Apollo was a massive national effort involving hundreds of thousands of people, but only twelve walked on the moon. The rest of us watched on television.
It wouldn't have happened without the dedication of engineers from RCA and Westinghouse, along with support from key NASA managers, who sometimes had to overcome the objections of engineers and astronauts worried that TV broadcasts would distract from the mission.
Designing a television camera to work on the lunar surface was a challenge. It needed to be lightweight and compact, and had to operate in extreme temperatures and low light levels. With only minor exceptions, the cameras worked as advertised, returning some of the most memorable scenes ever recorded.
The history of the Apollo TV camera broadcasts is recounted in Dwight Steven-Boniecki’s comprehensive new book, Live TV From the Moon, just published by Apogee Books. See the gallery at right for more photos from the book. (Pictured: John Young and Gene Cernan at the end of their Apollo 17 lunar expedition)
The first live television transmission from space was broadcast from Apollo 7 in October 1968. Mission commander Wally Schirra had been wary of flying a TV camera on this first mission after the Apollo 1 fire. “It was an electrical circuit, and I had not forgotten that an electrical short had resulted in the loss of the Apollo 1 crew,” he recalled later. Despite his initial reluctance, Schirra finally agreed to fly the hand-held RCA slow-scan black-and-white camera. The Apollo 7 TV transmissions became an instant hit, and even earned the crew (Schirra, Walt Cunningham, and Donn Eisele) an Emmy in 1969.
During the transmissions, nicknamed the "Wally, Walt, and Donn Show," the astronauts gave a tour of their spacecraft, demonstrated the effects of microgravity, and even played a few jokes. Schirra wrote “Deke Slayton, are you a turtle?” on a cue card, knowing that his boss, watching in Houston, wouldn't be able to give the required fighter pilot response--“You bet your sweet a** I am!”--on live television.
Pictured here is the final cue card of the Apollo 7 crew's live TV broadcast.