Stanley Lebar, Westinghouse engineer

Westinghouse engineer led team that developed camera used to broadcast Neil Armstrong's first steps on moon

December 30, 2009|By Jacques Kelly

Stanley Lebar, a retired Westinghouse engineer whose camera brought live TV images of Neil Armstrong's first steps on the moon to millions of viewers, died of cardiac arrest Dec. 23 at Baltimore- Washington Medical Center. The Severna Park resident was 84.

When Mr. Armstrong descended the ladder from the lunar module, Mr. Lebar, a Westinghouse Electric Corp. engineer, watched in a small lab at Mission Control in Houston. The historic images he and the rest of the world saw originated in a camera he had helped build.

"There was the emotion of having worked so hard and seeing the camera work so well, but there was also the sheer exhilaration of watching a man walk on the moon," he told a Baltimore Sun reporter earlier this year, when he was honored for his role in the first lunar landing during its 40th anniversary.

Mr. Lebar oversaw more than 75 engineers and technicians at the Linthicum-based facility. Their challenge was to create a camera that would operate in the dim lunar night and withstand extreme temperatures - 250 degrees Fahrenheit during the lunar day and 300 degrees below zero at night. The camera weighed 7 pounds and resembled a bread pan.

When he began his research, the smallest conventional television camera weighed nearly 700 pounds. Westinghouse spent nearly $1 million to make microelectronic chips to reduce the weight and eliminate heavy tubes.

"There was a great deal of tension until the time they threw the switch," he said. "When the space capsule's door opened, and I knew the camera was working, it was pure elation."

There was no backup camera on board. Mr. Lebar said his greatest fear concerned the 10,000 volts from the electronics in the camera and what that amount of energy could do to an astronaut if his engineering short-circuited.

News stories said the black-and-white images were watched by more than 500 million people on July 20, 1969.

"I didn't know how to handle it," he said in a 1994 Sun interview. " Walter Cronkite is on the line wanting 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."

Born in Richmond, Va., and raised in Brooklyn, N.Y., he enlisted in the Army Air Corps during World War II. He hoped to be a pilot but was made a ball turret gunner and served in the Pacific. He later used the GI Bill to earn a degree in electrical engineering at the University of Missouri. He joined Westinghouse in 1953 at its Aerospace Division in Linthicum. He retired there in 1986.

Westinghouse specialized in defense contracts, but Mr. Lebar argued he had seen enough death and destruction during the war and declined to build weapons, family members said. He was assigned to a program to build a camera to put on the moon. Beginning in 1964, he worked to build the device that could be handled by astronauts wearing clumsy spacesuits.

The scientific community considered the black-and-white camera an engineering marvel, compacted with integrated circuitry and innovative design. But it was not a high priority for Westinghouse or NASA.

Initially, astronauts objected to bringing it on the missions; NASA dubbed it not "mission critical," meaning it had no bearing on the success or failure of the mission.

"My father overcame their objections," said his son, Scott Lebar, an editor at the Sacramento Bee.

Months later, in 1970, when an astronaut pointed a camera at the sun and damaged it, there were no televised images.

"Without the camera to witness the walk, no one cared," Mr. Lebar said. "Sometimes failure drives success; it just depends on how you look at it."

He and his group also engineered another camera, a color camera, that was carried aboard the Apollo 10 and subsequent missions. Mr. Lebar won an Emmy for his color camera in 1970.

Neil Armstrong wrote an e-mail to the Lebar family in which he said, "He lived a long life and accomplished much. We were lucky to have had him on the team."

About four years ago, Mr. Lebar began working to find the original telemetry tapes of the 1969 lunar walk. He combed archives and produced improved pictures of the walk. The images were unveiled last summer for the 40th anniversary of the moonwalk at a news conference at Washington's Newseum.

"Just imagine if you had video of the Pilgrims landing on Plymouth Rock. Wouldn't you want to see that? Wouldn't you want that for everyone? That's what this is, and we're trying to preserve it for history and future generations," he told his son.

In his free time, Mr. Lebar enjoyed bicycling and was a founding member and president of the Friends of the B&A Trail. He created a series of sculptural planets on the trail near Harundale Mall and called this stretch the Planet Walk.

He also enjoyed music and attended Baltimore Symphony Orchestra concerts. He volunteered during tax season to help file forms for those who needed assistance.

Services will be held at 10 a.m. today at Temple Beth Shalom, 1461 Baltimore- Annapolis Blvd. in Arnold, which Mr. Lebar co-founded in 1961.

In addition to his son, survivors include his wife of 61 years, the former Elaine Lebowitz; another son, Dr. Mark Lebar of St. Leonard; a daughter, Dr. Randi Lebar of Springvale, Maine; and five grandchildren.

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