6.13 Why did Apollo 11 transmit color TV from space but not from the Moon?

IN A NUTSHELL: Because the crew used different cameras and transmitters. Apollo 11 sent color TV pictures during its flight to the Moon, but the TV transmission from the Moon itself was in black and white because the main spacecraft, the Command Module, had better and more powerful transmission equipment than the Lunar Module and could send a good color TV signal to Earth. Also, Apollo 11's color TV camera was used only inside the spacecraft and therefore didn't have to withstand the vacuum and temperature extremes of the lunar surface; the first moonwalk camera had to be more rugged and simple. Later missions carried improved cameras and equipment that allowed color TV from the Moon as well.

THE DETAILS: It may seem rather suspicious that Apollo 11 sent color TV pictures during the flight to the Moon (Figure 6-26) but then switched to black and white for the all-important moonwalk.

Figure 6-26. Buzz Aldrin in the LM, in a frame from the color TV
transmissions sent by Apollo 11. NASA image S69-39532.


Indeed, Bart Sibrel, in A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Moon, notes this discrepancy and suggests that the perpetrators of the hoax decided it would be “better to open their debut mission with fuzzy pictures and numerous blackouts rather than show too much revealing detail of a false scene that was yet unproven”.

The actual reason for the switch was that the color transmissions were made using the Command Module's TV camera and onboard transmission equipment, which was far more sophisticated and powerful than the Lunar Module's and also had a better antenna. The Command Module was powered by fuel cells, while the LM only had batteries, and this allowed the CM to spend more power on the TV signal.

Moreover, the transmission gear of Apollo 11's LM lacked the bandwidth needed to send a color signal, while the CM had no such limitation, and the addition of color doesn't necessarily provide significant detail. However, the CM could not be used as a relay because it orbited around the Moon every two hours and therefore was often out of contact with the LM or Earth or both.