I WAS A TEENAGE SPACE REPORTER
By David Chudwin
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Being born at the right time is not always enough, a person also needs to be able to recognize opportunities and take action to ensure they can take advantage of them. Even then, luck and connections come into play to allow someone to make the most of an opportunity. All of these factors played the story David Chudwin recounts in I Was a Teenage Space Reporter, in which he relates how he became the only college student to attend the launch of Apollo 11 as an accredited reporter.
While there are numerous books about the U.S. space program, especially in light of the ongoing fiftieth anniversary of the Apollo landings that runs from July 2019 through December 2022, Chudwin's account offers the unique perspective of a reporter who covered the launch and a college student. Chudwin describes his youth and growing interest in the space program as the Soviet Union launched Sputnik when he was seven, his friendship with Marv, who shared his interest in the space program, and their continued interest as the U.S. ramped up its own program. By 1969, when the first lunar landing launch was imminent, Chudwin has already met some astronauts and found himself on the staff of the student newspaper at the University of Michigan.
Chudwin describes a lost world, in which cellphones, computers, and other modern technologies are a distant future. Communications is done by expensive phone calls or mail, wire if time is urgent. Moreover, he is living on a college campus where he describes a space program that was seen by many students as if it were akin to the war in Vietnam. In fact, he is the only reporter on his newspaper who has any interest in the space program and his proclivities in that direction are tolerated by his editors. His old friend Marv, attending a different university, is the one who suggested the two travel to Florida to see the launch. Chudwin realized that his role as a reporter could, conceivably get the two unprecedented access. Unfortunately, NASA wasn't offering credentials to college reporters. The situation was remedied late in the game, by Jim Heck, a friend of Chudwin's who worked for College Press Services wire service. Chudwin's article would appear in newspapers across the country, not just the Michigan paper.
Much of the book is a description of the growth, success, and failures of the U.S. space program, but it really shines when Chudwin relates his own experiences. You can still sense his excitement at seeing Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Michael Collins walking out to board the bus for their launch. His descriptions of collecting the various briefing materials NASA made available for reporters, materials which he still has in his collection, is a mixture of a young man excited about his experience and trying to maintain an air of professionalism. This personal touch sets I Was a Teenage Space Reporter apart from other books and his role as a student reporter further separates him from professional reporters who have written of their coverage.
Following his description of the events in 1969, Chudwin turns his attentions to the benefits of space exploration and the potential future of man's endeavors in space. Although he tries to tie these sections into his own personal experience, often by discussing his meetings with individuals involved, the later chapters don't have the sense of immediacy that the earlier chapters have, with less setting them apart from other books which talk about the benefits of space.
However, the book makes heavy use of Chudwin's collection of space artifacts, photos, and autographs. The pages are copiously illustrated with photos, which are referred to frequently. Rather than pictures of Chudwin visiting an Apollo capsule on display at a museum, he treats the reader to photos he took of the Apollo-Saturn stack in the days before launch or group of four astronauts hanging out at the airport while waiting for their relatives to arrive.
I Was a Teenage Space Reporter is an excellent addition to the collection of space memoirs, even if written by an individual who has never flown into space or worked for NASA. David Chudwin offers a unique perspective in an easy writing style. As luck would have it, his friend Marvin Rubenstein, who suggested they fly down to Florida for the launch, has also offered his recollections in the recently published Apollo Memories.
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