The Historic Mission of Apollo 11

Man Walks on the Moon for the First Time

A Personal Remembrance From 40 Years Ago

                                      By Glenn A. Walsh

                                                2009 July

Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
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2009 July

2009 July 20 marks the 40th anniversary of the first two men to walk on a celestial body other than the Earth. 40 years ago, Sunday evening, 1969 July 20 at precisely 10:56:20 p.m. Eastern Daylight Saving Time (Monday/Moonday 1969 July 21, 2:56:20 Coordinated Universal Time), Neil Armstrong made the first step of a man on the lunar surface, while millions of television viewers watched on Earth.


As a young student, I closely followed the American Space Program from the early days of Mercury and Gemini, through the tragic loss of three astronauts in the fire of Apollo 1, to the remarkable accomplishments of the Apollo program, particularly Apollo 8, the first time men circled another celestial body in a spacecraft, and Apollo 11. Beginning in the mid-1960s, I kept a scapbook of newspaper articles regarding the early space missions. In fifth grade, at De Haven Elementary School in the Shaler Township School District in north suburban Pittsburgh, I joined the Astronomy Club.


I attended my first year (seventh grade) at the Shaler Junior High School in north suburban Pittsburgh, during the mission of Apollo 8. The mission actually occurred during our holiday break in December. At that time, my family was visiting St. Petersburg Beach, Florida. Moreover, this is where I watched the astronauts read from the Bible on live television, on Christmas Eve.


1969 July 16 was a somewhat special day. This was the day I would begin my third year of Summer camp at Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca, located near Lewisburg and White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia. This camp had a rather unique physical science program that interested me: daily operation of a very small AM radio station. Indeed, for the Summers of 1972 through 1977 I served as a Camp Counselor as well as General Manager of this small radio station, known as WLCR-AM Carrier Current. To qualify for this position, in March of 1972 I had passed a Federal Communications Commission examination for a Third Class Commercial Radiotelephone License with Broadcast Endorsement (this particular radio license is no longer offered by the FCC).


This was also the day that astronauts Neil Armstrong, Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, and Michael Collins would launch to their destiny with the Moon on Apollo 11. The day before, my father had driven us to Lewisburg, where he and I stayed the night at the historic General Lewis Inn. The next morning, we waited for the launch of Apollo 11 at 9:32 a.m. EDST, as we watched on the color television set in our hotel room. Following the launch, my father took me to camp.


Television had never been permitted in Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca since the camp's opening in 1929; an exception was to be made in 1969. I was the chief instigator for ensuring that the Camp brought in a television so the campers could watch the astronauts step on lunar soil.


A television was temporarily installed in the Camp Lodge, mounted on top of a soda vending machine, so the campers could witness the first man to walk on the Moon that Sunday evening (yes, the campers were permitted to stay up later than normal, to see this historic event occur live on television).

Originally, this historic event was scheduled to take place in the early morning hours of July 21 (Monday/Moonday). The Camp Administration had agreed to wake a select number of campers (those campers who had expressed a particular interest in this event and had pre-registered, including the author), in the early morning to view the historic event. However, since the first human step on the Moon actually occurred earlier [at the tail-end of Sunday evening television “prime-time,” which was actually early Monday morning reckoned by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the time scale used by most scientists], all of the campers were able to view the historic event.


This historic event was seen on a hazy television picture from the only television channel that could be received over-the-air, at that time: NBC-TV affiliate WHIS-TV 6 (today, known as WVVA-TV 6) in Bluefield, West Virginia, about 60 miles south of the Camp.


In the Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia, not far from White Sulphur Springs, the small black-and-white television (with a VHF television antenna on the television set) could receive no other over-the-air channels. There was no closer television station because Camp Shaw-Mi-Del-Eca was just inside the National Radio Quiet Zone, which protects important research at the National Radio Astronomy Observatory in Green Bank, West Virginia, about 60 miles north of the Camp (campers did attend field trips to this scientific facility). Television reception was not great, but we could see the images from the Moon, and that is all that mattered.


Many people remember the CBS television coverage of the American Space Program, in the 1960s and 1970s, anchored by veteran news anchor, and Space Program enthusiast Walter Cronkite, who passed away at age 92 on 2009 July 17, just days before the 40th anniversary of the first Apollo landing on the Moon.


The other two major American commercial networks also had good coverage of the Space Program. ABC television enlisted their Science Editor, Jules Bergman, to head their coverage.


Frank McGee headed the coverage for NBC television, which was sponsored by the Pittsburgh-based Gulf Oil Corporation. At this time, my father, William L. Walsh, was a Senior Research Chemist for Gulf Oil’s subsidiary, Gulf Research, working at Gulf’s major research labs in Harmarville, Pennsylvania, about 10 miles northeast of Pittsburgh. These Harmarville research labs are now operated by the University of Pittsburgh.


To the shock of many people, NASA has recently admitted that the original video tape of the astronauts of Apollo 11 walking on the Moon has been lost; in fact, they believe this tape was inadvertently recorded-over by telemetry data from NASA satellites or spacecraft. Consequently, they have gone to a fair amount of expense to digitize and greatly enhance recordings of this historic event made by commercial television networks.


The camera used for these Apollo 11 moon recordings (mounted on the outside of the Lunar Module) was a black-and-white television camera, manufactured by Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Electric Company, specially designed to work in the harsh environment of the Moon. Beginning with the Apollo 12 mission to the Moon, in November of 1969, a color television camera produced by General Electric was used.


A separate 16 mm motion-picture camera also recorded the events on color film (from inside the Lunar Module), which was later developed after the astronauts returned to Earth.


For many years, a non-working model of the Westinghouse black-and-white television camera used by the Apollo 11 astronauts was on display at Pittsburgh’s original Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science. For several years, this camera was displayed in a  traditional display-case exhibit in the Great Hall on Buhl Planetarium’s first floor, near the elevator (originally built as a freight elevator; Federal funds were used to convert it to an elevator that assists the disabled in 1982).


In the mid-1980s, this display-case exhibit was dismantled, to make space for newer exhibits. The television camera was placed in storage at that time. A few years later, I found the camera model in the storage area around the periphery of the Zeiss II Planetarium Projector storage pit, and I placed the camera model on display behind the large glass window of Buhl Planetarium’s third-floor Astronomical Observatory.


Twenty years ago, for the 20th anniversary of the first manned Moon landing Pittsburgh’s original Buhl Planetarium displayed a Moon rock to the public. This coincided with the 50th anniversary year of The Buhl Planetarium and Institute of Popular Science (a.k.a. Buhl Science Center), which was dedicated 1939 October 24. The Moon rock display occurred in the East Gallery (formerly known as the Hall of the Universe, and earlier as the Hall of Astronomy).


A special display-case, with a pressure-sensitive alarm, was used to guard against theft of the valuable rock. With this special alarm system, a uniformed guard did not need to accompany display of the Moon rock. However, a Buhl Floor Aide staff person was required to watch the display, at all times the building was open to the public. Each evening, when the building closed to the public, the Moon rock was secured in the building safe, in the administrative offices.


The only other time a large Moon rock was displayed at Buhl Planetarium was in the Spring of 1970, about a half-year after the first Moon landing. In this case, a uniformed guard did accompany the Moon rock display at all times the building was open to the public. At this time, the Moon rock was displayed in Buhl Planetarium’s Great Hall on the first floor, near the main entrance to the building.




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Authored By Glenn A. Walsh *** Sponsored By Friends of the Zeiss
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