Lights, camera, action!


First TV from an American spaceflight

Fifty years ago today, October 14, on the 45th orbit of Apollo 7, as the spacecraft passed over the United States something radically new happened.  It lasted only seven minutes:  The first live TV broadcast from an American spacecraft.  (Gordo Cooper had tested a slow-scan TV on his Mercury flight in 1963, but the crude images could not be viewed on commercial TV.)

With public interest high, NASA tried to move up the first broadcast to the flight’s second day.  Spacecraft Wally Schirra stubbornly refused.   That he did is no wonder — most of the early astronauts resisted the intrusion of TV into flights.  The amazing thing is that Schirra relented at all.

Once he flipped the switch powering up the 4.5-lb. RCA camera, a marvel of miniaturization, he and fellow crewmates Walter Cunningham and Donn Eisele, proved excellent showman, holding up signs to test the camera’s ability to focus.  You could claim that the messages — such as “Hello from the lovely Apollo room high atop everything” — were the first Twitter posts.  One reading “Keep those cards & letters coming in, folks” resulted in NASA being flooded with cards and letters.  TV allowed common people everywhere to enter space.

Even Schirra would come to appreciate the TV camera.  Serving as a commentator with Walter Cronkite during Apollo l1, he thanked TV for providing images of the moonwalk.   His words sounded liked apology for resisting in-flight TV.


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