Monday, July 29, 2019

To the Moon

by Susan Zehnder, Education Director
Fifty years ago, an invention by a man in Horseheads, New York, helped us see our world in a new way. That summer on the evening of July 20, 1969, astronaut Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the moon’s surface. The world watched as the event was broadcast live using special camera technology developed at Westinghouse Corporation out of Horseheads.
Image of Westinghouse workers from our collection, n.d.

Dr. Gerhard W. Goetze (1930-2007) led the team of scientists as Operations Manager. He had discovered the Secondary Electron Conduction (SEC) effect which captured and amplified individual particles of light, and now his team of scientists adapted the SEC tube to fit NASA’s needs. Under his leadership, they developed the camera technology that allowed NASA to capture images in extreme light and dark conditions and broadcast them back to Earth.

The SEC technology had a variety of applications. It became an important part of night vision sensors, security cameras, and in electron-microscope-based biological tissue studies. It was found critical in work inspecting integrated circuits and helpful in ground-based astronomy work. As for the moon landing, “There would be no other way to get yesterday’s pictures of the moon without this tube” Dr. Goetze was quoted as saying in a Star-Gazette newspaper article published the day after the moon landing.
Gerhard W. Goetze, PhD, (photo source Wikipedia)

Dr. Goetze went on to be awarded a special patent for his work, and the Westinghouse team, along with NASA engineers, won an Emmy for their Apollo broadcasts.

Goetze’s graduate work in atomic physics had first caught the eye of the American government back in the mid-1950s. In 1959, the US Department of the Army sponsored him and he moved from Germany with his young family. He was just twenty-nine years old. His early work at Pittsburgh’s Westinghouse Research and Development laboratories focused on further developing SEC’s application for night vision, a technology supported by the Department of Defense. This went on to be used for police anti-crime measures, and in fighting the war in North Vietnam. By 1964, he had relocated to the Westinghouse Corporation’s Cathode Ray Tube facility in Horseheads and settled his family in Elmira. Under his leadership, the department grew from six members to more than 170 scientists and staff members. Goetze became a US citizen on July 4, 1967 two years before the Apollo moon landing.

In addition to the special patent awarded for the SEC process, Goetz was awarded the Longstreth Medal from the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia. This prestigious award recognized his invention and the impact it played in ultraviolet astronomical observations, as well as his work on night surveillance technology and broadcast television. In 1966, his SEC tube was named one of the 100 most outstanding scientific and technical achievements by Industrial Research Magazine.

It’s estimated that at least one quarter of the earth’s inhabitants watched the lunar landing and Armstrong’s first footsteps as it happened. The moon mission took over ten years and cost close to 25 billion dollars which would be about 100 billion dollars today. It took over 400,000 people working together to create the parts and needed pieces. The camera technology Goetze and his group developed captured color images on the flights to and from the moon, and the black and white images of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin as they walked on the moon’s surface.

Looking back, the black and white flickering, grainy images don’t seem like very much, but at the time, they surely drew a collective gasp. People and companies were proud to contribute to the space program, and NASA was smart to scatter contracts throughout the nation, awarding companies like Westinghouse with jobs and contracts.

In his free time, Goetz’s passion was gliding, and he spent many weekend hours at the Harris Hill Soaring Club with his family. Another Elmira soaring enthusiast was only 13 years old that summer. Thirty years later, Colonel Eileen Collins went on to be the first female commander of a space shuttle.
Colonel Eileen Collins, autographed photo from our collection
But for one warm summer evening in July 1969, the nation and the world watched together and marveled at what humankind had accomplished.
The Moon, taken by Apollo 11 astronauts (source: NASA photo)

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