Stanley Lebar, who designed the TV camera that recorded astronaut Neil Armstrong’s moon landing 40 years ago and whose engineering breakthrough is credited with ushering in the era of live TV news broadcasting, has died. He was 84.
In 1964, NASA tasked Lebar with managing a Westinghouse team that would need to invent a camera that could withstand 250 degree Fahrenheit temperatures during the lunar day and minus 300 degrees at night. The mission also required shrinking a 400-pound studio camera to the “Flip” equivalent of its day, a 7-pound point-and-shoot.
Five years later, the Lebar-led team of 75 engineers and technicians and more than 300 manufacturers had met the challenge. In the process they had pioneered something called integrated electronic TV circuitry, which would transform news broadcasting, according to Newseum.org.
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“Soon, the words 'Live' and later, 'Live Via Satellite' became the norm instead of a rarity,” a Newseum-produced tribute to Lebar and the lunar camera reads. “TV stations brought viewers news as it was happening -- on the other side of town, or the other side of the world. The need to be first with the pictures pumped up competition.”
More than 500 million people on Earth witnessed Neil Armstrong’s lunar landing, and heard for the first time: “That’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind.”
Lebar went on to accept an Emmy for "Outstanding Achievement in Coverage of a Special Event" on behalf of his team in 1970.
After the mission was completed, the original telemetry tapes of the moon landing were misplaced. For years, Lebar searched to recover the tapes because the footage was much higher quality than what was broadcast with limited TV network technology at the time.
When that failed Lebar and his colleagues hired famed Hollywood restoration guru John Lowry to do his best with available footage. Two days before Lebar's death he saw a DVD of the restored footage, his NASA colleague told The Capital.
“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 is what it is, and we’re trying to preserve it for history and future generations,” Lebar told his son Scott, an editor at The Sacramento Bee.
Lebar is survived by his wife Elaine Lebar, three children and five grandchildren.