It is amazing to think that in 40 years, despite the multitude of books that have been written about the early space programs and Apollo in particular, no-one has actually devoted a book to the development of the TV systems that allowed the world to participate vicariously in mankind's greatest exploration. From the grainy, low-res images first beamed down from Apollo 7 in Earth orbit, through to Apollo 8's first live telecast of the Earth from deep space, up to the fantastic colour TV that showed us the last men working on the Moon, this was television literally as no-one had seen it before. The technological developments required were perhaps just as challenging as those needed to create any part of the missions, and the managerial fights to actually get TV included were in themselves quite spectacular. And yet, no-one had previously considered this chapter of space exploration worth writing about.
Dwight Steven-Boniecki has redressed the balance with this volume. It is written in a very accessible style, never getting too bogged down in the technical jargon. It tells a story previously only glossed over in other books about Apollo, and tells it well. It is neatly divided into chapters, many of which cover a single Apollo flight. This highlights the differences and continuing technological progress of the TV system from flight to flight. It also makes quite clear just how important TV was to the continued success of NASA, and just how long it took many within NASA to appreciate the fact. It is a fascinating book and the fact that it covers a little-known area of the history of space flight gives it an edge many other books lack as they try to find new ways to present the same basic story. You won't find technical details about the spacecraft, or crew biographies, or detailed mission plans. This book does what it says on the cover, and tells the story entirely from the point of view of the development of the television systems.
If I have one criticism of this book it is that, despite it being lavishly illustrated throughout, there is not one colour photograph in its pages. This is particularly incongruous in a chapter that specifically deals with the development of a system of colour television. To read descriptions of things such as the colour wheel used inside the camera and the polaroid photo of the first test of the colour system and see only black and white photos is somewhat disappointing. Fortunately the bonus DVD carries all the photos that appear in the book in full colour. The experience is still not the same as being able to see the colour images described as you are reading about them, however.
On the subject of the DVD, it contains a NASA webcast about the search for Apollo 11 slow scan TV tapes and the restoration of the existing material, which is worth a look, especially in the section where they compare the archive footage with the restored material. There is also a film made by Westinghouse which talks of the development of the lunar surface camera. This is interesting from an historical perspective, but is pretty poor in terms of content, covering more of the management of the group ("or 'team', if you will", as the narrator actually says at one point!) than the actual development of the camera itself. The colour slide shows of the illustrations in the book are the best part.
All in all a fascinating subject, well written, lacking only in one aspect of presentation, namely a colour section within the book itself. Worth getting to complete the story of the development of man's first exploration of space.