Westinghouse worker captured lunar landing MOON BEAMER

July 20, 1994|By Ted Shelsby | Ted Shelsby,Sun Staff Writer

It was one of the most dramatic moments in the history of television, when Neil Armstrong stepped onto the surface of the moon, and the image was beamed to more than a billion viewers via a tiny camera built in Linthicum.

And despite the 25 years that have passed today, Stanley Lebar, the 71-year-old Severna Park resident who headed a team of Westinghouse Electric Corp. engineers and technicians who developed the camera, remembers the excitement as if it were yesterday.

Seeing an astronaut coming down the ladder from the lunar landing module "was overwhelming," he said. "I was overwhelmed that the whole world was looking in. I was overwhelmed that this was a first in history."

Up to that point, he had been living in fear of all the things that could go wrong. NASA and Westinghouse studies had given the camera a 20 percent to 30 percent chance of working properly.

"I would not think my career was worth a damn if this thing failed," Mr. Lebar said yesterday as he visited the Historical Electronics Museum. The museum, about a mile from the Westinghouse plant where Mr. Lebar led about 350 workers developing the lunar camera, claims to have one of the two cameras that remain on Earth.

Mr. Lebar's biggest fear had nothing to do with his employment. It was about the safety of the astronauts making the first flight to the surface of the moon.

He said his greatest fear had to do with the 10,000 volts from the electronics in the camera and what that energy could do to an astronaut if there was a short circuit. He also worried that a spark could ignite a fire in the high-oxygen environment of the Apollo 11 command module.

But there -- about 240,000 miles away -- was Neil Armstrong descending the ladder.

It was almost too much, Mr. Lebar said. "I didn't know how to handle it. Walter Cronkite is on the line waiting to talk to me. I felt I had to get control of my emotions, so I went off into a small office with a small Sony . . .and watched it by myself," Mr. Lebar recalled.

Westinghouse designed and built seven lunar cameras under an $8 million contract from NASA.

Holding the seven-pound camera in his hand yesterday, Mr. Lebar said it had to operate in the vacuum of space, survive the 250-degree heat of lunar days and minus 300-degree nights and withstand the vibration of a Saturn 5 rocket during the launch.

"It's silver-plated to reflect the heat of the sun," said Mr. Lebar, who was the project engineer. The top is covered with a special paint -- costing $400 a gallon -- that protects it from heat and helps maintain an internal temperature of 75 degrees.

In explaining the challenge he and his team faced at the time, Mr. Lebar said the smallest television camera available weighed about 400 pounds and had to be mounted on mobile transporters. Westinghouse spent close to $1 million developing their own microelectronic chips to reduce the size of the camera. Today, chips of this complexity can be bought for about $20.

Jerry D. Donaldson, engineer manager of Westinghouse's Space Division, said the moon camera's electronics could be duplicated today in a chip about a half-inch square and one-eighth of an inch thick.

Looking back on his chapter in the history of space flight, Mr. Lebar said it was something he will never forget. "It was an event of such monumental proportion," he said. "It is an image that will be viewed 50 years from now, even a 100 years from now. Yeah, I have a lot of pride in that."

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