Space News Coverage: Dr. Larry Burriss



The last couple of weeks have seen a spectacular failure and an equally spectacular success: A Russian lunar probe crashed and a few days later an Indian lunar probe successfully landed.

Surprisingly, at least to me, both events generated extensive news coverage, but also validated the old saying, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
Back in the early days of the space race, there was a significant difference in space-related news coverage in the United States and space-related news coverage in the old Soviet Union.

Soviet space launches were reported only when they were a success. There was no such thing as live coverage, so it appeared Soviet scientists were having a non-stop string of successes, while American launch failures were there for everyone to see, often live and in living color, or at least in black-and-white.
So Russia’s new openness and pre-landing publicity obviously backfired when communication with the probe was lost. And the whole world was watching, just like the whole world was watching when the Indian probe successfully landed.

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.

But today news coverage of space activities has become as adrift as our space policy itself. Space exploration, both 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 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.
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

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)