NASA decides to televise
It wasn’t always certain that the Apollo 11 lunar module would carry a TV camera. NASA committed to this only a few months before the flight.
Keeping flight weight down was a priority – so important that the lunar module didn’t even have seats for the astronauts.
But NASA’s director of Flight Operations during the Apollo program, Christopher Kraft, thought TV was important too. “I told them to go ahead and figure out how we can take [the television camera] along,” he said.
As NASA didn’t know if sending a TV signal 384,000 kilometres back from the Moon was even feasible, it had to share bandwidth with voice, telemetry, and biomedical data signal. All from one 66cm radio dish on top of the lunar module that used just 20 watts of power – the same energy output as two LED light bulbs.
It meant the TV signal had just a ninth of the bandwidth used to broadcast TV on Earth.
Westinghouse Electric Corporation had already spent five years developing the lunar TV camera, originally to take images for science. The standard TV camera of the day weighed 50–60 kg; the Westinghouse team created one weighing only 3 kg. This camera could be operated with one hand and drew just 6 watts of power – less than a light for a Christmas tree.
Westinghouse made five TV cameras for the Apollo program. The one that captured Neil Armstrong’s famous first footstep is still where the astronauts left it: on the surface of the Moon.
These cameras were never used again, as Apollo 11 revealed standard TV signals could travel all the way from the Moon to Earth. This led to clearer, sharper broadcasts during subsequent Apollo missions.