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Buzz Aldrin in Carnarvon

Posted by ken On June - 24 - 2012


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Apollo 11 Lunar Module pilot Buzz Aldrin visited Carnarvon, Western Australia from June 22nd to 23rd, 2012 for a two-day program called “To the Moon and Back Festival” where he officially opened the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum.

Dr Buzz Aldrin was handed the key to the town by Carnarvon shire president Karl Brandenburg and met many members of the community and visitors. He answered questions from school children, with about 500 students turning up to meet him. Tourism Minister Kim Hames said Dr Aldrin’s visit was an honour for the town and museum.


Buzz in Carnarvon

WA TV History
This video is an amalgamation of News footage shot by Perth’s television stations: Seven, Nine and TEN. With Natalia Cooper reporting for Seven, Peter Kapsanis for Nine and Nick Way for Channel TEN.


Carnarvon is a coastal town situated approximately 900 kilometres north of Perth, Western Australia. It lies at the mouth of the Gascoyne River on the Indian Ocean and survives on agriculture, fishing, mining and tourism.

The Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum celebrates the little known history of the role Carnarvon played in the manned space program and in the Australian communications industry. It is intended that a full range of Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo equipment will be ultimately on display, after the transfer of Muchea/Coastal-Sentry memorabilia, that is no longer featured as part of Melville’s ‘Wireless Hill Museum’.

The museum’s Chairman Phil Youd, who came up with the idea to invite Dr Aldrin to the region, says the museum is a celebration of the role Carnarvon played in the space program.



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Phil Youd Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum Chairman


“We are calling this phase one and phase one basically is we are in a very small building but we figure we have to start somewhere and this is to get the ball rolling.

“We have got displays, we have pieces of equipment, we have video, we have interpretive panels telling the whole story of Carnarvon’s role in the space race,” he said.

Phil will be remembered by TVW staff as an audio operator with the station between 1979 and 2009. He now operates the Carnarvon radio station Hot Hits 99.7 which broadcasts from Carnarvon with a reach covering the Gascoyne region of Western Australia (Phil is the owner at Hits Radio Pty Ltd).



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Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum

WA TV History
The Carnarvon Space Festival on Friday 22nd and Saturday 23rd of June, 2012, recognises the role played by the Carnarvon Tracking Station staff in the first mission to the moon, with more than 20 former staff members traveling to WA from around Australia.


Project Mercury was the first human spaceflight program of the United States. It ran from 1959 through 1963 with two goals: putting a human in orbit around the Earth, and doing it before the Soviet Union, as part of the early space race. The Russians jumped the gun when on 12 April 1961, Yuri Gagarin became the first man to travel into space, launching to orbit aboard the Vostok 3KA-3 (Vostok 1). Gagarin orbited the Earth once in 108 minutes and returned unharmed. Then on May 5, 1961, American NASA astronaut Alan Shepard Jr. became the second person, and the first American, to travel into space, but did not orbit Earth. He flew 116 miles high, then he came back down. The flight lasted about 15½ minutes, and was a success. Later in Apollo 14, Shepard became the fifth person to walk on the Moon. He also hit two golf balls on the lunar surface. Gus Grissom was the second astronaut to fly in Project Mercury. The third person was John Glenn, who in 1962 became the first American to orbit Earth aboard his space capsule Friendship 7. The second American to fully orbit Earth was Scott Carpenter. Wally Schirra was next, and Gordon Cooper flew on the last Mercury mission. He spent 34 hours circling Earth. The seventh astronaut selected, Donald K. “Deke” Slayton, was grounded because of a previously undiscovered heart condition, but later flew as a crew-member of the Apollo Soyuz Test Project.



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Mercury Seven


The Muchea Tracking Station played an important role between 1960 and 1964, supporting the Mercury space missions, which paved the way for Project Gemini, the second human spaceflight program of NASA. These were conducted between 1965 and 1966, with ten manned flights occurring in spacecraft that held two crewmen. The NASA Carnarvon Tracking Station was built in 1963 for the Gemini program, and replaced the Muchea Tracking Station, using some of the equipment from Project Mercury.

Project Apollo covered the period 1967 to 1972, culminating in Apollo 11 landing a man on the Moon. Five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon, the last in December 1972. In these six spaceflights, 12 men walked on the Moon. Apollo was successful despite two major setbacks: the 1967 Apollo 1 cabin fire that killed the entire crew, during a pre-launch test, and an in-flight failure on the 1970 Apollo 13, which forced the crew to use the Lunar Module as a “lifeboat” when the command spacecraft’s propulsion and life support functions failed. Despite limited power, loss of cabin heat, shortage of potable water, and issues with the carbon dioxide removal system, the crew returned safely to Earth.

In May 1973, the NASA and OTC facilities were involved in the launch of Skylab, the first US Earth-orbiting space laboratory, which orbited the Earth till 1979. On re-entry, the heaviest fragments of Skylab’s debris fell into the Indian Ocean, though a large amount of debris fell in a swath from the coastal town of Esperance to the Nullarbor Plain, beyond the community of Balladonia to Rawlinna, a railway siding on the Trans-Australian Railway. One of the pieces was a large cylindrical oxygen tank that burst on striking the ground, breaking into two fragments which bounced in different directions. The largest fragment, the main body of the tank, found its way into the special Skylab collection of the Esperance Museum. The smaller fragment, the end cap of the oxygen tank, remained undiscovered until the early 1990’s when it was found by a stockman.

In a coincidence, the Miss Universe pageant was held a few days later, on 20 July 1979 in the Perth Entertainment Centre and a large piece of Skylab debris was displayed on the stage.

The Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum focusses on two parts. The Carnarvon Tracking Station and the OTC Satellite Earth Station, for which each station played separate roles in the early space industry.

The Carnarvon Tracking Station was located 10 kilometres south from Carnarvon. The station was built to support NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. It was commissioned in 1964 and operated for 11 years, where it was the last station to communicate with the space capsules leaving the earth orbit, and the last to make contact before splashdown in the Pacific Ocean. At the height of the operation it had a staff of 220 people.



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Carnarvon NASA Tracking Station


The Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC) Satellite Earth Station (now the Museum site) is situated at the northern end of Brown’s Range, a sandy ridge of 15-30m elevation about 6 kilometres from the centre of Carnarvon, and 4 kilometres north of the NASA Tracking Station. The OTC Satellite Earth Station was opened in 1966, to support the NASA Tracking Station with land cables connecting the two stations together. The station initially started with the 12.8 metre wide Casshorn antenna as part of the global satellite communications system. The Casshorn antenna has interacting parabolic and hyperbolic reflectors in a characteristic ‘sugar scoop’ form. It was the first earth station built in Australia by OTC, but closed in 1987 in favour of a new earth station at Ceduna.



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Carnarvon OTC Satellite Earth Station


On 21 July 1969, the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Casshorn antenna relayed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon from NASA’s Honey Suckle Creek Tracking Station to Perth’s TV audience via Moree earth station – the first live telecast into Western Australia. Later in 1969, the larger 29.6 metre wide steerable antenna was built to facilitate better communication between the NASA Tracking Station and the USA.

Colin Mackellar of honeysucklecreek.net explains the television signal path which enabled Perth to see the moon landing. A solution devised by ABC engineers in Perth.


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TV from the Moon was relayed from Honeysuckle Creek and Parkes, via Sydney to the Moree Earth Station. From there it was transmitted to the Pacific Intelsat III satelllite. Any Earth Station which could see the satellite (i.e. anything in the highlighted area) could receive the TV intended for Jamesburg and then Houston.

The full story can be found at: “How the Moonwalk was seen live in Western Australia”

Colin also explains why Carnarvon was chosen as a tracking station…

  1. partly to be away from big cities with the Radio Frequency Interference (RFI),
  2. but mainly to be in a spot which would see an Apollo spacecraft on its first and second orbits (and maybe one or two more, depending on the launch azimuth from Kennedy Space Center).


Carnarvon had a crucial role in checking all was OK with the spacecraft before the 3rd stage engine was re-lit for Trans Lunar Injection. This took place either over Central Australia (in which case Carnarvon, or an ARIA aircraft gave the go signal) or over the Pacific (in which case one of the tracking ships or ARIA would do it) depending on where the Moon was for a particular mission.

Carnarvon was also sited where it was for the earlier Gemini missions, since they used a similar launch azimuth (i.e. since Cape Canavaral is north of the equator, the missions were launched a little south of east – and Gemini and Apollo used a different launch azimuth from the Mercury missions, for which Muchea Tracking Station was perfectly located…)



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Various orbits depending on the launch azimuth


If the launch had been delayed, the launch azimuth would have been adjusted to account for the Moon moving in its orbit…

Once the NASA Carnarvon station was operational, the poor comms to the USA was a bit of a problem. In the early days, it was all via PMG landline. See http://honeysucklecreek.net/other_stations/carnarvon/Hamelin_Pool_GT1.html

After that problem, a tropospheric scatter system was set up to link to Geraldton, but building the OTC station was the real solution!



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Tropospheric vs line of sight communications (Tropospheric scatter is a method of transmitting and receiving microwave radio signals over considerable distances – often up to 300 km.)


Perth was still largely isolated from the rest of the country and the world in the 1960s. Though a morse code Perth to Adelaide telegraph line opened in 1877, Western Australia and South Australia used different varieties of morse code. Messages had to be transcribed onto paper by an operator of one State, then handed over a table to the operator of the other State, to be then retransmitted across the border. This was not resolved until Federation in 1901.

The first morse code radio transmitter in Western Australia began service on 30th September 1912. This was for communications purposes, and it was another 12 years before wireless was used for public entertainment broadcasts, with the launch of 6WF on Wednesday 4 June 1924. Perth did not get a telephone trunk line to the eastern states until 1930.

A brief international satellite hook-up between the UK and WA occurred in 1966, more by accident that design when a satellite failed to go into geostationary orbit.

The 1969 broadcast of the Moon landing by satellite, was the first significant live telecast from outside the State until a terrestrial link was established over the Nullarbor, when the East-West microwave broadband system was introduced in 1970, which greatly improved interstate telecommunications and provided a terrestrial television capability, yet a sealed road between WA and SA was not completed until 1976.

Darcy Farrell was not only a pioneer of television News in Western Australia, being the inaugural News Editor at TVW Channel 7, but also had to cope with technology of yesteryear to bring the world into Perth homes from 1959.


WA helped put a Man on the Moon

WA TV History
Perth Western Australia’s first television News Editor Darcy Farrell explains the role our State played in putting a man on the moon.


Before STW opened in 1965, TVW was the only commercial TV station in Perth, when many big news stories broke. None bigger than Apollo 11, in which the astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became the first ever to land on the Moon on July 20, 1969, whilst the command module pilot Michael Collins stayed aloft, orbiting the Moon.

Television was unique in being able to convey the immediacy of this mission, as viewers were able to witness for the first time events taking place live, involving humans on another celestial body. A feat unrepeated since the last Apollo mission.


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5 Responses to “Buzz Aldrin in Carnarvon”

  1. Geoff Stewart says:

    Fantastic report Ken. I was lucky enough to attend the weekend’s events in Carnarvon and meet Buzz, what a man. Congratulations to Phil on a very successful event. Your dream is coming true.

    I had the opportunity to talk to a number of the “Trackers” as they are known and they had similar stories to tell about technical problems they experienced and how they solved them or did work arounds to get the job done, not unlike some of the technical problems that engineering and operational staff at 2, 7 and 9 were dealing with in the early days of TV.

    During a presentation to the VIP guests by Paul Dench (Carnarvon’s Station Manager) and Dr Alison Gregg (the North West Correspondent for the West Australian at the time), co-authors of the book “Carnarvon and Apollo – One giant leap for a small Australian town”, talked about the roll the ABC had in getting the moon landing TV pictures to Perth (as mentioned in Ken’s article above). Their book covers this event and also goes into great detail about the live broadcast to the BBC in November 1966 (cover previously on this web site).

    It also makes mention of the work done by the ABC during the Apollo 13 mission where TV pictures of the damage to the service module were to be sent to Carnarvon and on to NASA via ABC links at the tracking station and the OTC site. This didn’t happen as the power needed to send TV pictures was not available in the remaining batteries onboard Odyssey. What was interesting to learn was, when Odyssey was powered up and data started to arrive at Carnarvon, mission control realised that they were still 2 amps over budget (they would not make it home alive). It was the team at CRO (the call sign for the Carnarvon Tracking Station) that looked at all the telemetry data and found two backup gyros still running, these were switched off and the current load dropped to the desired safe operating load, and the rest is history.

    I personally know two of the Trackers, one of them Barry Heald is ex BBC.

    Geoff Stewart (TVW 1977-2004, ABC 2004-2005)

  2. Bill MEACHAM says:

    Excellent work Ken putting this together, Darcy you still look good on camera. Bill Meacham ex TVW7

  3. ken says:

    Former TVW Managing Director and Sales Manager Grey Byrne kindly related the following account of the Moon landing telecast…

    By way of some anecdotal memories

    The telecast of the lunar module landing was about 11a.m. Perth time

    The telecast was sponsored by Mazzucchellis the Jewellers

    I remember that at 7.00 p.m. the Walk on the Moon was scheduled to happen but the astronauts were taking their time

    The switchboard received many calls – a lot of them quite abusive saying things like ” where is this Walk on the Moon ? Typical Channel 7 can’t ever get anything right ! ( trying to explain the telecast was coming from the Moon was to no avail with some viewers) and others saying why do we have to watch this – where is our regular program ? ( I think it was I love Lucy )

    cheers

    Greg Byrne

    Greg’s story is told at: http://watvhistory.com/2009/04/greg-byrne/

  4. Peter Croft says:

    Great article Ken. I was rostered on a B shift that day – a 10:30am start. I lived in South Perth then and was glued to the TV. Groan! At 10am seemed as if it was about to happen. Do I stay and be late for work in order to catch it, or make a dash (across the Narrows bridge and up Charles St, no freeway then!) to get to work.

    I dashed and made it to work at 10:30 on time, and caught the first step off the ladder at work. I’ve never forgotten it. What a pity the picture quality was so poor is all.

  5. Murray says:

    I hope to make it over to WA next year and I will spend a night
    in Carvarvon and go to the museum. I have been to Esperance and
    seen the Spacelab bits.

    Thanks Murray Hely Christchurch New Zealand

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