TV News Has Big Plans for NASA’s Elon Musk Blast-Off

Brian Steinberg

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The nation’s TV-news outlets have spent countless hours covering the coronavirus pandemic. On late Wednesday afternoon, for at least a little while, they will focus on something entirely different.

CBS News, NBC News and ABC News are preparing to break into regularly scheduled programming a few minutes before 4:30 p.m. eastern Wednesday in a bid to chronicle the launch of a joint mission between NASA and entrepreneur Elon Musk’s SpaceX that will represent the first time American astronauts will take off from U.S. soil since 2011.  Both Fox News Channel and MSNBC are planning to break away from regular programming at that time in order to bring viewers coverage of the spectacle. Fox News will offer Fox Broadcasting affiliates special coverage of the event at 4:25 p.m. with anchor Leland Vittert.

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Some news divisions are using the launch to highlight emerging business ventures and new means of distribution. When NBC News’ Lester Holt delivers a special report on NBC at 4:20 p.m. tomorrow, he will also do so via NBC News Now, the company’s live-streaming news outlet. CBSN, the CBS News live-streaming hub, plans to start live coverage tomorrow at 12:30 p.m. eastern, as the astronauts suit up and arrive at the launch pad, and then continue throughout the afternoon. CBSN will simulcast a special report at 4:20 p.m. tomorrow from CBS News’ Norah O’Donnell. CBS News’ Mark Strassmann has already snared an interview with Musk that aired on “CBS Evening News” and will air tomorrow on “CBS This Morning.”

ABC News has already disclosed big plans around the event. The Walt Disney-owned unit is teaming up with corporate sibling National Geographic to air a two-hour special report, “Launch America: Mission to Space Live,” that is slated to air at 3 p.m. eastern 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 call attention to the longer-form program.

At Fox News Channel, Neil Cavuto will pivot to the space launch during his regular 4 p.m. hour and feature interviews with experts such as Apollo 17 astronaut Harrison Schmitt and Tracy Cernan, daughter of late astronaut Gene Cernan, the last man on the moon. Miami correspondent Phil Keating will report live from the launch site in Cape Canaveral, Florida as the final countdown begins, and correspondent Kristin Fisher, the daughter of two astronauts, will offer coverage of the event throughout the hour.

At MSNBC, anchor Nicolle Wallace will turn to coverage of the launch during her “Deadline: White House.” She will be joined by retired NASA astronauts Peggy Whitson, the first female commander of the International Space Station who holds the record for longest time spent in in space, and Clayton Anderson, a member of the ISS Expedition 15 crew.

CNN’s coverage would likely coincide with anchor Jake Tapper’s regular weekday hour.

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