Apollo 11 landing on the moon on July 20, 1969 was undoubtedly “a giant leap for mankind” but it was also a giant leap for television. It was the biggest live broadcast news event in history at that time, and it made TV the medium by which millions – and eventually billions – could share coverage of important global events as they unfolded. An estimated 600 million people worldwide tuned in to witness history in the making.
What sets this moment apart from other bug TV events is that the whole thing was broadcast ‘live’. This was thanks to the television cameras in space that the three astronauts – Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins – mounted on the moon’s surface to capture live images of their activities and send them to viewers around the world. The set-up of the broadcast so that the images could be sent around the world simultaneously also marked a technical revolution in television, as space became part of the broadcasting process. Knowing how much of an impact a live broadcast would have on the world, NASA invested in high-gain antennas, slow-scan television cameras running at 10 frames-per-second and a giant 200-foot-diameter radio dish on Earth so that the astronauts wouldn’t have to wait to reach a tracking station to communicate.
It was the beginning of truly global event television. The coverage of the event lasted from 16 to 24 July 1969. In the UK, it was broadcast on all three television channels, BBC1, BBC2 and ITV and reached the largest audience ever seen. Worldwide the moon landing broadcast reached over 53 million households. The Apollo 11 audience set a world record for a live broadcast – one that went unbroken until the Royal Wedding between Prince Charles and Lady Diana in 1981, which drew 750 million viewers.
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