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Live From The Moon

Posted July 23, 2019
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Landing on the moon was a massive engineering achievement.

But getting live TV from the Lunar Landing.. now THAT was REALLY a massive engineering achievement - maybe bigger than landing on the moon.

Bigger because the lunar landing had been done in incremental steps, each tested and checked along the path from Mercury to Apollo 11.  Going live from the moon was an incredibly complex one-shot deal with no chance to rehearse and no back up if things went bad.

Anyone in the TV business knows how hard it can be to go live from across town - and that is something that you have done a thousand time.  What did it take to go LIVE from 240,000 miles away?

A recent piece in Popular Mechanics explains in great detail the almost unimaginable engineering task that the people at RCA were faced with and conquered. 

You can, and should, read the whole article, but here are the main points.

First, RCA had to design and build a video camera that was 100% solid state, ie, chips and not tubes. Today, we don't even think of this as who has seen a tube video camera?  But RCA had to conceive of the concept and build one from scratch.  

Then, of course, it had to work on the moon. No way to test that one, really.  

A lot of people (well a few nuts) who think the moon landing was faked always say that Neil Armstrong was the second man on the moon - his camera man was first. How else did they get those images of him leaving the LEM?

RCA and NASA had to engineer an arm that Armstrong released that extended the camera and turned it back on the ladder.  

Then, they had to be able to transmit a 20W signal across 240,000 miles of space to be picked up no Earth - in real time and then transmitted around the world - live.

To do this, NASA and RCA had to construct a series of 85 foot wide receiveing dishes all over the world so the signal could never be lost.

I mean, it's just mind bending when you read about it  - which I urge you to do.

One painful aspect of reading the article is that it was written in 1969. In the last graph, the writer says that RCA has vastly upgraded the camera for Apollo 12. 

Alas, on Apollo 12, astronaut Alan Bean inadvertantly turned the camera into the sun and burned out the video processing tube, rendiering the camera useless. 


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