“A cheer went up in the control room at the laboratory when it was announced the pictures were coming through after a 45-second warmup mode,” UPI said.
The video transmitted to home viewers was not a smooth, continuous picture. The video resolution was too high for standard TV sets of the time, and had to be down-converted. Viewers at home saw what appeared to be a series of still pictures that changed every few seconds.
Still, the flight provided important data that NASA used to plan the upcoming moon landings, and the telecast was regarded as an unqualified triumph.
“Millions of Americans throughout the country had a ringside seat to history in the making as American science and the major networks brought them a television spectacular with their morning toast and coffee for the second straight day,” UPI said.
Back on Planet Earth, today was a memorable day at one local radio station for a more prosaic reason.
At KDKA (1020), owners Westinghouse Broadcasting announced that Wally Dunlap had been named the new general manager. Dunlap succeeded Fred Walker, who had gone to Group W’s KYW-TV, then located in Cleveland.
On this date in 1965, millions of viewers watched a devastating crash live on their TV screens.
It was the Ranger 9 spacecraft, which was beaming pictures of the Moon’s surface back to Earth at the moment it plowed right into a crater.
The crash was intentional. In fact, NASA’s scientists had designed the spacecraft for a kamikaze mission.
It was an era when it seemed like U.S. space flight triumphs were coming on a daily basis; just a day earlier, NASA had launched its first two-person spacecraft, Gemini 3, with crewmen Gus Grissom and John Young.
Gemini 3 orbited the Earth three times, traveling 80,000 miles before splashing down in the Atlantic Ocean, north of the Dominican Republic.
Ranger 9 was the last of three Ranger-class space probes successfully launched by NASA in 1964 and 1965 to capture video and still images of the Moon’s craters.
The spacecraft, launched March 21, 1965, from Cape Canaveral, carried six slow-scanning RCA-made video cameras, which beamed images back to Earth in the 900 MHz band — above the highest available UHF TV channels, in a frequency range now used for pagers, cell phones and two-way radios.
The views “alternated between sharp definition and a lighter and slightly fuzzy picture,” UPI reported. “Scientists said the pictures were better than could be obtained from Earth under any condition.”
Ranger 9’s cameras began sending images back to Earth at 8:49 a.m. Pittsburgh time, and all three major American TV networks interrupted scheduled Tuesday daytime programming to show the video live.
In Pittsburgh, that meant pre-empting “Captain Kangaroo” on KDKA-TV (2) and “Ricki and Copper” on WTAE-TV (4), according to local TV listings.
NBC’s “Today” show, running on WIIC-TV (11) and WFMJ-TV (21) in Youngstown, joined the moon broadcast as part of its regular coverage.