This historical event was part of the Cold War’s Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union (USSR). The Race had begun back in 1955 when the USSR pledged to launch an artificial satellite following America’s declaration of the same. USSR successfully launched this satellite in 1957 and again beat the US to the first human in space with Yuri Gagarin’s flight in 1961. But America refused to be beaten to the moon.
The Apollo 11 mission was launched on July 16, 1969 and finally touched down on the moon on the evening of July 20, 1969. Two of the three-man crew, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin Jr. and Neil Armstrong, spent over three hours collecting samples and filming a speech for the people down on earth. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained on the command module Columbia that continued orbiting the moon until the lunar module Eagle’s mission was finished.
The lunar module reconnected with the command module, and all three astronauts safely returned to Earth on July 24, 1969 with a landing in the Pacific Ocean.
The landing was filmed and live streamed back to Americans in a record-breaking television event. Alaska was a part of this live stream and, for the first time ever, joined their fellow Americans in viewing a live television event.
Senators Ted Stevens and Mike Gravel, and Representative Howard Pollock, worked together to convince the US Department of Defense (DOD) to relocate a satellite to provide this live TV feed. Prior to this, all television shows in Alaska had been taped elsewhere and then shipped up to the state – there were sometimes gaps of weeks between when ‘live events’ were filmed and then shown on Alaska TV. Alaskans were used to getting the news days later than their Lower 48 compatriots.
But in 1969, thanks to cooperation between our congressional delegation, the DOD, and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA); Alaskans were able to join in on the action at the exact same time as their fellow Americans.
This historic television event was followed in the Fall of 1969 with a Stevens-sponsored educational satellite TV programming experiment between the state and NASA, which allowed for the potential of these TV feeds to be fully showcased and the technology race officially began in the state.