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July 31, 2009

Lessons learned from the lunar landing

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by Edgar Villalpando

First, some full disclosure: I wasn’t around when Neil Armstrong made his “giant leap for mankind.” But I’ve heard my parents’ accounts of the space race; I’ve seen “The Right Stuff” and “Apollo 13” (where would our space program have been without Ed Harris???); and I’ve understood how the public view of space travel has changed since the race to the moon in the Sixties.

So the buzz leading up to the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing earlier this week got me thinking about the space race, New Media and interactive television.

The easy way out would be to join in the endless chatter about how the space race spurred many of the technical advances that have made communication what it is today, but what fun would that be?

Instead, I’d like to offer an observation or two.

Over time, the Exceptional becomes the Norm – In those pre-lunar landing days, when space travel was new and our country was competing with the former Soviet Union to dominate boundaries beyond Earth, space travel riveted the world.

But when Endeavor lifted off for the international space station last week, even after days of delays that would have become a national drama four decades ago, it was as though the 10:35 to San Francisco had left the station.

In the same way, new and exciting elements of interactive TV are continually being integrated into the more routine television landscape.

On-screen program guides and on-demand programming, for example, both have made the transition from interactive television innovation to everyday use.

Just as with the space program, the fact that interactive television often happens without fanfare is part of that evolutionary cycle, not an indication that progress has stopped.

Would the space program have survived New Media? – Back in days when Walter Cronkite and the Big Three networks were the nation’s picture window into the space program, it was far easier for NASA to manage the images of the astronauts and the program in general.

Today, in a world of YouTube and blogs and Tweets, there’s a far greater chance that someone will go “off-message.”

In a New Media world, personal conflicts and technical glitches that were hidden from view quickly would have become public fodder, possibly altering public perception of the space program.

And you can be sure that if the lunar landing had been staged in Arizona – as some cynics insist – iPhone video of it would have been uploaded to YouTube in a matter of minutes.

The biggest lesson we can learn from the space program is that in the long term, reaching the goal requires fortitude and patience and a willingness to endure false starts.

In the same way that the lunar landing was a single successful accomplishment that punctuated an ongoing process, interactive TV also is a work in progress.

Even though we’ve endured space failures, we continued on our way to walking on the moon, building the space station, and seeing through the eyes of the Hubble Space Telescope.

Interactive TV similarly has had its share of issues – from unsuccessful pioneering technologies to delays in rolling out even the newest platforms – but appears to be on the verge of some landmark achievements that will rocket the media industry forward.

And just as with the space program, we’ll one day look back and try to recall what all the fuss was about.

Edgar Villalpando, SVP Marketing, ActiveVideo Networks

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1 Comment »
  1. I think if you are not old enough to remember the moon landing it is hard to imagine the stark differences in technology. If it was a cold morning your car would not start but we sent men all the way to the moon and back.
    Your TV (ours was Black and White) would constantly break down because a valve had blown but we could see pictures of men walking on the moon, the technical differences between everyday life and what they were doing to get men to the moon were staggering

    Comment by Alan Harten — August 1, 2009 @ 3:51 am

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