This morning Space Shuttle Discovery returned to Earth from its final mission, completing a lifetime flight record of over 365 days in space. The broadcast can always be watched on NASA TV over at nasa.gov but NASA also offers free HD broadcast for any television network that chooses to carry it. Occasionally the local Community College Network channel (CCN1 De Anza) will show the NASA TV stream when they don't have anything else going on - sometimes. You'd think it would be a perfect program to take up dead air when no distance learning classes are being broadcast but many times there's absolutely nothing being aired.
Amazingly a few nights ago they broadcast the entire launch of the Taurus rocket for the Glory satellite project, which ended in failure due to a failed launch separation. However the entire time I was watching it I was full on expecting the broadcast to cut away. That didn't happen, no, they decided to wait for something more momentous for that.
I got up for work early so that I could watch the NASA broadcast from the time that Discovery began its deorbit burn until eventual landing and wheel stop. Basically I wanted to watch the final operational moments of my favorite of NASA's orbiters. Deorbit burn was scheduled for 7:52am PST but I was up about an hour before that and began to watch on CCN1. I was kind of shocked that they were actually showing it but I figured that since it was such an important moment in American spaceflight, De Anza realized they had a duty to provide the free service of the broadcast to the general public.
Then the clock struck 7:45 and the broadcast ended. Instead of continuing to show the final operational moments of STS-133, De Anza elected to run their usual crap broadcast that can be aired at any time. Of course I simply went over to my computer and pulled up NASA TV online and proceeded to watch the rest of the landing activities until I had to leave for work a few minutes after touchdown. However I'm sure someone that may have been simply flipping channels in the morning and came across the Shuttle return, only to have it disappear in its final moments, wouldn't think anything of it.
This is one of the fundamental problems with spaceflight and the general public. NASA providing a free HD stream for any station to broadcast is a tremendous asset to increase public awareness and involvement but only if the networks that elect to carry it actually pay attention to what is being shown. I think the final recovery of the most traveled orbital vehicle in human history can trump whatever general broadcasting that was planned for that morning. I'm sure no one would care, and if anything applaud the act, if the normal scheduled programming was delayed for the less than hour's time that remained until Discovery touched down. I'm pretty disappointed to say the least in how CCN1 handles their broadcast of NASA TV.
The bigger issue is that more channels should carry NASA TV during their downtime and pay some attention to what is being shown. It's just not programming that should be used for toss away filler, it's some of the most important things that we are doing as humans. And it's your tax dollars at work to benefit the quality and convenience of life for all of humanity.