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  7/20: Apollo 11 lunar camera team reunion (MD)

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Author Topic:   7/20: Apollo 11 lunar camera team reunion (MD)
Robert Pearlman

Posts: 32038
From: Houston, TX
Registered: Nov 1999

posted 07-17-2005 04:03 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Robert Pearlman   Click Here to Email Robert Pearlman     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Historical Electronics Museum release
Historical Electronics Museum to Host Reunion of Apollo 11 Lunar Camera Team

The Historical Electronics Museum, located at 1745 West Nursery Road in Linthicum, Maryland, will host the first-ever reunion of the Westinghouse Electric Corp. team that designed and built the Apollo 11 lunar camera that recorded man's historic first steps on the moon on July 20, 1969.

The ceremony will take place on the 36th anniversary of the historic moon mission on Wednesday, July 20 at 7:00 p.m. in the museum's Pioneer Hall. Present will be Stan Lebar, program manager of the Lunar Camera team, along with manufacturing manager Joe Dollard and engineering managers Larkin Niemeyer and Lenny Svenson. All four will discuss their roles in developing this ground-breaking technology. On display in Pioneer Hall will be the black and white Apollo camera and monitor, Apollo color camera and monitor, and objects from Stan Lebar's personal collection, including a portion of the color camera recovered from the moon.

"The Historical Electronics Museum is honored to host the first reunion of the Apollo camera team," said Michael Simons, director of the museum. "Their innovations have enhanced the entire field of electronics, and since been applied to numerous products that have benefited society."

The Apollo 11 lunar camera reunion is open to the public and free of charge. However, space is limited and you must RSVP in advance by calling Anne Mech at the museum at (410) 765-0230 during regular museum hours.

Typically the museum is open to the public, free of charge, on weekdays from 9:00 a.m. until 3:00 p.m., and on Saturdays from 10:00 a.m. until 2:00 p.m. However, the museum will operate expanded hours on July 20 - opening at 9:00 a.m. - and will remain open all day in observance of the historic event. For information on booking group tours, rental events, membership or volunteering, please contact the museum at 410-765-0230.

From telegraph and radio to radar and satellites, the Historical Electronics Museum offers visitors free access to the electronic marvels that have helped share our world. The museum offers a wide variety of both static and interactive displays, as well as a research and lending library that is open to the general public. From curious young children to dedicated research scientists, everyone can enjoy a fun, informative visit. The museum is located just minutes from I-695, I-95 and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, and just north of Baltimore-Washington International Airport.


Posts: 843
From: New Windsor, Maryland USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 07-19-2005 04:38 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I used to work just down the street from the museum. It's tucked away and I'm certain few people even know about of its existence.

As I recall, Basil's Deli is nearby, and happy hour at the Holiday Inn next door was always a joy.

I spoke with them on the phone today and learned that the museum has moved since last I visited. But not very far.


Posts: 843
From: New Windsor, Maryland USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 07-21-2005 12:02 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Last night I attended the Apollo 11 Lunar TV Camera Reunion held at the Historical Electronics Museum in Linthicum, MD near the Baltimore-Washington International (BWI) airport. It was a wonderful evening and well worth the rush hour drive.

Press releases said the event was open to the public. I called the museum to confirm and was invited to come on down. Arriving about 40 minutes prior to the program I was surprised to discover a buffet spread featuring two of my favorite food groups -- prime rib and cheesecake. The open bar was a real thirst slaker and an excellent ice breaker.

The museum has moved since the last time I paid a visit in the late 1980's. At that time it was at a cramped location on Elkridge Landing Road several blocks from it's current greatly expanded site.

The evening was led by Stan Lebar, program manager for the lunar TV camera. The camera was built by a team of engineers from Westinghouse Electric Corp. that is now part of the Electronic Systems Division of Northrop Grumman.

The camera weighed only 7.5 lbs and ran on 7 Watts -- approximately the same power as the bulb in one of those electric candles you see in windows around Christmas time. Unlike the standard 30 frame-per-second TV rate the lunar camera operated at just 10 fps.

The conversion from 10 to 30 fps was blamed for the fuzzy images observed by millions of television viewers world wide. As evidence Stan projected a slide of a scan from a Polaroid image taken of the screen on the camera's monitor during the Apollo 11 moonwalk. It was crisp and sharp.

The monitor in turn has only a 10" B&W screen. During the talk team members performed a demonstration by activating a vintage Apollo lunar surface camera unflown flight unit and its ground equipment monitor. The camera was pointed at a screen on which an image of Buzz Aldrin climbing down the LM ladder was projected. It was an image taken by Neil Armstrong using the lunar surface Hasselblad film camera.

The TV camera was designed to work in both lunar day and night. I think he said that in full sun it operated at F60. To demonstrate the low light level capability the slide projector's lamp was dimmed until it was no longer visible to the human eye at all on the screen. Yet on the monitor the descending astronaut could still be clearly seen.

To prove that it was not an after image or trick two members of the team took turns standing in front of the slide projector. Their shadows projected onto the screen was clearly visible on the monitor.

The camera in the demonstration was said to be 38 years old. Built to be highly reliable with a Mean Time Between Failures (MTBF) of 30 years the camera was still performing above its specs 36 years beyond its expected useful life!

Quite a few secrets were revealed -- some of which were being heard for the first time by other members of the team. The team developed a color version of the camera using some sort of war chest or secret IR&D slush fund.

One of the most vigorous supporters of the color camera developed by the team was astronaut Tom Stafford (Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, and ASTP). According to Mr. Lebar following a late night demonstration of the color camera Stafford transported it to the pad in the middle of the night where he instructed a technician to test the camera and its monitor and then to stow it. That's how color TV came to space.

But on Apollo 11 they didn't want to take chances and used the tried and true B&W camera on the lunar surface. The camera was mounted on the door of the Modular Equipment Storage Assembly (MESA).

Since the top was the camera's only flat surface it was mounted to the door of the MESA. Thus, when the door was opened the camera was upside down. This is why the image of Armstrong coming down the ladder was initially upside down. This was corrected with the throwing of a switch on the ground. When the camera was removed and placed on its tripod the switch had to be thrown back to keep the image right side up.

Although Westinghouse had an apparent lock on the space TV camera market, NASA bowed to pressure from Westinghouse's main rival RCA and requested that both companies come to Houston for a demonstration of their respective TV cameras. RCA was pioneering color television in the 1960's and so their team called themselves the "rainbow team."

When NASA asked Lebar what name the team from Westinghouse would go by, he replied the "Furcat team." Apparently one of the NASA typists decoded the underlying secret behind the name when she noticed that the acronym for "RCA Team" was embedded in the word furcat.

Westinghouse won the competition that day. However, RCA did manage to get the contract for the lunar surface cameras which were mounted on the Lunar Roving Vehicle (LRV) for the 'J' missions (Apollos 15 through 17).

One low point was mentioned several times. That was on Apollo 12 when LMP Alan Bean (Apollo 12 and Skylab 2) accidentlly pointed the camera at the sun and burned out the camera. That's the bad news. The good news was that when the camera was brought back to earth to be studied it was discovered that it wasn't ruined after all. Apparently switching operating modes would have corrected the problem. However, the camera had no external controls.

Although I don't recall seeing them, parts from the color TV camera flown to the moon's surface on Apollo 12 were supposed to be on display last night. I did see a color lunar surface TV camera on display but I assume that it was another unflown flight unit and not the one used on Apollo 12.

On the bright side the team received an Academy Award for their work. The statuette was on display at the museum. It was the first time I have ever seen one of those up close.

When the program concluded they distributed photo folders with an 8x10 image of the lunar surface camera. I presume the image was one of those taken by Armstrong.

I bumped into a friend that works at Northrop-Grumman. He took me around and introduced me to several retired engineeers who were present including a few of the TV camera team members.

Luckily I was carrying a black sharpie in my shirt pocket and four of the six persons that spoke graciously signed my souvenir:

  • Stan Lebar -- Program Manager
  • Lenny Svenson - Engineering Manager
  • Harry Smith - (not sure what his title was)
  • Aris Melissaratos - (current Maryland State Secretary of Business and Economic Development)
I want to thank Robert Pearlman for the heads up on this event. If it wasn't for up to date news and sightings information posted on collectSPACE opportunities like these would be missed.


Posts: 945
From: South Bend, IN
Registered: Apr 2002

posted 07-21-2005 06:50 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for spaceman1953   Click Here to Email spaceman1953     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
GREAT report, Glint.... many thanks!

You must be reading minds. My question would have been around the Apollo 12 camera problem, the BIGGEST disappointment in my mind of the whole Apollo program (right after canceling 18, 19 and 20)!

So thanks for that too!


Posts: 843
From: New Windsor, Maryland USA
Registered: Jan 2004

posted 07-22-2005 08:24 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Glint   Click Here to Email Glint     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
This is only my opinion, but I feel that the instant the Apollo 12 TV image blinked out was the pivotal moment when the tide of public interest turned away from lunar exploration. Stan Lebar even noted that the press room essentially emptied out when there was nothing to watch during the EVA.

Four months later the Apollo 13 lunar landing was scrubbed. This was followed by a 9 1/2 month break before a return to flight. Up to this time the Apollo missions had been coming fast and furious enabling the program to bridge the press's attention span. But by the time Apollo 14 landed some 17 months had passed since the public had seen a live lunar EVA, one that was in a boring shadowy B&W. As the media became less interested the public saw less live TV coverage. Some of us have had to wait over 30 years to finally see EVAs from the later missions (thanks to Spacecraft Films!).

I'm not pointing any fingers and some might criticize me for saying this, but I wonder if the Apollo 12 color lunar TV camera incident was a (perhaps subliminal) motivating factor behind Bean's subsequent lunar space art career. In other words could the motivation behind the beautiful works painted by Mr. Bean have be compelled by a desire to provide compensation? Perhaps those who knew or know Mr. Bean personally might choose to comment.

Back to Wednesday's reunion. Lebar said that after the incident NASA asked him to speak at a press conference. He agreed, but suggested that NASA should advance a press release first. According to Lebar the reason was he didn't want to say too much and wanted to let NASA set the stage.

When he saw a copy of the statement prior to its release he objected because it said that the camera had failed. Obviously he didn't want to accept the blame for a human error by one of NASA's employees.

Eventually the statement was reworded for accuracy, released to reporters, and the press conference went forward.

All times are CT (US)

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