On Eagle's Wings: The Story of the Parkes Apollo 11 Support
Parkes gets involved

In late 1966, NASA put forward a proposal to include the Parkes 64 metre dish permanently into its worldwide tracking network. Until then, the network of 26 metre dishes had met most of NASA's requirements. Plans to send probes to more distant planets as well as the upcoming manned Apollo missions to the Moon demanded a network of larger dishes. NASA was near to completing the construction of its 64 metre dish at Goldstone, California, but budget cutbacks meant that the second and third stages of its 64 metre network, in Australia and Spain respectively, had to be postponed until the early 1970s. The dishes were all modelled on the Parkes Telescope. These developments made Parkes' inclusion an attractive alternative, at least until the other two 64 metre dishes were constructed. This proposal was, however, turned down owing to the fact that a growing number of observing requests from Australian astronomers meant that many would have missed out on getting precious observing time on the telescope (Robertson 1992).

In October 1968 the Director of Parkes Observatory, John Bolton, and his wife Letty, while on a trip to the USA attended a dinner party at the home of Bob Leighton. Bob was a brilliant Caltech engineer who was a colleague of John's when John was a professor of astronomy at Caltech in the 1950s. Also present at the party was the Head of the Goldstone Project, Eb Rechtin of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL). During the course of the evening, John was asked if he could make available the observatory's 64 metre telescope for reception of signals from the Apollo 11 spacecraft, particularly during the most critical phases of the mission when the LM, Eagle, was on the lunar surface. The historic nature of the mission, combined with the fact that human lives were at risk in space, convinced both Edward 'Taffy' Bowen, the Chief of CSIRO's Radiophysics Division, and John Bolton to support the mission (Goddard & Milne 1994).

Photo CSIRO: The three principal players at Parkes: (L-R) John Bolton, Robert Taylor and Taffy Bowen.
Following high level representations, Cabinet level meetings approved the Parkes Observatory's involvement in the upcoming Apollo 11 mission. In February 1969 a meeting was convened with the Australian Department of Supply to arrange contract details. John Bolton had spent the previous evening with Robert Taylor, the American engineer who was to manage the NASA operations at Parkes. They had discussed their respective roles extensively, and the problems to be overcome. John Bolton ended the meeting by insisting that he could work with Taylor, and that he would only accept a one-line contract: 'The Radiophysics Division would agree to support the Apollo 11 mission'. Financial return was to be $3,500 per day to cover costs at Parkes, plus $15,000 to cover additional work on the telescope.

For the tracking operations at Parkes, NASA provided the S-Band front-end receiving equipment. Also provided were tape recorders and 'translating' equipment for converting the incoming signals into a TV picture so that the operators could check that everything was functioning correctly.

The Observatory provided the feeds, cabling, power, weatherproofing of the aerial platform, and facilities for the OTC link equipment. In addition, the PMG established a network of microwave links and voice communication channels to relay both the Parkes and Honeysuckle Creek signals to Houston (Goddard & Milne 1994).


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