V.Yefimov  Tele-Sputnik No. 3(5) March 1996

The space television celebrates its 37th anniversary on November 7, 1996. The term "space television" means transmission of television image from a spacecraft to Earth and back from the Earth to a spacecraft, flying in space. It also covers transmission of images from other planets and spacecraft to spacecraft transmission.

The birthday of the space television was October 7, 1959, 6:30 am MSK (Moscow Standard Time), when "Yenisei" photographic and television unit on "Luna-3" interplanetary automatic station began photographing the dark side of the Moon. This station, apart from being World's first automatic photographer of the Moon, managed also to transmit a picture of its dark side, never seen previously by humankind.

Employees of All-Union Television Research Institute in Leningrad began their works on creation of TV facilities for space television in 1957. These works progressed along with development of a joint system for USSR's Central Television, design of closed-circuit television systems and some other grand projects.

Development of space television systems was not exposed to general public. Of course, participants of these works knew about the final goal. Yet thorough understanding of its importance came only when the practical endpoints became clear. It was when the shots of the dark side of the Moon were received on Earth, when behavior of living animals in weightlessness was monitored (Belka and Strelka dogs, etc.), and during the space flight of Yuri Gagarin.

Employees of the Institute, who were involved in these works, created an atmosphere of interest and mutual support, displaying initiative and sometimes even accepting some excused risk without superfluous bureaucratic formalities.

Development of "Yenisei" (for transmission and reception of still pictures) and "Seliger" (for transmission and reception of moving objects) units was parallel. Working on these projects, specialists of the Institute originated numerous original solutions.

To overcome difficulties during creation of the spaceborne equipment, we always benefited from the assistance of academician S.P.Korolev, M.V.Keldysh, the vice-president of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR who was responsible for the scientific program of space research, and other eminent scientists. We had no chance of avoiding complications in development of receiver facilities also. However the staff of the Institute managed to create unique equipment in a very short time - in a year and a half instead of 3-8 years.

Since the spaceborne photo and television unit "Yenisei" provided transmission of TV signal both in fast and slow modes, "Yenisei-I" was purposed for fast mode images' reception, and "Yenisei-II" was used for the slow mode.

With increasing scope of works other engineers were involved in development of "Yenisei" and "Seliger" receiver equipment. I was entrusted to solve general problems on all three receiver units, mentioned above. In addition to that, I directly administered the development of "Yenisei-II" unit, the most complicated one, which required unordinary approach.

Necessary amount of equipment sets was developed and manufactured by the summer of 1959. The works on conjunction of the "Yenisei" television equipment with all the radio facilities of "Luna-3" interplanetary automatic station were started in June-July, 1959 in research-and-production association, which coordinated and headed development of all the radio systems of the "Luna-3".

Before the conjunction works were finished, administration commanded to send the receiving television equipment to earth receiving sites in Crimea and Kamchatka. The Crimean testing ground station was appointed as the principal one for operation with "Luna-3" interplanetary automatic station. Since mid August 1959 the mobile versions of "Yenisei-I" and "Yenisei- II" receiver units were driven there (here I should add that "Yenisei-I", "Yenisei-II" and "Seliger" receiver units were designed both in fixed and mobile versions). A group of specialists and chief designers also moved to the same Crimean testing ground station after launching of "Luna-3" from the Baikonur launching site.

On September 19, 1959, the fixed versions of "Yenisei-I" and "Yenisei-II" receiver units were sent by two airplanes to the testing ground station in Kamchatka peninsula. These versions were far from being superb because of their make and alignment. They were planned to be installed on sites, while the "best" units were planned for conjunction with the radio system of the interplanetary automatic station "Luna-3" and for the Crimean testing ground station. A team of experts for mounting, alignment and operation of these receiver facilities, headed by the author of this article, was sent to Kamchatka on board of the aircraft together with the equipment. 

Preparedness of "Yenisei-I" and "Yenisei-II" receiver units for operation had to be reported about not later than on October, 4, i.e., to the moment of "Luna-3" launching (it also concerned all other units of the testing ground system). Three days were scheduled for unpacking, mounting, alignment of two sets of equipment, it had to be conjunct with the receiver unit of the "master" object's radio system, etc.

We found ourselves in restrain conditions (insufficient time for commissioning our equipment and its already mentioned poor quality). These conditions forced us to work so hard that we only could sleep in snatches right at our "station" (our receiver units, like other radio units, were called "stations" at testing ground stations).

So, to October 4, 1959, two sets of receiver equipment ("Yenisei-I" and Yenisei-II) were deployed in a spacious room of a wooden house. Then they were aligned and prepared for reception of the signals from "Luna-3" interplanetary automatic station. Its launching was successfully performed exactly in the time specified. We were set to wait for the "live" work. As I have already noticed, the testing ground station in Crimea was the principal one, and all the administrators arrived there from Baikonur after the launch. The Crimean station also switched on the spaceborne equipment in favorable times. Our testing ground station at Kamchatka was assigned as the subordinate, and we were just informed about initial time of communication sessions, and received data for directing our antennas.

After "Luna-3" was launched, it was followed using the computed trajectory and approached to the Moon on October 7, 1959. The spaceborne telephotography equipment "Yenisei" started making shots of our natural satellite's surface in a predetermined moment (6:30 am MSK). Shooting continued for 40 minutes and then the film was developed.

Telemetry data indicated that the spaceborne units were enabled. However, images on the film still were not read. A command was sent to "Luna-3" to enable their transmission. We saw an image test on our monitors. Transmission of the first television signal from "Luna-3" was done when the station was at the distance of some 470,000 kilometers from Earth. During that time "Yenisei" spaceborne telephotography equipment worked in a "slow" mode (scanning time of one line was 1.25 seconds and transmission of one frame took about 30 minutes).

Then a command was sent to "Luna-3" to feed the film, but since the lines of the image test were imprinted parallel with the film movement direction, it was hard to say, whether the film was fed and was there anything on it at all. Only the appearance of Moon photograph done from Earth on the monitors, made it possible to tell for sure that feeding of "Yenisei" equipment operates right. That shot was made (for comparison) before charging the film to the spaceborne unit.

It happened at the Crimean testing ground station. At the same moment on Kamchatka the time has come for the first communication session. We are turning on "Yenisei-II" receiver and preparing it for the work. So, the first communication session on our station has begun. The violet cursor on the white monitor screen is drawing line by line, line per 1.25 seconds. Alas, the whole frame is filled with "snow".

The second session begins, and again we see violet lines on the screen coming one after another. This time some blot appears through the "snow" and this cheers us up.

During the following sessions the cursor again draws line after line on our displays. When the interplanetary station comes closer to Earth, the image adds sharpness and we see distinct contour of the Moon disc with some blots near edges and in the middle. Photo registering units are whirring, fixing on a 35 mm film something that nobody else on Earth has ever seen before.

All our teammates do not miss a single session. In spite of all embargoes, some people who wish to be witnesses of that outstanding event, penetrate into the shack. We feel like heroes.

After the next communication session there comes a pause. Loudspeakers announce that "Yenisei" equipment will be switched to the "fast" mode. Hastily we are turning on and preparing "Yenisei-I" receiver for operation.

The room where our equipment is installed in a square, is filled with people. They are crowding in space between the equipment and the walls, standing tight in the doorway. The crowd was so great that I was a bit afraid for operability of our equipment.

So, the second session has passed, then another... Suddenly our "Yenisei" monitors (duration of a frame 10 seconds, transmission time of the whole frame 15 seconds) show flashing balls (pictures of the dark side of the Moon), bigger and smaller ones, sharp and almost without any "snow". The photo registering units are whirring, recording unique pictures on the film. The room is resounded with cries of mirth. You bet! No one else could see it before or even anticipate. We were assured that "Yenisei-I" was brought just in case, as a backup unit.

The unique show does not last long. "Luna-3" comes to the edge of space communication region of our testing ground station and we send a command for "Luna-3" to disable the unit. The interplanetary station enters Earth's shadow. The session is over. Without haste the excited spectators are leaving our "station".

Analyzing the reception results of the television signal from "Luna-3", we could make a conclusion that a good image quality on the displays of our "Yenisei-I" unit (compared to the Crimean station) could be explained by favorable position of "Luna-3" at the moment of broadcast to the Kamchatka station.

Television signal from "Yenisei" spaceborne equipment was also recorded by a tape recorder on the equipment of the "master" radio unit, but our attempt to playback the recorded signal failed.

The noteworthy fact is that after receiving the first 3-4 pictures of the dark side of the Moon, their copies from the Crimean station were sent to the Academy of Sciences and after some work on them and retouching they were published for the first time ever. These photographs were obtained at operation of a spaceborne telephotographic equipment of "Yenisei-II" facility in "slow" mode.

Generally, the results of our assignment (all the films, exposed by the photo registering units of "Yenisei-I" and "Yenisei-II" units, from both testing ground stations in Crimea and Kamchatka) were studied and used for compilation of the Dark Side of the Moon Atlas.

When reception of the signals from "Luna-3" ceased, some of our teammates returned back to Leningrad, and the core of the group was left at the station to continue works with the interplanetary station after its new appearance from the Earth's shadow. The expectations were vain, because after its new appearance, "Luna-3" showed no signs of life.

Thus, it was the first time in history when the still shots of the dark side of the Moon (unseen from Earth) and a television signal were received with our assistance and active participation.