"MTU ATUA MWEZINI" was the way newspaper readers in Dar es Salaam got the word on July 20, 1969. In Suriname the headline was wordier: "Mannen van de aarde liepen rond op de maan." In Bogota, Il Tiempo said it succinctly: "Hombre en la luna."
Front pages from around the world line the halls and walls of the Newseum in commemoration of the 30th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission. However the languages and typefaces varied, the message was the same: Men had landed on the moon -- and lived -- fulfilling an ancient dream.
The Newseum exhibition focuses on the role of the press in fanning the spark that grew into the fiery rocket trails soaring above Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral again). The conceit is not as saucy as it sounds: The engineers and pilots who built and flew the spacecraft were nurtured on science fiction magazines. The public and politicians were proselyted to support space exploration through mainstream magazine articles by and about such enthusiasts as Willy Ley and Werner von Braun. Post-Sputnik national pride and dire warnings about what later proved to be a nonexistent missile gap between the United States and the Soviet Union (now Russia again) helped persuade Congress to cough up billions for the space race.
How the world press played the moon landing story is a story in itself. Almost everywhere it was the lead article, often the only article, on newspaper front pages. In the sore-loser Soviet Union, editors displayed the story toward the bottom of the page, under modest headlines. In mainland China, the moon landing didn't happen: The government-controlled news media, which is to say all Chinese news media (and those in North Korea and North Vietnam) ignored the story, leaving nearly a third of the human race unaware that the man in the moon was no longer just a figure of speech.
Front page facsimiles, vintage magazine texts and astronaut memorabilia are scattered throughout the lobby and halls of the Newseum, adding visual cacophony to the hubbub of visitors, dozens of monitor screens and the thunderous giant-screen video News Wall. The organization of the exhibit elements isn't easily apparent, which inadvertently gives everybody a chance to play investigative reporter and track down the story. Just as news is "a rough draft of history," this is a rough draft of an exhibit, largely because of a lack of logically contiguous display space.
Actually the best way to approach the exhibit is electronically. The Newseum's Web site presents a much more coherent account of the show, and is especially helpful in explaining why and how the story was played. It also highlights an earthshaking but often overlooked spinoff of the moon project: the minicam. The light, tough, handy video camera developed for the astronauts led not only to an enormous increase in on-the-spot news broadcasts, it made a visual tool available to the average citizen whose power can be attested to by, for instance, Rodney King and the Los Angeles Police Department. The Web site's an excellent way to prepare a kid, a class or anyone else to see the show, and -- when it's working -- includes effective audiovisuals.
After viewing the Newseum's bright stuff, visitors are invited to take a free "Lunar Shuttle" to see the real stuff at the National Air and Space Museum. The bus leaves the Newseum every hour on the hour from 11 to 5 and Air and Space every half-hour from 10:30 to 4:30.
Visitors of a certain age may be shocked to realize that 30 years have passed since the first man set foot on the moon. It may inspire even more melancholy to realize that nearly 27 years have passed since the last man did so. Apparently our dream has dissipated into been there, done that.
DATELINE MOON: The Media and the Space Race -- Through Sept. 12 at the Newseum, 1101 Wilson Blvd., Arlington. (Metro: Rosslyn). 703/284-3544 or 888/639-7386. Web site: www.newseum.org Open 10 to 5 Wednesday through Sunday. Free. Wheelchair accessible.
CAPTION: Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin on the moon.
CAPTION: The front page of a New Orleans newspaper trumpets the event.
CAPTION: "Crossing the Last Frontier," an oil painting by Chesley Bonestell.