America’s third moon mission, Apollo 13, was launched on 11 April 1970.
The crew of astronauts James Lovell, John Swigert and Fred Haise had ignored popular superstition and decided not to jump from Apollo 12 to Apollo 14. Such scientific hubris rebounded on 13 April when an onboard explosion crippled Apollo 13.
Their planned moon landing was aborted after the liquid oxygen tank explosion and the three astronauts were forced to abandon ship and return to earth in the lunar module, a job for which it was clearly not designed.
Before they left, ABC, CBS and NBC had all rejected an offer of a live one-hour TV show from the spacecraft. Predictably, they all cleared their prime-time schedules for hours of live coverage of the craft’s limping progress back to earth.
In the UK, 8 million viewers tuned in to Alastair Burnet’s live coverage on ITV which ended when the crippled Apollo 13 spacecraft splashed down safely into the Pacific Ocean on 17 April at 4.00 am UK-time.
This was the ultimate proof that, once the novelty of space travel had worn off, the American networks would only cover these missions if astronauts’ lives were in danger.