BALTIMORE, Md. (WDVM) — A 95-year-old man from Maryland who graduated from the University of Virginia with an Electrical Engineering degree, better known as a “Double E Degree,” after serving in the Army during World War Two, helped build the 16mm Data Acquisition Camera that documented the landing and first steps on the moon from the window of the Eagle Module when Astronaut Neil Armstrong told more than a half-billion viewers worldwide, “That’s one small step for man…one giant leap for mankind.”
Joe Layne was one of 75 engineers and technicians who were commissioned to develop that camera and another light-weight camera that was attached to the LM, the lunar lander, in MESA. a Modularized Equipment Stowage Assembly that was deployed by Buzz Aldrin, Armstrong’s moon-walking companion. NASA told Westinghouse the TV camera could weigh no more than seven pounds. Weight was critical. Every ounce of equipment was accounted for. The camera also had to be able to survive extreme temperature differences on the lunar surface, ranging from 250 degrees Fahrenheit in daylight to -251 degrees F in the shade.
Layne told WDVM’s Ross Simpson, whose father and Layne were in the 172nd Engineer Combat Battalion during the war, the biggest challenge was miniaturing the Secondary Electron Conduction Tube. But during the developmental stage, Layne never doubted it would work. In fact, the camera was first tested in space during the Apollo 9 mission in March 1968, and it worked. It wasn’t used again until the Apollo 9 mission.
Layne watched images of Armstrong’s historic walk on the moon on his TV at his home in Timonium. He said it was “great.” Having fought for his country during World War Two, and being badly wounded along the Rhine River in Germany, he said he felt an immense sense of pride when he saw Armstrong and Aldrin put up an American flag near the lander.
Armstrong and Aldrin were not supposed to bring home souvenirs from the moon. They left some very expensive Hasselblad cameras on the lunar surface, but Armstrong put the 16mm camera into a white clutch-style canvas purse that the crew used to temporarily store things when they were no longer needed. That bag was supposed to be left behind with the lunar lander. But Armstrong apparently decided to keep the camera and assorted tools that were inside the purse. Neither Aldrin nor command module commander Mike Collins saw Armstrong take the camera off its mount and stuff it into the purse. For 45 years, Armstrong didn’t tell anyone about the souvenirs. It wasn’t until after his death in 2012 that his widow found the purse in the back of one of his closets. When she opened it, she knew the stuff was used on the moon, and she turned the treasures over to the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington.
Joe Layne says he doesn’t have a problem with Armstrong bending the rules bit. In fact, the aging engineer said he’s glad folks can see the 16mm camera and a replica of the TV camera that was left on the moon at the Udvar-Hazy Center in Chantilly, Virginia. Sadly, his failing health has prevented him from seeing the camera he helped build, but years ago, he gave me some bolts that had to be replaced from the command module camera before it flew to the moon. Joe was responsible for keeping track of all of the parts that were used but didn’t account for the ones he replaced in the camera that are still on the moon.