6.3 Who was already outside to televise Armstrong’s first steps?

IN A NUTSHELL: Nobody. There was an automatic TV camera attached to the outside of the lunar module.

THE DETAILS: The technical documentation of the Apollo missions shows that the video camera used to televise the first steps of Neil Armstrong on the Moon was located on a bracket (Figure 6-11) inside a container known as Modular Equipment Storage Assembly or MESA, located on one of the sides of the octagonal base of the descent stage of the lunar module.

Figure 6-11. Apollo 11's lunar TV camera,
upside down on its bracket inside the MESA.

The first astronaut to exit from the LM, while he was still at the top of the ladder, pulled a cable which released this container and allowed it to open by tilting downward. This positioned automatically the camera (Figure 6-12), which was already switched on and connected to the transmission equipment of the Lunar Module.

Figure 6-12. The astronaut training simulator shows the tilt-down MESA
and its receptacle for the TV camera (indicated by the arrow),
in position to broadcast the descent along the ladder.

The wide-angle lens of this TV camera allowed it to view the ladder and the astronaut as he descended to the surface. The placement of the camera had been preplanned and rehearsed for the very purpose of documenting this historic moment. No external TV operator was required.

The same camera was then removed from its receptacle, installed on a tripod and placed at a certain distance from the LM, to which it was connected by means of a cable, so as to televise the entire moonwalk.

During Apollo 12, however, the TV camera was pointed at the Sun by mistake shortly after the beginning of the first moonwalk. The intense sunlight damaged its sensor, putting an abrupt end to live television from the Moon for the remainder of that mission.

The camera was installed upside down in its MESA receptacle and therefore the pictures of the astronauts’ descents along the ladder were transmitted from the Moon upside down. Technicians on Earth would flip the image to broadcast it right way up, but at the very beginning of the Apollo 11 lunar TV transmission they momentarily forgot this task and so the first seconds of the broadcast are upside down.