How the first American in space brought a newspaper to the moon | Florida News
By MARA BELLABY, Florida today
MELBOURNE, Fla. (AP) – When the 363-foot Saturn V rocket ignited its five engines to send the Apollo 14 crew – including the first American man in space, Alan Shepard – on their lunar mission, something quite unusual was on board.
TODAY, founded by Al Neuharth five years earlier, went to the moon.
“It was a big deal but shoot it was the TODAY newspaper, we can do it all,” recalls David Baker, whose father, Buddy Baker, was TODAY’s director of community services and organized the trip out of. this newspaper world.
The plot seems to have been woven around cocktails and jazz in the presence of legendary drummer Buddy Rich at Lee Caron’s Carnival Club in Cocoa Beach.
A photo shows Baker, dressed in a sports coat and striped tie with a pen sticking out of his chest pocket, shaking hands with Shepard, who is more casual in a polo shirt. Rich, smiling as if he knows a secret, stands by their side. On the wall behind the three men, giving a clue to the place: framed photos of clowns.
“Thank you for the photo of Buddy Rich,” Shepard told Baker in a handwritten letter on personal notepaper dated August 2, 1970.
Next, Shepard gets right to the point, noting that he has yet to “finalize the” goodies “for the moon and that he will consider your suggestion.” Each astronaut was entitled to a personal allowance of items to take with him.
“It would appear, however, that the ‘local’ newspaper is a serious contender,” Shepard added, asking Baker to send the microfilm just in case. He would add it to the list “if possible,” Shepard wrote, underlining the four words.
Confirmation came on December 15, 1970: A more formal letter to Baker from Shepard, typed on letterhead from NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, gave the company the green light.
“I reaffirm that I intend to take all of TODAY’s films with me on Apollo 14. I hope you can publicize it after the flight, as so many of your readers are directly responsible for its success, “Shepard wrote, emphasizing the word” after. “
“It was the peak of his career,” Baker’s other son, Bill, recalled recently of his father’s coup.
Baker drew praise from Neuharth, who would launch USA TODAY in 1982 and run the Gannett Company.
Neuharth, in his book “Confessions of an SOB,” said he envisioned the idea of bringing TODAY to the moon as soon as Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind” on the moon. lunar surface. TODAY belonged to it. It was a newspaper designed to be a trailblazer: large photos, short, eye-catching stories, a new look rather than the standard old newspaper columns crammed together.
But Neuharth kept being told no. He went to James Webb, former head of NASA, a director of Gannett at the time and a good friend. But the idea was laughed at, and Neuharth wrote that he was told, “No commercial products are allowed.”
Neuharth therefore took his request straight to the top: President Lyndon B. Johnson, whom he hosted for a community breakfast when the president visited Cape Town.
Undeterred, Neuharth said he turned to Baker and told him to find a way.
After all, it was Baker’s job as the man in charge of newspaper promotion.
Turns out Baker was the perfect choice. Those who worked with Baker recalled that he had a way of it. He took risks and won you over.
It also helped that Baker was connected to the Space Coast community. He had already written a column: Brevard After Dark. He knew all the hot spots and was a regular at the Carnival Club and a friend of club owner Lee Caron. If Baker wanted an introduction to Shepard, he would be just the person to get one.
Baker was known for his contagious chuckle, his encyclopedic knowledge of plays and movies, and his zest for life – just the kind of guy to persuade an American hero to do something the President of the United States had, according to Neuharth. , described as impossible.
“Do me a favor and do me a big blow with my boss,” Baker asked Shepard, according to Neuharth.
But it was Shepard’s wish that TODAY’s trip remained a secret until he and his crew returned. Shepard also brought with him The Christian Science Monitor and, apparently, a newspaper from Houston.
At 4:03 p.m. on January 31, 1971, after a 40-minute delay due to a band of rain clouds, the Saturn V took off from Launch Pad 39A, carrying Shepard, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa, lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell and a film copy of TODAY’s 24-page special section, “Man’s Odyssey on the Moon”.
It was an edition – billed as “A Space Age History” – filled with stories and photos of the Apollo program and the moon landing.
The trip to the moon was not without incident. The crew struggled to get the lunar module to dock with the command module, a thorny issue that could have grown even more prominent given the abandoned Apollo 13 moon landing was fresh on everyone’s minds .
If the problem could not be resolved, another moon landing would be in jeopardy.
But the sixth docking attempt worked, and now the crew were on their way to the moon.
The moment Buddy Baker was waiting for arrived in the early morning of February 5, 1971, when Shepard and Mitchell landed in the Frau Mauro Highlands on the lunar surface.
“When the Antares hit the moon on Friday morning, if you heard a faint sound, it was ‘Ya-Hoo!’ I screamed in the newsroom TODAY, ”Baker later wrote to Shepard. “All the editors applauded, but none were as loud as me.”
“The honor you bestowed on this journal by doing it first on the moon is an honor I will never forget; it will remain the personal highlight of my career as a journalist, just as the mission highlights yours. “
Neuharth called Baker’s stunt (Neuharth’s word for it): “The biggest promotional stunt Gannett has ever made.”
Baker won the award for best promotion from the nation’s largest newspaper trade publication, Editor & Publisher.
TODAY has published a Page 1A story titled “TODAY First on the Moon”, informing their readers. They also ran promotional ads and TODAY made an 8×11 reprint of this special edition available for purchase by readers. Bill Baker recalled that the newspaper also had a bit of fun, adding a newspaper delivery box to a graphic they produced of two astronauts with the American flag on the moon (although it doesn’t seem like have been displayed only for internal parties).
But TODAY’s story on the moon doesn’t end there.
Baker had expected Shepard to leave the diary film on the moon. As David Baker put it, Shepard would have become “the first paper boy of the space age”.
At least that was the idea.
But Shepard brought the film back with him; it was common back then, a trip by anything to and from the moon added value and maybe that is what Shepard thought.
On March 22, 1971, a package from the Manned Spacecraft Center arrived at the TODAY office in Cocoa. Inside: a small brown tube bearing a microfilm from the TODAY Edition which, Shepard confirmed in a letter, “went with Antares to the lunar surface.”
Baker received the second frame of the film – page 2 – an honor he has preserved and that his sons continue to cherish.
Back then, a journalist’s life was made up of incredibly long hours and a lot of time away from family; the work demanded it. Baker’s sons remembered their father asleep when they woke up to school and always “put paper to bed” long after they had gone to bed themselves. Baker even set up an Associated Press teletype in his home so he never misses a news.
“During the 60s and 70s many Brevard children essentially sacrificed their fathers to the space program because of the long hours and although our father was not working in Cape Town, we also gave our father to the space program because of the hours in the log, ”said David.
The two sons have integrated journalism into their own lives. David Baker, now 62, started one of the first trade magazines on the web, though he admits “I’m afraid I can never get past the fact that my dad put a newspaper on the moon.” Bill Baker, 61, went on to become a successful graphic designer at several Gannett newspapers, including the new USA TODAY, where he helped shape his iconic infographics (space aficionados might also recognize him as the artist behind the Space FLORIDA TODAY Shuttle Scrapbook, still an eBay collector’s item).
Buddy Baker’s successful career with Gannett continued as he made his way to the Pensacola newsroom. Four years later, in 1978, Neuharth asked Baker to return to Brevard, where Baker led the evolution of the journal into FLORIDA TODAY. Baker would later direct Gannett’s papers in Shreveport, Louisiana and Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He died of lung cancer on Father’s Day 1991, just weeks after he turned 55.
“Buddy was one of a kind,” John Curley, then director of Gannett, said of Baker in an obituary published by The Associated Press.
And in what might be the most fitting eulogy of all time, Curley added: “Everywhere he’s worked he’s taken the newspaper to new heights.
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