Australia Telescope National Facility Australia Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) CSIRO's ROLE IN
FIRST MOON LANDING


It was one great step for mankind, and it was taken at 12.56 pm on 21 July, Australian Eastern Time, just 30 years ago.

"Neil Armstrong's first steps on the Moon were watched by six hundred million people," says Dr John Reynolds of CSIRO Parkes Observatory. "And the signals from the Moon were received by the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station in the mountains outside Canberra and Parkes in NSW, as well as NASA's Goldstone station in California."

The signals were relayed to Mission Control at Houston, which initially switched between the sources to try to get the best picture.

Exactly three decades after the TV broadcast of the first Moon landing began, Shuttle astronaut Jim Reilly will unveil a plaque on CSIRO's Parkes telescope commemorating the telescope's role in receiving those pictures and transmitting them to the world.

"Eight minutes after the broadcast started the Moon had risen into the Parkes telescope's full field of view. Parkes was a much larger dish than Honeysuckle, captured more signal and so produced better pictures," says Dr Reynolds.

"Houston switched to Parkes and remained with those pictures for the rest of the two-and-a-half hour broadcast. Using a less sensitive 'off-axis' detector Parkes had also seen the 'first step' six minutes earlier, but those pictures were of lower quality and were not broadcast internationally."


Left Parkes Radio Telescope. Right Personnel in the Parkes control room.
L-R (rear): George Kropp, William Reytar
L-R (front): Robert Taylor (NASA Operations Manager),
Wilson Hunter (NASA representative in Australia),
John Bolton (Director, Parkes Observatory)

Photo: K. Nash

In late 1968 NASA had asked for Parkes to be used in the Apollo 11 mission. The telescope would act as backup for NASA's Goldstone dish. Using it also provided extra gain in signal strength from the Moon. This meant that during the tightly scheduled first moonwalk the astronauts would not have to spend time setting up a large antenna to get the necessary signal strength.

The then Director of the Parkes Observatory, Mr John Bolton insisted on a one-line contract with NASA: "The [CSIRO] Radiophysics Division would agree to support the Apollo 11 mission".


Mr Wilson Hunter, NASA representative in Australia
(At rear, John Bolton, Director of the Parkes Observatory)
Photo: K. Nash

At 6:17 am (AEST) on 21 July, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin (Buzz) Aldrin landed their Lunar Module "Eagle" on the Sea of Tranquillity. It was still some hours before the Moon would rise over Parkes. Departing from the original plan, Armstrong opted for an immediate moonwalk. But it took the astronauts so long to don their spacesuits and depressurise the Lunar Module cabin that as they left the module the Moon was just rising at Parkes.

"While fully tipped over waiting for the Moon to rise, the telescope was unexpectedly struck by a series of severe, 110-km per hour gusts of wind, which made the control room shudder," says Dr Reynolds. "Fortunately these stopped just before the tracking began.

"Parkes staffer Neil 'Fox' Mason, who was seated at the control desk, drove the telescope without being allowed to once turn around and see the incoming pictures on the TV monitor" says Dr Reynolds.


NASA and CSIRO personnel in the Parkes control room.
L-R: Taffy Bowen, John Shimmins,
(at back) William Reytar, Robert Taylor
Photo: K. Nash

The signals were sent to Sydney via specially installed microwave links. From there the TV signal was split. One signal went to the ABC studios at Gore Hill for distribution to Australian television networks. The other went to Houston for inclusion in the international telecast. Because the international broadcast signal had to travel halfway around the world from Sydney to Houston via the INTELSAT geostationary communications satellite over the Pacific Ocean, Australian audiences witnessed the moonwalk, and Armstrong's historic first step, some 300 milliseconds before the rest of the world.


Robert Taylor, NASA Operations Manager,
watching the live TV downlink from the Moon
received by the Parkes telescope

More information:

Dr John Reynolds, Officer-in-Charge, CSIRO Parkes Observatory
Tel: (02) 6861 1700

Mr John Sarkissian, CSIRO Parkes Observatory
Tel: (02) 6861 1745 or (02) 6863 4848
More Images and Information from Parkes

Mr Darren Osborne, Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (Tidbinbilla)
Tel: (02) 6201 7838

Mr Mike Dinn
Tel: (02) 6281 4877

Former Director, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (Tidbinbilla);
ran Honeysuckle Creek Manned Flight Tracking Station for Apollo missions,
1967-1971

Mr Neil Mason
Tel: (02) 6862 2439

Dr Miriam Baltuck, NASA representative in Australia
Tel: (02) 6281 8501
Historic betacam footage of Apollo preparations at Parkes available.

Helen Sim, Communications Manager, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility
Email: hsim@atnf.csiro.au
Tel: +61 2 9372 4251
Fax: +61 2 9372 4444


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