Apollo 11: Telling the Story Around the World

Today’s post is written by David Langbart, an Archivist in the Textual Records Division at the National Archives at College Park.

The United States Information Agency (USIA) was responsible for telling the U.S. story abroad.  In early 1969, the upcoming flight of Apollo 11 looked to be the culmination of President John F. Kennedy’s May 1961 proposal to land a man on the Moon and return him safely to Earth before the end of the decade.  Such an accomplishment would be a major victory in the so-called “space race,” if not symbolizing an outright win. 

It was important to convey that story to all the nations around the World and the USIA leadership assigned the highest priority to covering and supporting the mission.  In response, the agency developed plans to accomplish that task, perhaps one of the largest efforts in USIA’s history.  In its first planning paper, USIA set forth guidelines for handling coverage of the mission and an outline of the plans and projects related thereto.[i]

To handle its coverage of, and support to, the Apollo 11 mission, USIA established the “Apollo 11 Task Force” and the “Apollo 11 Operations Office.”  The task force included representatives of all USIA organizations involved with the effort.  The Office of Policy and Plans took the lead and a representative of that office served as chair.  The operations office was responsible for, among other things, coordinating all Apollo 11-related projects, clearing all messages to USIA’s field offices (the United States Information Service – USIS), and serving as a channel of information to USIA’s Executive Board.

As the launch date, July 16, drew nearer, the Acting Director of USIA provided the Secretary of State with the following report summarizing the agency’s preparations for the Apollo 11 mission.[ii]

[i] File SP 10 Space Flight and Exploration-Apollo 11, Office of Policy and Plans, Assistant Deputy Director, Subject Files, 1966-70 (NAID 5989363), Entry P-205, RG 306: Records of the United States Information Agency.

[ii] File INF 7-6 Apollo 11 (NAID 4706078), Office of Policy and Plans, Program Coordination Staff, Subject Files, 1966-71, Entry P-12, RG 306: Records of the United States Information Agency.

One thought on “Apollo 11: Telling the Story Around the World

  1. After Apollo 11 returned, President Nixon sent Aldrin, Armstrong, and Collins and their wives on a month-long triumphal trip around the world. When they got to Rome they were nearing the end of their trip and exhausted. Our ambassador had to arrange for them to make a couple of public appearances–but then, knowing how tired they were, he just had them to a picnic lunch and swim at his pool with a few embassy officers and spouses, including my wife and me. My main memory of the day is seeing Armstrong was no longer in top shape; after a month of big banquets he’d developed a paunch!

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