. The writer noted, “With each successful mission, America inches closer to achieving President Kennedy’s bold vision of landing a man on the moon by the end of the decade.”[^1]

Similarly, Look magazine’s November 12, 1968 issue contained a piece titled “Three in a Fire Chariot: Apollo 7 Blazes the Trail for the Moon.” The article’s language was more poetic and evocative, drawing parallels between the Apollo astronauts and mythical heroes. The writer observed, “As Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walt Cunningham soared into the Florida sky, they carried with them not just the hopes of a nation, but the dreams of humanity itself.”[^2] This romanticized portrayal reflected a broader trend in media coverage, which often framed astronauts as modern-day explorers pushing the boundaries of human achievement.

Newspaper coverage of Apollo 7 provided a more immediate and factual account of the mission. The New York Times’ front-page article on October 12, 1968, titled “Apollo 7 Soars into Space on Test Flight for Moon Mission,” struck a balance between technical detail and broader implications. Jack Wallace, the author, wrote, “The successful launch of Apollo 7 represents a crucial step forward in NASA’s lunar ambitions, while also serving as a powerful demonstration of American technological prowess.”[^3] This framing of the mission as both a scientific endeavor and a geopolitical statement was common in media coverage of the time.

The Los Angeles Times’ coverage on October 11, 1968, focused on the tense atmosphere leading up to the launch. The article “Apollo 7 Countdown Enters Final Hours; Tense Wait for Blastoff” captured the nervous anticipation felt by NASA officials, astronauts’ families, and the general public. The writer noted, “As the countdown clock ticks away, a palpable sense of both excitement and anxiety hangs over Cape Kennedy. The ghost of Apollo 1 looms large, reminding all of the high stakes involved in this daring endeavor.”[^4] This emphasis on the emotional and human aspects of the mission helped readers connect with the astronauts on a personal level.

The successful completion of the Apollo 7 mission was met with relief and celebration. The Chicago Tribune’s October 22, 1968 article, “Apollo 7 Splashes Down Safely After 11-Day Mission,” reflected this sentiment. The writer stated, “The flawless execution of Apollo 7 has not only restored confidence in NASA’s abilities but has also reignited the nation’s enthusiasm for space exploration.”[^5] This shift in tone from pre-launch apprehension to post-mission jubilation was evident across much of the media coverage.

The NASA video “Apollo 7 – 11 Days in Space” provided a more technical and mission-focused perspective on the flight. This official account emphasized the successful testing of crucial systems and the professionalism of the astronauts. The video’s narration highlighted the mission’s achievements, stating, “Apollo 7 demonstrated the reliability and performance of the command and service modules, paving the way for more ambitious missions to come.”[^6] This focus on technical accomplishments contrasted with the more emotion-driven coverage found in popular media.

Comparing the media coverage of Apollo 7 to earlier Mercury missions reveals a notable shift in public perception and media framing of space exploration. While Mercury missions were often portrayed as daring feats of individual heroism, Apollo 7 coverage emphasized teamwork, scientific progress, and national prestige. This evolution reflected the growing sophistication of the space program and the public’s increasing familiarity with space-related concepts.

The Cold War context remained a significant factor in media coverage of Apollo 7. Many articles and reports framed the mission’s success as a victory for the United States in its ongoing competition with the Soviet Union. However, there was also a growing recognition of the potential for space exploration to unite humanity. As Dagomar Degroot notes in his 2023 article, the Apollo program forced people to reconsider humanity’s place in the cosmos, leading to new perspectives on global cooperation and environmental awareness.[^7]

The media’s portrayal of Apollo 7 also reflected changing attitudes towards risk and scientific progress. While earlier space missions were often presented as inherently dangerous adventures, Apollo 7 coverage tended to emphasize the careful planning and safety measures implemented by NASA. This shift aligned with broader societal trends towards risk management and technological optimization, as discussed by Lynda Sibson in her 2024 article on the evolution of digital health applications in space exploration.[^8]

In conclusion, the media coverage of Apollo 7 represented a pivotal moment in the public perception of space exploration. The mission’s success not only restored confidence in NASA’s abilities but also rekindled public enthusiasm for the space program. The varying tones in media coverage, from cautious optimism to unbridled excitement, reflected the complex emotions and high stakes surrounding the mission. Apollo 7 marked a transition from viewing space missions as isolated feats of daring to seeing them as part of a larger scientific and geopolitical endeavor. This shift in perspective would continue to evolve as NASA progressed towards its ultimate goal of landing humans on the moon.

Bibliography:

Degroot, Dagomar. “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Moon Microbes? Interpretations of Risk and the Limits of Quarantine in NASA’s Apollo Program.” Isis 114, no. 2 (2023): 272-298.

Montmerle, Thierry. “From Luna-3 to Apollo: The IAU and the “New Moon”.” In Astronomers as Diplomats: When the IAU Builds Bridges Between Nations, 323-364. Cham: Springer International Publishing, 2022.

Sibson, Lynda. “Digital health evolution and application: astronauts, starlings and Hedwig Kiesler.” Journal of Paramedic Practice 16, no. 1 (2024): 1-8.

[^1]: “The Moon in Their Pocket: The Manned Space Race Heats Up.” Life, vol. 64, no. 11 (Oct. 11, 1968), 24-33.

[^2]: “Three in a Fire Chariot: Apollo 7 Blazes the Trail for the Moon.” Look vol. 32, no. 21 (Nov. 12, 1968), 14-19.

[^3]: Wallace, Jack. “Apollo 7 Soars into Space on Test Flight for Moon Mission.” The New York Times, October 12, 1968, 1, 18.

[^4]: “Apollo 7 Countdown Enters Final Hours; Tense Wait for Blastoff.” Los Angeles Times, October 11, 1968, A1, A10.

[^5]: “Apollo 7 Splashes Down Safely After 11-Day Mission.” Chicago Tribune, October 22, 1968, 1, 2.

[^6]: NASA: Apollo 7 – 11 Days in Space (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1968) YouTube.

[^7]: Degroot, Dagomar. “One Small Step for Man, One Giant Leap for Moon Microbes? Interpretations of Risk and the Limits of Quarantine in NASA’s Apollo Program.” Isis 114, no. 2 (2023): 272-298.

[^8]: Sibson, Lynda. “Digital health evolution and application: astronauts, starlings and Hedwig Kiesler.” Journal of Paramedic Practice 16, no. 1 (2024): 1-8.

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Apollo 7 – 1968-1970
Number of sources: 6
Paper instructions:
Apollo 7

You will need to conduct research in Time, Life, Look, US News & World Report, and other popular magazines from the era are fine for the assignment.

Be certain to have articles from MORE than one magazine issue and more than one magazine title (meaning you should have Time and Life or Look and National Geographic).
You will need three newspaper articles from the period that address your selected mission. So if you select Apollo 7 – you need articles from 1968 – not 1970 or later. The day of the launch or scrubbed launch day should provide interesting coverage. THESE CAN BE FROM THE SAME NEWSPAPER – meaning all NYT, LA Times, etc.

Watch a video addressing the mission from the era – this could be a NASA video or one from a TV network. You can locate these on YouTube or NASA.
Goals of assignment:
When you write your essay address, provide a brief recap/introduction of the mission.
The primary goal is to examine how the mission was viewed at the time. What was the tone of the writer/reporter? Depending on the source, you will find the tones range from incredible wonder to a total waste of taxpayers’ money. Some will discuss the future potential. Others, you will be able to read the Cold War overtones in the reporting. But the FOCUS should refrain from recapping the mission. Read into the articles – focus on the tones.
And remember, there is one extra item to address. Was there a change in how the Apollo mission was viewed vs. the Mercury mission you selected?

Format
• Use an essay format – you need an opening paragraph, several supporting paragraphs, and a concluding paragraph.
• The paper length is 1200 to 1500 words.
• The word count does not include the title page, citation page, and bibliography.
• Title page
• Provide the word count on the title page.
• Double space the paper
• Use standard margins and 12 font Times New Roman.
• Write in the third person. Do not use “I” in your paper – such as “I feel” or “I believe”. If you are quoting and “I” is in the quote that is fine. Do not use first or second person unless it is within a quote.
• Do not use contractions – can’t, isn’t, couldn’t, etc.
• Refrain from the overuse of cliche phrases.
• For citations – Chicago Manual of Style – you MUST use this format.
• Use footnotes or endnotes.
• Include a bibliography of your sources. The bibliography page is in addition to the page limit.

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