A Remote That Broke All the Records
Camera follows astronauts to lunar landing; next challenge is color pickup from the moon
By Broadcasting Magazine -- Broadcasting & Cable, 7/17/2009 1:00:00 PM
The following article originally appeared in the July 28, 1969, issue of Broadcasting magazine.
Television went live to the moon and back last week, in its most improbable feat of actuality coverage, and then began preparing to top itself on the next lunar voyage a few months off.
The word from a jubilant Houston space center was that a color camera may accompany the next astronauts to visit the moon. The pictures last week were in black and white, but that there were any pictures at all must be counted a feat of incomparable difficulty.
The lunar origination lasted five hours and six minutes, with two and a quarter hours showing Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin Jr., in their science-fiction space suits, collecting rocks and in slow motion bouncing weightlessly across the bleak landscape. That was on the night of July 20-21. By 2 p.m. last Thursday (July 24) they and the third member of the crew, Michael Collins, were safely aboard the aircraft carrier Hornet in the mid Pacific, and eight days of grueling television coverage were ended.
It took a minimum of $11 million in expenditures and in revenue loss and an estimated 1,000 personnel for the networks to produce what had to be the biggest show in broadcast history.
"It was the greatest event I've covered in my 36 years in the business," declared Elmer Lower, the president of ABC News. His sentiments were echoed in one word-"wow"-from Walter Cronkite, who duplicated his election-night marathon with over 17 hours of broadcasting the night of the moon walk. Mr. Cronkite and his broadcasting partner, former astronaut Walter Schirra, remained speechless for several minutes after the module was down safely on the moon.
The televised moon walk attracted an audience of 125 million in the U.S., almost twice the projections made by the networks when the walk was original scheduled for 2 a.m. EDT on July 21. (It started at 10:52 p.m. July 20.)
When astronauts Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon talked to President Nixon in Washington by telephone, each network used a different technique to present the principals on the screen. ABC superimposed a head shot of the President in a circle over the picture from the camera placed by the astronauts on the moon. CBS used a split-screen technique, and NBC used a highlight form.
The astronauts themselves demonstrated a mastery of television techniques. In the last of six color broadcasts from the command capsule, shortly after 7 p.m. Wednesday (July 23), each astronaut delivered a short message to earthbound viewers. In earlier broadcasts they showed how and what they ate, how they transferred from the command capsule, Columbia, to the lunar landing module, Eagle, and how the earth and moon looked in space.
Throughout the Apollo coverage, Europe, Latin America and Japan received three network feeds from the international pool coordinator, ABC International, through the satellites over the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian oceans. The Communications Satellite Corp. reported that from launch to splashdown, more than 230 hours of satellite time, involving some 200 programs, were transmitted, exceeding the previous record of 225 hours during the Summer Olympic Games in Mexico City during an 18-day period last October.
A network of 20 earth stations, interconnected with satellites, carried the TV programs to viewers in the U.S., Latin America, Europe, North Africa, Asia and Australia.
Alaska received the coverage, said to be its first live television reports of a major news event, via an Air Force satellite and an Army antenna. The television signals were routed through commercial broadcasting facilities to the Army's satellite communications agency in Fort Monmouth, N.J., where a fixed antenna sent the signals to the Air Force's Tacsat I Satellite in the Pacific. They were then relayed to an Army antenna terminal in Anchorage.
CBS Radio coverage, including a 28-hour stretch Sunday and Monday (July 20-21), was beamed to Europe, Latin America, Africa and the Caribbean area by short-wave radio station WNYW, operated by Radio New York Worldwide. The station updated the CBS reports in the evening with reports in Spanish.
The domestic TV pool, also handled by ABC, concluded with reports from ABC's Keith McBee, CBS's Dallas Townsend, and NBC's Ron Nessen from the rescue carrier. Techniques were a little different this time because of the quarantine procedures and the presence of Richard Nixon on the ship. Six cameras, two of them hand-held, were needed to cover the action on two decks and the bridge. Don Blair of Mutual handled the audio feed for the four radio networks.
Although there is no way to count the audience abroad, a plethora of figures is available in the U.S.
National Trendex ratings for the extensive coverage Sunday (July 20), 12 noon to 11 p.m., put CBS in the lead with a 22 rating, 45 share. NBC had a 16.8 rating, 34 share, and ABC a 6.7 rating, 14 share.
National Arbitron figures for 11 a.m. Sunday through 6 p.m. Monday showed CBS leading with a 19.9 rating, 45 share, followed by NBC with 14.8, 33, and ABC with 6.8, 15.
For the splash-down period, 11:30 a.m.-3:30 p.m. Thursday (July 24), CBS led the national Arbitrons with a 21.3 rating, 51 share. NBC had a 13.6 rating, 33 share, and ABC a 5.1 rating, 12 share.
Local New York Nielsen ratings for the 42 hours of network coverage throughout the moon mission show NBC and CBS tied with an 11.6 rating, 43 share, and ABC with a 3.7 rating, 14 share. New York Arbitrons put NBC on top with a 10.5 rating, 44 share, compared to CBS's 9.7 rating, 40 share, and ABC's 3.8 ratings, 16 share.
The viewers saw television coverage "remarkably free of technical difficulties," commented Don Meaney, NBC News's vice president for special events. "The mission itself went so well, the coverage seemed to follow its example. The event was so great it overwhelmed anything else," he declared.
All three networks privately displayed a quiet pride in broadcasting's ability to cover the event.
"There are always things to be improved," Mr. Lower remarked, "but I think we all covered the shot in first-rate fashion. We really played only a minor role in bringing it to all mankind."
"We put down a proper plan and executed it," Mr. Meaney felt. "We maintained a high level of real competence; we were accurate and fast, which I believe are two important criteria."
CBS news President Richard Salant was pleased with the performance of Walter Schirra as a broadcaster, and plans to have him on hand for future space shots. Aside from the success of the mission, Mr. Salant reported his main concern was the "utter exhaustion involved" for people covering the shot.
Indications are that such extensive coverage will not be used in future moon shots. "It was truly historic this time," Mr. Meaney commented. "The next time it will be important, but it will not be historic."
The first transmissions from the moon camera were received at the space agency's Goldstone, Calif., 210-foot antenna, but after two minutes, the reception was switched to the earth station on Honeysuckle Creek in Australia and eight minutes later to the 210-foot radio astronomy antenna at Parkes, Australia. Originally, Parkes was scheduled to acquire all of the TV transmissions because at the hour the astronauts were scheduled to engage in their extra-vehicular activity (2 a.m., July 21), Australia was facing the moon and Goldstone was on the other side of earth. But when the moonwalkers moved up their EVA by almost four hours, Goldstone was still in sight of the moon and Parkes was not.
Not only are the National Aeronautics and Space Administration officials considering using a color-TV camera on the moon for the Apollo 12 shot, tentatively scheduled for November, but there is consideration being given to equipping it with its own power supply so that men on earth can actually see the liftoff of the lunar module as it launches from the moon for its rendezvous with the command module.
There are two major considerations that have to be weighed, however. One is that the Westinghouse Electric Corp., the developer and maker of the black-and-white lunar TV camera (and of the color-TV camera in the command module), will have to make the color camera more rugged to withstand the rigors of the atmosphere-less moon; the other is that a color camera would draw more than the 6 w used by the Apollo 11's monochrome camera.
If, however, a decision is made to continue using black-and-white TV on the moon for subsequent missions, NASA has nine operational, moon-designed cameras left. Westinghouse made 17 of the lunar cameras under its $7.7-million contract from NASA, of which 10 were for use on the moon missions. The other seven were used in tests and in simulations by the astronauts before they began their mission.
At that figure, the camera the Apollo 11 astronauts left behind with the other "litter" on the surface of the moon was worth $453,000. Also jettisoned from Eagle was a 14-pound "umbrella" antenna, covered with an estimated 38 miles of gold-plated wire, that was to be set up on the moon if the TV transmissions back to earth were not strong enough. It was never used, however.
Westinghouse also built two color-TV cameras for use inside the command module under a $150,000 contract from NASA. Both used a spinning color filter to produce a field-sequential color system. One was used during the eight telecasts from inside Columbia. It was similar to the color-TV camera used in the Apollo 10 flight that tested the lunar module descent toward the moon.
The 60-man Westinghouse team that worked on the lunar camera was led by program manager Stanley Lebar and technical director Larkin Niemyer. The work was done at the company's aerospace division, Defense and Space Center in Baltimore.
The moon-camera took pictures in a 320-line slow-scan 10 frames-per-second mode. This signal was fed by cable into the Eagle's processor which combined the TV with voice and data to make one composite telemetry signal. This was then amplified to about 20 w and radiated through Eagle's 26-inch S-band dish (2,000 mc band) for transmission to earth.
At Goldstone, the TV was separated from the other signals, put through a scan converter that brought it up to U.S. commercial standards of 20 frames a second. It was then passed on to Houston via land lines for delivery to the TV networks. At Parkes the telemetry composite signals were relayed by microwave 200 miles south to the Australian communications satellite earth station near Sydney, where the TV signal was removed and put through a scan converter there, then sent to Houston via the Pacific Intelsat III to the Communications Satellite Corp.'s Jamesburg, Calif., earth station and by landlines to Houston.
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