Walter Cronkite, 1916 - 2009

Walter Cronkite, 1916 - 2009

Walter Cronkite, 1916 - 2009

Bad Astronomy
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July 17 2009 8:23 PM

Walter Cronkite, 1916 - 2009

I'm very saddened to write that Walter Cronkite, a great journalist and wonderful reporter, has died.

Phil Plait Phil Plait

Phil Plait writes Slate’s Bad Astronomy blog and is an astronomer, public speaker, science evangelizer, and author of Death From the Skies!  

I'm sure lots of people can say many things about him, but to me he was the heart of the Apollo missions. The classic moment in his lengthy career was when he was stunned speechless when the Lunar Module touched down on the Moon, and had to literally take a moment to take off his glasses and compose himself.

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He was all of us, watching that moment. I hope he lived long enough to see the images of the Apollo sites returned by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter this morning.

I was too young to remember his Apollo coverage, though I've seen it many times on TV, but I did have one tangential encounter with him. In 2002 I got an email from Cronkite's assistant at CBS. She told me that he had recently been in Japan and was "taken off guard" when people asked him if the landings had been faked. He hadn't heard the Apollo deniers' conspiracy theory! She wanted to get a copy of the awful Fox TV show about it. I had a copy, given to me by another journalist as part of a press kit. I gladly sent it to her along with a copy of my first book, which has a chapter in it debunking the hoax nonsense.

Better yet, a young girl wrote to Cronkite about the hoax, telling him her teacher at school was teaching kids the landings were faked. His assistant forwarded her letter to me, so that I could reply as well. Cronkite's assistant also told me that he was delighted that she had directed the young girl to my website! So I guess that means he had read what I wrote, and that makes me very proud indeed.

Cronkite had a gift for making the news relevant to everyone, and he made that profound moment in 1969 more human.