The Walt Disney-owned news unit intends to cover the coming joint mission between NASA and Elon Musk’s SpaceX that is expected to send two astronauts, Bob Behnken and Douglas G. Hurley, to the International Space Station on a spacecraft designed by Musk’s company. A two-hour special report, “Launch America: Mission to Space Live,” will air at 3 p.m. eastern on May 27 on the National Geographic cable network while streaming on ABC News Live, the ABC News streaming-video operation. ABC News will air a special report on the ABC broadcast network moments before launch that will no doubt call attention to the longer-form program.
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“This is the perfect moment to remind viewers everywhere about the power of the human spirit and how science is leading the way forward,” said Geoff Daniels, National Geographic’s executive vice president of global unscripted entertainment, in a prepared statement. If the effort is successful, it would represent the first instance of a privately owned company taking humans to the International Space Station and meeting NASA’s certification requirements.
Space travel has long been an object of fascination of the nation’s TV-news apparatus, particularly in the current era when entrepreneurs like Musk, Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos eager to send human beings to the outer reaches of the stratosphere through ventures like SpaceX, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin. In 2013, NBCUniversal and Branson’s Virgin Galactic struck a pact to cover that company’s attempts to take private passengers into space that called not only for a three-hour live event in August of 2014 presented on NBC’s “Today” (with Savannah Guthrie and Matt Lauer anchoring), but a primetime NBC special slated to air the night before, and regular coverage of the entrepreneur’s efforts on CNBC, MSNBC, NBCNews.com, Syfy, and The Weather Channel.
But the deal never came to fruition, as Virgin Galactic’s found its efforts stymied by errors, test results and regulators. ABC News says that if the launch of Musk’s Crew Dragon capsule is postponed, the special would air on a new launch date determined by NASA and SpaceX.
Should the launch be postponed prior to the live event, ABC News Live and National Geographic will air the special on the new launch date determined by NASA and SpaceX.
The coverage arrangement shows Disney working to expand ABC News’ efforts to other parts of its media portfolio. The company, which in recent years has spurred a line of Disneynature films and media projects about wildlife and the environment, acquired two National Geographic cable networks and the National Geographic Partners joint venture after its $71.3 billion purchase of the bulk of cable-and-studio assets from the former 21st Century Fox in March of 2019.
The effort is something that has been building for some time. In 2017, ABC News aired a two-hour special report during daytime hours on the first total solar eclipse visible in the U.S. in 38 years. “World News Tonight” anchor David Muir hosted the proceedings. But extending news coverage to other areas is something many TV companies are considering as their viewers increasingly migrate to streaming services for their favorite scripted dramas and comedies. During the coronavirus pandemic, ABC News and NBC News have both taken up primetime hours with special reports devoted to the spread of the contagion and its effects on life in the United States.
“It’s an uplifting story about the American spirit and resolve, heroism, innovation and determination,” said Marc Burstein, ABC News’ senior executive producer of special events, in a statement.
Tom Llamas and Linsey Davis will anchor will anchor coverage of lift off from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, joined by transportation correspondent Gio Benitez, news correspondent Victor Oquendo and Ginger Zee, ABC News’ chief meteorologist. Coverage will continues on ABC News Live Thursday, May 28 when the spacecraft is expected to dock with the International Space Station. The event will also include interviews with former astronauts Cady Coleman and Christina Koch, along with scientists and NASA officials.
National Geographic will feature content about space exploration in the days leading up to launch, and its website will feature an embedded livestream of the launch as well. Nadia Drake, a National Geographic contributing writer, will report on the launch live from Kennedy Space Center, and her story will be sent to millions of readers via a special, breaking-news edition of the NatGeo newsletter that evening.
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