This small corner of the Internet is devoted to comparing media representations of two eras in America’s space program: the Apollo program and the Space Shuttle Program.
Originally completed in April, 2012, to satisfy the requirements of the graduate program at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg, this Applied Research Project involves content analyses of thousands of contemporary New York Times headlines. Use the links to the right to navigate throughout the site. If you want to return here at any time, just click the header at the top of the page.
In the past sixty years, man’s knowledge of the cosmos has expanded beyond speculation and cosmic conjecture: we’ve sent spacecraft to the far reaches of our solar system (and beyond), discovered the nature of innumerable celestial bodies, and even peered billions of years into the past with powerful telescopes. But perhaps most inspiring to the people of Earth has been manned exploration of the heavens.
In 1969, an estimated 500 million people on earth watched as two of their own, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, bounced around on the lunar surface for two and a half hours. Man’s physical love affair with the moon was brief – the final Apollo mission occurred in 1972 – but iconic. Nine years later, and perhaps with the bold spirit of exploration that embodied Apollo, the Space Shuttle program began.
Initially intended as a series of regular spaceflights, the Shuttle program lasted for thirty years. During that time, NASA was able to install and maintain the Hubble Telescope, which has allowed man to look deeper into space than ever before. The Shuttle program also served as a valuable point of cooperation between the U.S. and U.S.S.R. in the waning days of Soviet rule, as spacecraft assisted in saving a hobbled Mir space station in the 1990s. Finally, and most significantly in terms of continued human habitation of the skies, the Shuttle was instrumental in constructing the International Space Station, a constantly-manned research laboratory streaking through low Earth orbit at a cool 17,000 miles per hour. On July 8, 2011, the Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on the final Shuttle program mission, STS-135.
Throughout the Apollo and Shuttle eras, space journalists brought to the public dispatches from a whole new world. Especially during the early days of spaceflight, reporters faced the daunting task of explaining science and complex technologies that had been previously relegated to flights of fancy. In later years, reporters faced the challenge of inspiring an audience that had become accustomed to the once-spellbinding notion of sending their own into space.
This website is intended to hash out the differences between coverage in both of these eras. By applying an analysis of content that relies on quantitative and qualitative approaches working in tandem, this research will address how and why space coverage has (or hasn’t) changed over nearly fifty years of manned exploration.
This research compares and contrasts headlines related to each program as they were presented in the New York Times during each mission. Because The Times is essentially a national newspaper, and because its historical archive is so accessible, it is an appropriate source. In all, 2,801 headlines related to 147 missions were collected, organized, and coded for eight variables. You can access individual discussions about the findings related to each variable on the left hand menu of this page.
Most importantly, this website is intended for the explorers among us who will likely never experience the thrill of seeing our planet against a pitch-black sky from a spacecraft’s porthole. At the end of this analysis, you will be able to explore the data yourself. After all, science that remains unshared is unlikely to grow.
Science is a way of thinking much more than it is a body of knowledge.