Editor’s note: This column originally published Oct. 13, 2016.
During the height of the Apollo program in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the live broadcast of a Saturn V rocket launch was — pardon the expression— “Must See TV.”
Families would huddle around the console television set for a front row seat to watch what was then the most powerful launch vehicle in history send three men into space — destination the Moon.
According to NASA, an estimated 600 million people worldwide watched live as Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the surface of the Moon and took humanity’s first steps on to a worldly body apart from Earth.
To beam this event into people’s living rooms took extreme coordination between the three major television networks in 1969 — ABC, NBC, CBS — NASA and the astronauts themselves. It also took technology which was cutting edge nearly 50 years ago.
Only a fraction of the Apollo 11 audience watched last week as private space company Blue Origin tested the crew capsule escape system, but this launch in western Texas was live of Facebook.
Space.com’s live audience trackers showed at 6,100 people tuned in to their broadcast of the launch. There were no humans on board and the stakes were much lower than Apollo, but what Blue Origin and other private companies are attempting is revolutionary in its own right — finding a cost effective, reusable launch vehicle to put humans into sub orbit for tourism, low Earth orbit and beyond — and the show is accessible even to a small device in our pockets.
Viewers could watch the launch from multiple camera angles as the New Shepard reusable launch system took off, the crew capsule jettison and landed safely back on Earth. Several minutes later, the unmanned rocket’s guidance system managed a vertical landing with the tank and engine. It was spectacular to witness.
It’s now possible to watch nearly any world event anywhere on the planet, as long as your mobile device in range of cellular data service. Anyone can broadcast what they’re doing live, in real time. I’ve seen a Facebook friend live stream their trip to the grocery store cereal aisle to the eyes of two whole people.
But imagine if victims of the Nazi regime had been able to live broadcast a Jewish concentration camp during World War II on social media or how viewpoints would have changed more quickly if violence against civil rights protesters in the 1950s and 60s could have been seen as they were happening.
We’re already seeing how live streaming has affected the current debate in the balance between proper law enforcement and racial tensions when the girlfriend of 32-year-old Philando Castile broadcast his death shortly after being shot by law enforcement following a traffic stop in July in a St. Paul, Minn suburb.
Every person now has the technology to show the events of their world as they happen. This can be a powerful tool to share positive achievements, human moments or to shed light on social negatives that were once left in the dark.
For better or for worse, live from Facebook it’s your world.
Contact Mike Mendenhallat firstname.lastname@example.org