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Live TV from the Moon with Dwight Steven-Boniecki - Live Sho

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In 1969 a group of astronauts changed the world. They walked on the Moon. Neil Armstrong: That's one small step for man; one giant leap for mankind. In 1972 our journey ended. We've never been back. 2010 begins a year of change, private companies are working on next generation space ships. Governments are looking to go back to the Moon and on to Mars. It's time to look up and dream again. It's time to push Humans in to the Cosmos. It's time to educate and engage the planet. It's time for Spacevidcast. Ben: Welcome to Spacevidcast 3.27. Friday 13th August. Dum dum dum. My name is Benjamin Higginbotham. with me as always is the beautiful, lovely, wonderful and talented Cariann Higginbotham. We are your Spacevidcasters. As usual we have got an action packed "epicsode" for you tonight. You know one of the things not that alot of people think of, during the Apollo mission was all of the video. That they have. When we first stepped foot on the Moon. there was live television. There was live television from the Moon, and tonight we've got... will you help me with the name? Cariann: really? Ben: Oh yeah, I did it in pre show and I got it right and I know I'm gonna screw it up right now. Cariann: It's 'Dwight Steven-Boniecki ' Ben: ♪Polish Accent♪ Boniecki. We've got the author of 'Live TV from the Moon', Dwight joining us live via Skype. Dwight, welcome to Spacevidcast. Dwight: Hello, it's great to be here. Thanks for having me on the show at 3am in the morning, or 4. Ben: You're overseas. You're not in the States. Which is weird for us. So what were going to do, we're going to keep you up as late as humanly possible and see how punchy you get, it's going to be great. Dwight: I can handle it. Ben: so let's start at the beginning. We all just kind of assumed that television was going to be on the Apollo missions because it's a historic event. You gotta broadcast it. But that's not actually the case, they had to fight for that. So let's start even pre Apollo. what was the whole story behind them getting cameras on the space craft. Dwight: The original idea for using television on the Apollo missions.... Oh, you've got me on this. I've forgottern the terminology, I'm so nervous. They were going to use them as the guidance system for landing the actual rocket on the Moon. Basically the astronauts were going to be lying back looking at a TV monitor and the cameras would be facing towards lunar surface. And they could roughly land, where they were susposed to land. And that's what they originally planned the cameras for. Then they started to think, well the Russians sent back to the far side of the Moon. And NASA started to think maybe it's... a good idea if we telecast what we're doing up in Space. So that the general public, the tax payers who are finance the Space industry at that time. There wasn't much private space exploration, it was all handled by NASA. Subcontracted out to all these other companies. The tax payer essentially payed for the Moon missions. So that's why they ended up deciding to develop or research television systems. The problem being there were two camps within NASA, the public affairs office knew exactly it was such a publicity stunt to have television. They were all for it. There were the engineers, most of them were saying, "this is added weight, we don't need it. It puts the astronauts in danger". Because instead of looking at the controls on the control panel they were goofing around with a camera. Ben: so let's talk about the added size and weight. Because I remember back when I was doing TV, we'll say not that long ago but realistically a while ago. I remember using an old tube camera. Isn't that essentially we're talking about, we're not talking about CCD's. We're talking about old tubes that convert light in to electricity. The camera I worked on was a 3 tube camera; was very fragile, very sensitive. You couldn't point it at bright objects. It was very large. It was large! It was heavy. These are all things you do not want on a space mission. You don't want something very fragile. Very large and very heavy. Those are pretty much the three things you have to say 'no' to. And so they basically had to invent something completely new, in order to be able to just get the approval to bring this thing to the Moon. Dwight: Yeah, This discussion; yes, no, yes, no. That went up basically up until a couple of weeks before Apollo 11 launched, if you can believe that. They had the cameras, everything was developed. It was tested. It was fully flight tested. But there was still the contingency, no it's not worth having because of the weight and the hassle it gives to the astronauts. While they are walking on the surface of the Moon. You look at it today and think, how short sighted is that? And coming back to the size of things, that is a high definition camera, that I own. 1080 high resolution mode, look at the size of that thing. Now I have something very interesting, it's not actually a flight camera piece of equipment. Sorry, I live in Germany trying to speak English sometimes I think what the hell is an English word again? *laughter* Dwight: that is a single tube from an Earth based 3 tube camera that was at the launch facility in Cape Canaveral. So you can get an idea of the size of the cameras in those days. And that's just for a standard definition video. Of the rocket being flung up into the sky from the launch pad. Ben: and that's just the tube, not even the whole camera. That's just a part that converts light into an electrical impulse. Dwight: Exactly. Ben: in this case, only one of the tubes.You needed three, one for each part of the light spectrum. Red, green and blue. Dwight: plus somebody had to sit there and register the colours, so they match. So you have a decent looking picture. and then you think of the guys that were part of building the system that would convert. Studio cameras that you see on the old Beatles clips sometimes when they get the camera operator in the shot. You just think this big monsterous thing, and you think what the hell is that? Looks like a Cannon. They were thinking of putting one of those things on the lunar module at one point. They were just like "no!". Ben: so what was the progression then, how did they get from that big monstrosity to something they could actually, and did, bring to the Moon? Dwight: there was a tube vidicon camera. The vidicon tube that RCA had developed. Which was well suited for smaller cameras. They had developed that for mainly outside broadcasting. They were then asked to build a small black and white slowscan camera. Single tube, black and white. Which was what you saw on Apollo 7 and 8. It was small enough to be taken onboard and easy enough that the astronauts didn't have to do any settings other than turn it on, and turn it off. and point it in the right direction. And if you watch the telecast from Apollo 8 there's a sequence where they've got the Earth in shot, now the guys in the spacecraft could not see the Earth but they were getting commands from Houston telling them, "move slightly to the left, to the right." Whilst I was doing the research I thought ok, they must have been turning it in the window. What actually was happening, Frank Borman was spinning the space craft into the direction to get the Earth in shot. They didn't have a view finder, they couldn't se what they were doing. Ben: I just want to point this out, chapter six in your book. I think this is a fantastic read, I love your book. I'm a video geek too. But chapter six starts with a quote from Frank Borman... are you grabbing a copy to see what I'm about to read? Dwight: It was two years ago that I wrote it. *laughter* Ben: I saw this and burst out laughing, and this just goes back to the challenges of just getting the cameras there. He [Frank Borman] said, "I didn't want to take the damn television camera with me". So it wasn't just a technical problem, the astronauts didn't even want to use it. Dwight: well, there's also a quote from the chapter before, from Walter Schirra. The Apollo 1 crew were his friends saying take this additional piece of this electronic equipment. And turn it on please, and he's like "No". There was alot of pressure within the television industry; CBS, NBC, ABC. To get a camera on there. And somebody in Washington actually applied the pressure onto NASA, and said "you've got to have this". "the people pay for these missions, they have a right to see what's going on." These days, we look at this over 40 years ago, the first live telecast from Apollo seven. And we think, who decided it was a stupid idea? This is what we rely on these days to get an idea what the missions are like. If we didn't have the video, we'd be like... er, you know. Ok. The frustrating thing is, although they've got the 16 milimetre footage, when they landed we didn't see the pictures as they landed. We only heard the audio, well I didn't... I was only a baby at the time, but my parents heard the audio. There was a plan to televise the landing aswell but they didn't have the bandwith and they couldn't get a stable lock on the signal. So they abandoned that idea, again there was the side that said we should televise everything, Then there was there side that said, no - we actually shouldn't really televise anything. Ben: well they kind of ended up half way between. Where they televised what they could. Dwight: right, exactly. The most important stuff which was the Moon walks. Were televised from the point up until Apollo 16, as they came down the ladder. And from that point on, Apollo 16, they delayed landing on the Moon because of a problem with the command module. And on the antenna, if I remember correctly, on the command module was out of commission. or faulty, so they decided to abandon the low gain antenna and use it when it was mounted on the lunar rover. Which was then the remote control camera, and completely commanded from Houston. Ben: you're talking about antennas, so let's talk about some of the technical problems that come in to the bandwith required transmit video. Back in the day we had NTSC video that requires a pretty good chunk of bandwith. And theres no way in hell we're going to do video, we only do things that are mission critical. Basically said the video from this is going to hog all of our available bandwith. All of our analogue signals are going to go into the video. And so they had to create interesting ways to get around that to ensure they weren't hogging the entire spectrum. Talk a little bit about that. Dwight: Ok, if you look at the Apollo 11 or anything prior to that except for Apollo 10, which was in colour. It's a very jumpy movement, and that is because they were transmitting at 10 frames per second where as normal video when you watch a television programme is 30 frames per second. So what they essentially did is they cut out two thirds of the bandwith of moving pictures.

Video Details

Duration: 39 minutes and 46 seconds
Year: 2010
Country: United States
Language: English
Producer: Adam Jochum
Director: Benjamin Higginbotham
Views: 116
Posted by: spacevidcast on Aug 14, 2010

Author Dwight Steven-Boniecki joins us for our 99th live show as we talk about his book "Live TV from the Moon". This is the story of not only the technical problems of broadcasting live TV from the moon, but also the political ones as well. The story doesn't end here though! Spacevidcast epic subscribers can see the remainder of this live show over at Just sign up for epic access and get the rest of this interview as well as a bunch of supporting material. It's epic!

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