Parkes dishes up Apollo 11 magic

Space revellers can sit out under the stars and watch the movie The Dish as part of Apollo 11 celebrations at Parkes Observatory in southern NSW this weekend. It’s part of a big weekend of celebrations planned for the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moonwalk.

In Victoria, A Moon Film Festival is underway in Yarraville, near Melbourne spanning the same nine dates as the Apollo 11 mission. The University of Southern Queensland is hosting a Festival of Astronomy at the Sir Thomas Brisbane Planetarium in Toowong. Carnarvon, Western Australia, is hosting a cocktail party on Saturday night and you can visit the Carnavon Space and Technology Museum in the town.

movie the dish Picture: SUPPLIED

In Sydney, you can visit the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences Apollo 11 Exhibition, Canberra has a page detailing celebrations here , Hobart has an astronomy festival with live streaming from the NASA space centre at Houston early next month – some celebrations extend beyond the weekend. There’s a moon film festival in Adelaide, and the ongoing Between The Moon and The Stars exhibition in Darwin.

There’s many more events listed here.

In Parkes, the big giant radio telescope facility will screen the movie which recounts the role of Parkes in rebroadcasting the television feed from Apollo 11, as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in July 1969. It will screen on Saturday night.

The 2001 movie directed by Rob Sitch will be introduced by actor Roy Billing who played the mayor of Parkes in the film. The present day Mayor of Parkes Ken Keith will attend.

The movie isn’t regarded as historically accurate. It shows vastly less people working at the radio telescope than did in 1969 and understates the role of Honeysuckle Creek in relaying the first eight minutes of so of Armstrong stepping onto the lunar surface. Nevertheless it depicts much of the role that Parkes played.

CSIRO which operates the facility is offering tours of the telescope, talks, presentations and displays, daytime astronomy with the Central West Astronomical Society and science activities for kids, vintage car displays and live music.

Australian-born NASA astronaut Andy Thomas is among those attending and will speak on Sunday afternoon. Participants can relive the moon landing broadcast also on the Sunday afternoon.

Australian teams at NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla and Carnarvon tracking stations also played pivotal roles monitoring and relaying audio and telemetry feeds from Apollo 11.

The Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which CSIRO manages for NASA, supports more than 40 spacecraft exploring the Solar System and beyond.

Parkes radio telescope continues to provide occasional support tracking spacecraft for NASA, most as Voyager 2 has entered interstellar space beyond Pluto.

The big dish is often manoeuvred by astronomers using it from across the world.

Yesterday Australian trackers Mike Dinn and John Saxon, who worked at Honeysuckle Creek in 1969 were reunited by video with some of the Apollo crew at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Honeysuckle Creek radio telescope trackers John Saxon (left) and Mike Dinn talk with Apollo astronauts and US staff during a live cross event.

They spoke with astronauts Rusty Schweickart (Apollo 9), Michael Collins (Apollo 11) Charlie Duke (Apollo 16) and Apollo Flight Director, Gerry Griffin, along with the Apollo 11 recovery team, based in San Francisco.

Mr Dinn this month told The Australian that about 23 staff worked at Honeysuckle Creek that day when it tracked the lunar module. He was working at the operations console.

He said staff had trained for the landing event for months but despite their confidence, you’d quietly think about the “what ifs” if things went awry.

The moments before one small step for man

Watch the minutes leading up to Neil Armstrong’s monumental expedition on the moon.

“My job was to keep the data flowing that was coming down from the spacecraft and ship it out the Houston,” Mr Dinn said. The data comprised the astronaut’s voice, spacecraft performance and astronauts’ biomedical information, and finally the TV feed, he said.

The Space Industry Association in a statement yesterday said nearly 400,000 scientists, technicians and engineers drawn from more than 20,000 companies and universities across the globe contributed to the Apollo 11 landing.

“The Space Industry Association of Australia is proud to have many members who are involved in various endeavours that enable and support ongoing space activities,” said association chair, Rod Drury. “I am sure that many of our members have been inspired to pursue careers in space as a direct result of man landing on the moon 50 years ago.”

Published in The Australian newspaper

Posted in Features.

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