From Cronkite to Pelley: Covering the NASA era

It all happened in just 50 years: From JFK's promise to put a man on the moon to the final shuttle launch in 2011. Scott Pelley remembers what a ride it was.

While we were kicking around ideas for an Overtime piece about Scott Pelley's "SpaceX" story this week, our executive editor Bill Owens made it easy. He used to be one of Pelley's producers here at 60 Minutes, and he said, "Just talk with Scott about the U.S. space program. He's crazy about space."

Sure enough, when we sat down with Scott, his enthusiasm lit up the room. He talked about his childhood memories of the early U.S. program and the role CBS News and Walter Cronkite played for the country, covering those early exciting days of manned space flight.

And it brought back some memories for me as well. My father, Reid Collins, was a CBS News Correspondent from the early 1960s until 1985. He worked for the radio news division and the space program was one of his "beats." He covered just about every launch.

Like Scott, my dad loves everything about space. The imagination, the science, the technology, and the daring of it all. Scott grew up in West Texas while my dad grew up in Montana. Similar backgrounds, a similar passion. And my dad passed some of that on to me.

So when Scott talked about his childhood days, it made me think of my own. I was almost nine years old in July of 1969 and I, too, remember staying up late and watching the Apollo 11 astronauts walk "live from the surface of the moon." Not long after that, my dad brought me to work with him one day to see a partial solar eclipse. We watched it out on 57th street, along with Walter Cronkite and his son Chip. I remember Mr. Cronkite had all sorts of gadgets with which you could safely watch the action without hurting your eyes.

When I was 12, my dad took me out of school for a week (!) to go with him to Florida for the launch of the final moon mission, Apollo 17. It went off at night, and I'm still waiting for something to surpass that incredible few minutes of noise, light, and absolute goose-bump thrill.

I'm 51 now and have kids of my own. As we wrapped up this week's Overtime piece, it occurred to me that their generation doesn't have anything like the U.S. space program. As Scott Pelley told us, a single smart phone these days has more computing power than all of mission control had in 1969 when Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins left Earth and landed on the moon.

But, somehow, checking Facebook on a cell phone doesn't seem as important.

Click here for Scott Pelley's report, "SpaceX"

Photos and video courtesy NASA

  • Reid Collins Jr.

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