From “Falling to Earth” pages
151 and 152
NASA was leery of letting little
children witness live launches and imposed age restrictions. This
limitation may have protected them, but it also missed an
opportunity to engage them. I knew a Saturn V launch was a pretty
astounding experience, and children grasped the excitement of flying
to the moon in ways that adults did not. If we wanted public support
for NASA and space travel, we need to inspire and inform the kids.
…We still needed kids. So I
immediately called Pittsburgh and [the] children’s show, Mister
Rogers' Neighborhood. The producer put me right through to Fred
Rogers, the show's much loved host. We chatted for a few minutes, I
explained my idea, and he replied that it fit perfectly with a
series he was filming about parents going away. He wanted to teach
children about fathers leaving the house to go down to the store,
leaving in the morning to go to work, or going on a trip. This was a
perfect match, he told me – Dad is going to the moon for two weeks.
As a father, I could relate. Fred proposed filming a show before and
after the trip. A great idea, I agreed.
Three days before I began my
pre-launch quarantine period, the film crew arrived at the Cape.
They filmed Fred and me talking about space in the launch control
center, then I showed him how to put on a space suit and how each
part worked. Fred worked through a long list of kids’ questions
about astronaut experiences. I would answer many of them, but I had
to confess that I couldn’t answer others until after the flight. I
asked Fred to let me take the list into space. I would think about
them during the flight, I promised, and then answer when I returned.
Fred liked this idea. In fact, instead of making two regular shows
out of the footage, we would now do a special.
I worked on a number of follow-up
shows with Fred, and we really hit on what kids wanted to know. For
example, kids were fascinated by space food, so I took some to the
show to reconstitute, and Fred and I ate it right there on the air.
I took a large moon rock to another taping so the kids could look at
it. Those shows did a lot of good, bringing a human element into
spaceflight. Many of the ideas evolved into a children’s book that I
wrote in 1974, named I Want to Know about a Flight to the Moon.
Fred wrote the foreword.
But I did get some good natured
ribbing at the Cape. A few days before the flight, in quarantine, we
heard an announcement over the PA system: “Everyone to the TV set.”
Sure enough, it was the Mister Rogers special. It was so outside of
what most astronauts did, many thought I was crazy. Astronauts liked
to think they were superjocks who hunted, fished, drank, and chased
girls. We didn’t do kiddies' shows. They particularly made fun of me
when I carefully navigated the inevitable “How do you go to the
bathroom in space?” question. But I loved the final result, and Deke
got a good laugh out of watching it. Most importantly, kids loved