Several critics of NASA’s image making and PR efforts seek to portray NASA as an active, Svengali-like molder of the astronauts’ image in the press. And while it is true NASA sought out a specific personality “type” during their selection process, and provided the astronauts with public affairs support, much of the image making content was outside of NASA’s control – especially during the Apollo program. While the public affairs team would provide guidance and suggestions to the Apollo astronauts when asked, they never scripted them, never provided media training, or forced them to have a given position on any topic.
“They might tell you who’s important, who’s there,” explains Gene Cernan, Commander of the Apollo 17 mission, and the last man to walk on the Moon. “It’s always important to know who’s there, and who are the movers and shakers, so you are a little aware. They do some of the ground work for you.” But they never told him what to say, or how to say it – even when it involved his final words upon leaving the lunar surface. “Public Affairs never pushed me, never asked me, never told me.”
Even for Neil Armstrong, the first man to step onto the surface of the moon, NASA did not script his famous words, or give him any direction on what to say – during arguably one of the most watched global television events in history. He had the personal freedom, as did all the other astronauts, to make his own statements, and speak his own mind.
“Julian Scheer, who really led the NASA relations with the outside world in many ways, was absolutely adamant that Headquarters never put words in the mouths of their people, not just astronauts, but anybody, that they let people speak for themselves,” said Armstrong in an oral history interview. “They never, to my knowledge, controlled the … public statements of others. Certainly they insisted, in the case of the flight crews, that they not be told what to say, that their statements be their own elocution of what they saw and what they wanted to say. As far as I know, that prohibition was never violated.”