Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Voices and Memories : Paul Haney, Voice of Mission Control, Dies at 80

Paul Haney

A voice can carry with it so much more than the message it's speaker wishes to convey. It brings with it memories and feelings, and images of places and times. Whether they are melodious and easy on the ear, raspy or shrill, the voices of those we love are a sound that we enjoy more than any other.

When my father lay dying in his hospital room, many people came to visit him, and say their goodbyes, as he lay barely conscious during the last weeks. When my aunt, who has a very distinct nasal tone to her voice travelled across the country to see him, he knew her by her voice at once, opening his eyes and calling out her name. His memories, and love for her were inseparable from that voice that would never be on the nightly news, but would always be in his heart.
The tone, accent, and cadence of a voice can frame and qualify the message it delivers, it can frighten or incite us. It can challenge us and inspire us. During the early years of the space program both the voice of mission control, and the information it shared was shaped by Paul Haney.

Here is an excerpt from Mr. Haney's New York Times Obituary by Kenneth Chang

Paul Haney, who was known as the voice of NASA’s mission control for his live commentary during the Gemini and Apollo space flights in the 1960s, died Thursday in Alamogordo, N.M. He was 80.It was Mr. Haney’s voice as director of public affairs that broadcast audiences heard live from the Houston control room, explaining what was going on. The calmness that the public heard from 1965 to 1969, as Mr. Haney announced tense events like launchings and difficult recoveries, contrasted with some behind-the scenes conflict.

Working as a newspaper reporter before and after his time at NASA, Mr. Haney pushed the space agency to share more information with reporters and often clashed with engineers and astronauts who sought to avoid disclosures that might be embarrassing.

“He believed it should all be open,” said Bill Johnson, who worked for Mr. Haney at NASA. “That was his conflict with the other branches of NASA. Eventually that was what got him fired.” That was only a few months before the historic moon landing.

Mr. Haney went to London, where he provided NASA commentary for the Independent Television News in Britain and wrote for The Economist. He also worked for newspapers in Houston, Charleston, S.C., and St. Petersburg, Fla.

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