Thursday, 28 June 2012

Carnarvon left 'buzzing' after Apollo 11 astronaut visit

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buzzOpened in 1966 and known as the ‘sugar scoop’, the OTC was Australia's first satellite communications dish which relayed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969—the first live telecast in WA from outside the state. Image: HytokTHE WA coastal town of Carnarvon was buzzing with excitement last weekend when the second man to set foot on the moon touched down to officially open the town’s new Space and Technology Museum.

Apollo 11 astronaut Dr Buzz Aldrin’s fleeting visit to the Gascoyne region celebrated the pivotal role the town played in NASA space missions—particularly the first moon landing—and the development of telecommunication in WA.

Commissioned by NASA in 1964, the Carnarvon Tracking Station was the last station to communicate with the Apollo space capsules after leaving orbit and the last to make contact before splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.

Dr Aldrin assembled equipment on the Moon’s surface which was switched on by the Carnarvon Tracking Station for data collection.

Ex-Carnarvon Tracking Station manager Paul Dench said Dr Aldrin’s visit was a major coup for the town and highlighted the critical role the Carnarvon Tracking Station played in the Apollo 11 mission.

“It [Dr Aldrin’s visit] stirred the whole community,” he said.

“The Carnarvon Tracking Station provided the command data for firing the rockets when the astronauts departed.

“The re-entry path to Earth traced an apparent path over southern Japan and South East Asia, doglegging back over the Indian Ocean over Carnarvon and northwest Australia to splash down in the mid Pacific Ocean.

“The Carnarvon Tracking Station was the only station in contact for some three hours or so before splash down.”

Due to poor communication in the area, NASA also funded the construction of the OTC Satellite Earth Station to transmit the data to their station in the US.

Opened in 1966 and known as the ‘sugar scoop’, the OTC was Australia's first satellite communications dish which relayed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon in 1969—the first live telecast in WA from outside the state.

“The existence of OTC also led to the first live TV transmission to the UK, 'Down Under Comes Up Live' from the streets of the Carnarvon township,” Mr Dench said.

“The OTC allowed West Australian’s to see the Appollo landing.”

Mr Dench said Carnarvon was chosen as the site for the tracking station because of its prime location: the town was almost exactly on the opposite side of the globe to the launching site at Cape Canaveral in Florida.

“Carnarvon was the first station that could give accurate information,” he said.

“Carnarvon supported the first six or seven passes (flight overs) out of maybe 300 or 400 passes, so it was a particularly integral part of manned orbital missions.”

The Carnarvon Tracking Station closed down in 1975 due to imminent development of successful tracking stations in orbit, but Mr Dench said the OTC site still hosts an automatic solar observatory controlled by Birmingham University.

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