"The Dish": Fact versus Fiction — a quick comparison

(Refer to "Parkes: 30 Years of Radio Astronomy" available through Visitors Centre, $30).

Several true things in the film:

  • we did point at the Moon, and, as arranged, did take signals, and successfully, for the moonwalks
  • we normally park our dish at 35km/hr. On the day of the moonwalk it was gusting 100km/hr.
  • Goldstone (USA) signals did "disappear into the ground" on the day
  • there is a visitors centre nearby
  • staff do take "hayrides" as one means to get equipment up onto the dish
  • Parkes did use an "off-axis" feed to acquire signals of the first few minutes
  • the astronauts did go outside ahead of schedule
  • we do have a UPS and backup diesel generator
  • NASA did get coordinates wrong occasionally on very early missions
  • the control room set and operation of the dish was very realistic representation of 1969

Pure fictions (to make a good story)

  • there was no power failure
  • there was no animosity with Americans; we are accustomed to sharing expertise both ways
  • the Prime Minister visited Honey Suckle Creek, not Parkes
  • staff names and personas: Director, John Bolton died in 1993. Letty Bolton lives in Queensland and visits occasionally
  • there are no tours of the telescope for visitors

Understated/overlooked aspects

  • the first few minutes of the televised broadcast originated from Honey Suckle Creek, near Canberra
  • more NASA staff and OTC (Telecom) staff were present; it was a larger team effort
  • the congratulatory telegram included a lot more players than just Parkes
  • quality control and foresight at Parkes were much greater than as portrayed. The Director had actually calculated how fast for teams of men to wind the electric motors in the event of a total power failure.
  • it was quite normal to scan side to side to find a source and strongest signal
  • the wind kept blowing a gale during the moonwalks
  • our then-Director, John G Bolton, made the decision to keep pointing in the wind. In this universe he got away with it!
  • Parkes Radio Telescope is a valuable astronomical instrument, ten thousand times more sensitive than when first commissioned in 1961. No time is wasted on the dish, one the the best radio telescopes in the world.

Puzzling aspects

  • Prime Ministerial ignorance (we were well known — half the construction funds were from Commonwealth Government)
  • as big as a football field. (it's big, but not that big; what footy field is that small?)

Cricket on the Dish

  • It never happened. True the actors went up there for about an hour, but they were told where they could stand, what they could do, what they could throw (a tennis ball). So, it wasn't a "stunt-double" dish, it really was the Parkes dish they were standing on, but neither was what the film showed "highlights of a day's play"!
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