When reading transcripts of the Apollo missions, one often finds extremely helpful comments attributed simply to "PAO," Public Affairs Officer. Who are these people, why are they so knowledgeable about what was going on, and how are they able to succinctly and accurately convey complicated events in such an understandable way?
This section highlights the men known as the "Voices of Apollo" and "Voices of Launch Control." Paul Haney did mission commentary during the Gemini flights. As those missions grew in duration, others joined him. During the early Apollo missions, commentary was performed by a team consisting of Haney, John McLeaish, Jack Riley, Doug Ward, and Terry White. Haney departed NASA after Apollo 9. Jack King and Chuck Hollinshead shared duties at Cape Kennedy, commenting on the activities before each launch.
You will see photos and biographical information of each man. Additionally, you can hear samples of their voices from well known missions. The hope is you can use these samples to help identify the commentator when you hear audio from other flights.
NASA Public Affairs Officers are a talented group of people serving as liaisons between the inner workings of NASA and the outside world. In the Apollo era, these PAOs performed many duties such as writing news releases, arranging interviews, developing press kits for each mission, handling various media requests, and preparing for upcoming flights.
Valuable information was gleaned from their attending life-like simulations preceding the missions, and from the interviews they arranged and monitored. Doug Ward explains, “Chris Kraft, as an example, was in high demand for media interviews and he was very good about accepting interview requests. Because of Kraft's extremely busy schedule, nearly all his interviews had to be conducted after normal working hours. Policies approved by center director Robert Gilruth required a NASA public affairs officer to sit in on all media interviews of MSC personnel. I still consider the many hours I spent escorting reporters to Kraft interviews my best education on mission design and flight operations.”
PAOs experienced the despair of being at homes of fallen astronauts in order to deal with the press, and the intrigue of accompanying Apollo astronauts and scientists on geology field trips around the world. There was great media interest surrounding those trips, plus it was fascinating preparation for the missions. PAOs were with the astronauts in their jungle training in Panama, and in their quarantines after Apollo 11, 12, and 14. John McLeaish actually tasted moon dust while in quarantine with the Apollo 11 crew. “I might as well taste it and go out first class, if that’s what’s going to happen. Turns out it didn’t, obviously,” he said later.
When most people think of PAOs, they think of their familiar voices performing mission commentary. “The whole point of commentary was not to tell the public what was going on directly. The idea of the commentary was to provide good information and explanations to the media that was at the news center, so that they could disseminate correct information,” said Jack Riley.
Doug Ward adds, “While mission commentary assignments took on a high priority among our many responsibilities, they fell into the category of ‘other duties as assigned.’ We all had more than full-time jobs in addition to commentary. Terry White, for example wrote, edited and did the layout on an eight page bi-weekly employee newspaper and he wrote and edited the lion's share of each of the lengthy press kits NASA provided the world news media prior to each Apollo mission. Jack Riley was deputy news chief and handled all public information and media contacts with the astronauts. I was responsible for public information and media relations for MSC's engineering and development activities and later handled public information and media relations for the center's lunar and planetary sciences organization. John McLeaish was our boss and spent the majority of his time meeting and advising a world-wide press corps assigned to cover one of the major stories of the time.”
We owe a debt of gratitude to these dedicated, hard-working, and well-informed Public Affairs Officers who served us well through their under-appreciated work. The pages in this section are a tribute to these men and their achievements. While the transcripts simply identify the commentator as “PAO,” the audio clips help to identify names, faces, and histories with their familiar voices.
The various sources of mission audio often change the pitch of their voices, making it difficult to identify the commentator. Here are helpful benchmarks for PAO identification from well known missions:
Jack Riley did the commentary for the Apollo 11 launch and EVA.
Doug Ward commented during the Apollo 11 landing..
Terry White commented on Eagle’s liftoff from the lunar surface during Apollo 11.
John McLeaish was the commentator for the Apollo 13 problem and recovery..
Paul Haney commented on the Apollo 7 and 8 launches..
Jack King did the Apollo 11 countdown from the Firing Room at the Cape.
Chuck Hollinshead alternated with King for pre-launch commentary on later Apollo flights.
For a detailed look into NASA Public Affairs, see the exceptional book Marketing the Moon by Richard Jurek and David Meerman Scott. Doug Ward says, “Jurek and Scott did an excellent job of describing NASA public affairs philosophy and operations in Marketing the Moon. I highly recommend the book as a source.”