Commentary Dr. Larry Burriss: Space Coverage



How many of you remember where you were and what you were doing on October 4, 1957? That was the day the former Soviet Union launched Sputnik I, the first artificial satellite to orbit the earth.

Interestingly, the Eisenhower administration did not see the launch as particularly noteworthy. But newspaper headlines the next day showed the public was in a state of shock and fear about this Russian “moon” flying over American cities. In fact, there is evidence that the Sputnik “debacle” was more of a media-generated frenzy than an actual failure of American science and engineering.
How many of you remember those early days of the space race, when every rocket launch made the front page of the newspaper, and television coverage sometimes lasted all day? Those were heady days then, when everyone recognized project names such as Vanguard and Explorer, and personal names like Gagarin, Shepherd and Glenn, and the world was thrilled by the sound of rockets with names like Delta and Atlas blasting into space.
Of course, the hot question today is, “Where were you when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon 50 years ago?” The anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing is generating non-stop coverage, but I wonder what will happen when all of the celebrations are over.
My guess is that news coverage of space activities will become as adrift as our space policy itself. Space exploration, robotic and human-based has almost become routine, and the news doesn’t cover routine events.
Actually this lack of interest in the space program is simply a manifestation of the fact that science news itself really isn’t a very hot topic these days. In addition, study after study shows an abysmal lack of science education in our schools and science knowledge in our students. So I guess I should be grateful for what space news does appear.
We’ve all heard the expression, “Nature abhors a vacuum.” In the case of science news and science education, that vacuum is too often filled by pseudo-science, paranormal claims, conspiracy theories and hoaxes.

Larry Burriss, a professor in Middle Tennessee State University’s College of Mass Communication and president of the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame, welcomes the crowd before the induction ceremonies at the Tennessee Association of Broadcasters conference in Murfreesboro for the Tennessee Journalism Hall of Fame. (MTSU photo by Andrew Oppmann)

Whether or not we should even be in space is still a topic that spurs heated debate and passion among scientists and observers. But space technology benefits all of our lives, and the more we know about it, the better. And the better the news coverage ought to be.
I’m Larry Burriss


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