Designers of Moon Camera Reunite
BALTIMORE — Like any other tourist fumbling with a new camera, the task was simple enough, just point and shoot, Stan Lebar remembered Tuesday, nearly 36 years after the camera he designed brought back the first pictures from the moon. “All they had to do was throw the switch and it did everything itself,” Lebar said.
On Wednesday, Lebar and other members of that team that built the camera will turn on one of the cameras built for the mission – the first reunion of the group since they disbanded in 1970s – for visitors at the Historical Electronics Museum.
Lebar, manufacturing manager Joe Dollard and engineering managers Larkin Niemeyer and Lenny Svenson will also use a monitor specially designed for the camera, giving visitors an idea of what the actual images looked like on that monitor when they were received from the moon.
The camera was revolutionary for its time, using integrated circuits “which were just a figment of people’s imaginations at the time,” and weighing seven pounds, compared to about 200 pounds for television studio cameras, said Lebar, program manager of the Westinghouse Electric Corp. team that developed the camera.
It was also totally automatic, adjusting to changes in light, and able to see in near darkness, he said.
The camera became part of the event itself, providing the images that were rebroadcast around the world. It also provided a glimpse of what the future held for the electronics industry, he said.
“What the camera did in the industry was say ‘here it is, it can be done, we’ve just demonstrated that.’ And they picked up on that and climbed in with both feet,” Lebar said.
Some of Lebar’s personal items, including the NASA flight plan for the first moon landing, are also on display at the museum near Baltimore-Washington International Airport.
The museum has more than 100,000 items on display, ranging from World War II radar units to the tiniest tubes, said director Michael Simons, including a large number of defense electronics and spinoff products of the defense industry.
Simons said innovations made by Lebar’s team during the moon mission have “enhanced the entire field of electronics, and since been applied to numerous products.”
In addition to being smaller, the camera also worked differently because of limits on how much information could be transmitted back from the moon.
Unlike a normal television picture that showed 30 frames a second of an image made up of 525 lines, the lunar camera showed 10 frames a second of an image containing 320 lines, requiring a special monitor to view the signal, Lebar said.
It was also designed to withstand the 500 degree temperature swings between day and night on the surface of the moon, using special paints designed to help radiate away excess heat.
“It was a little different than a studio camera,” Lebar said.
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