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Has NASA forgotten Canberra and the moon walk?

By Richard Lansdowne 16 July 2015 20

kennedy space centre

The first moon walk was on 20 July, 1969. I know Canberra was important – but who else remembers?

I found out a few months ago while on a holiday visit to Florida, USA. As well as the art deco delights of Miami South Beach and the alligators of the Everglades, Florida is home to the Kennedy Space Centre. You can visit part of the space centre – it’s like Disneyland for geeks, full of rocket ships and science. We spent a full, wonderful day there.

Straight in from the entrance is a rocket park, with the Mercury-Redstone, Atlas and Titan rockets that first put US astronauts into space. We got to sit in a Mercury capsule – talk about cramped!

I told one of the guides that I was from Canberra – home to Tidbinbilla, Honeysuckle Creek tracking station and part of the NASA deep space network.

There has been a nearly 50 year association between Canberra and NASA, and I felt as though my hometown was part of the NASA family. But the NASA guide responded to my enthusiasm in a bored voice: “Canberra? Where on earth is that?” 

Well, that sure punctured my balloon of enthusiasm.

Later in the tour we visited the huge Apollo/Saturn V Centre building. Inside is a Saturn V rocket, as used for the lunar missions. And also inside that building is one of the actual mission control rooms used for the lunar missions. There were the rows of 1960s computers used by the mission controllers. There were the huge screens filling the wall that showed where the spacecraft was. And next to that there was a series of small screens, showing the status of each tracking station.

honeysuckle creek kennedy space station

In the middle of the bottom row of screens was Canberra’s very own Honeysuckle Creek. I couldn’t believe it. 

“Wow this is really exciting – I’ve come from the other side of the world, from a town just by Honeysuckle Creek and I can see up there on the screen how we were part of the moon landings,” I exclaimed to the guide.

The guide looked confused. He admitted he’d always thought Honeysuckle was somewhere in Louisiana. 

Oh dear, my enthusiasm was punctured again. To add insult to injury, on the way out we went past their cafeteria, which claimed to be the only place in the world you could have coffee near to a moon rock. Well, I thought, clearly they haven’t been to the Moon Rock Cafe at Tidbinbilla tracking station. They’ve got moon rock!

By this point I had pretty much given up on Canberra being part of the NASA family. But on the way out we stopped into the Kennedy Space Centre book shop, where we met a real life astronaut – not from the moon missions, but the later shuttle missions. His name was John-David Bartoe. I wasn’t expecting much when I approached him and said, “Hi, I’m from Honeysuckle Creek in Australia.

His face lit up and I couldn’t get another word in.

“That’s amazing,” he said.

“Did you know that if wasn’t for Honeysuckle Creek, nobody would have seen the first moon walk! And it was complicated. The camera on the moon wasn’t a standard TV camera, so they had to show the walk on a monitor at Honeysuckle, and then they pointed a standard TV camera at the monitor to show the world the first moon walk. Boy, would we love to find tapes of the original signal ….”

So I had my answer. Maybe the NASA tour guides don’t know about Canberra, but the NASA astronauts do remember Canberra and the role we played in the first moon walk.

Note: The Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station closed in 1981, but the Tidbinbilla tracking station and visitor centre are still open and great to visit.

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Has NASA forgotten Canberra and the moon walk?
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GardeningGirl 6:27 pm 22 Jul 15

RadioVK said :

churl said :

While assorted buildings in Canberra are heritage listed to keep architects happy, someone should be hiding in shame at giving the go-ahead for the demolition of the Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Tracking stations…

Unfortunately, the reason behind the demolition was to do with the constant break ins and vandalism of the site. Being so far away from civilization, it was impossible to keep people out. That’s before we even get to the potentially hazardous substances (asbestos, Halon, etc.) left behind in the buildings.

I agree that it’s a damn shame they got bulldozed, but I don’t think there was a lot of option.

A real shame, but I’m not sure what else they could have done, all because of a few idiot vandals. 🙁

RadioVK 3:30 pm 22 Jul 15

churl said :

While assorted buildings in Canberra are heritage listed to keep architects happy, someone should be hiding in shame at giving the go-ahead for the demolition of the Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Tracking stations…

Unfortunately, the reason behind the demolition was to do with the constant break ins and vandalism of the site. Being so far away from civilization, it was impossible to keep people out. That’s before we even get to the potentially hazardous substances (asbestos, Halon, etc.) left behind in the buildings.

I agree that it’s a damn shame they got bulldozed, but I don’t think there was a lot of option.

churl 2:06 pm 22 Jul 15

While assorted buildings in Canberra are heritage listed to keep architects happy, someone should be hiding in shame at giving the go-ahead for the demolition of the Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Tracking stations…

sepi 11:37 am 22 Jul 15

Great photos – i love how they are all just casually smoking in the computer room in the third one – even the prime minister.

http://www.honeysucklecreek.net/Apollo_11/Gorton_index.html

creative_canberran 5:50 pm 18 Jul 15

miked said :

The Honeysuckle station was originally known as “Canberra” in the Manned Spaceflight Network MSFN, but the NASA Communications NASCOM centre at Deakin (ground floor, smallest Telstra building nearest Kent Street) was also called “Canberra” so for good or ill, the station name was changed to reduce confusion. By the way, Tidbinbilla also played a major role in Apollo, feeding received data and voice via microwave via Deadman’s Hill to HSK. It was known as a “Wing” or HSKX. It usually tracked the moon orbiting Command Module, whilst HSK tracked the Lunar Module. But it could track either or both. The very first mission tracked by the big dish at Tid DSS43 was Apollo 17

Mike Dinn, ex Dep STADIR HSK

And if I’m not mistaken, the DSN including Tidbinbilla played an important role in Apollo 13 too, whose primary communications couldn’t be used due to power shortages.

Holden Caulfield 4:50 pm 17 Jul 15

miked said :

The Honeysuckle station was originally known as “Canberra” in the Manned Spaceflight Network MSFN, but the NASA Communications NASCOM centre at Deakin (ground floor, smallest Telstra building nearest Kent Street) was also called “Canberra” so for good or ill, the station name was changed to reduce confusion. By the way, Tidbinbilla also played a major role in Apollo, feeding received data and voice via microwave via Deadman’s Hill to HSK. It was known as a “Wing” or HSKX. It usually tracked the moon orbiting Command Module, whilst HSK tracked the Lunar Module. But it could track either or both. The very first mission tracked by the big dish at Tid DSS43 was Apollo 17

Mike Dinn, ex Dep STADIR HSK

Thanks for your input Mike. Have a great day next week!

blandone 2:00 pm 17 Jul 15

miked said :

I and many others still around Canberra were directly involved with Apollo 11 (and others) at Honeysuckle Creek. We’re celebrating the 46th anniversary next Tuesday.
As regards the plaques at HSK, they came about as an initiative of Brendan Smyth, and are accurate because we were asked. I do agree that the “antenna” is a bit odd
For lots of info on HSK, Tidbinbilla, and other Australian space history, have a look at http://www.honeysuckle.net

I think this may be the correct link http://www.honeysucklecreek.net
Mike Dinn

miked 1:57 pm 17 Jul 15

The Honeysuckle station was originally known as “Canberra” in the Manned Spaceflight Network MSFN, but the NASA Communications NASCOM centre at Deakin (ground floor, smallest Telstra building nearest Kent Street) was also called “Canberra” so for good or ill, the station name was changed to reduce confusion. By the way, Tidbinbilla also played a major role in Apollo, feeding received data and voice via microwave via Deadman’s Hill to HSK. It was known as a “Wing” or HSKX. It usually tracked the moon orbiting Command Module, whilst HSK tracked the Lunar Module. But it could track either or both. The very first mission tracked by the big dish at Tid DSS43 was Apollo 17

Mike Dinn, ex Dep STADIR HSK

miked 1:41 pm 17 Jul 15

I and many others still around Canberra were directly involved with Apollo 11 (and others) at Honeysuckle Creek. We’re celebrating the 46th anniversary next Tuesday.
As regards the plaques at HSK, they came about as an initiative of Brendan Smyth, and are accurate because we were asked. I do agree that the “antenna” is a bit odd
For lots of info on HSK, Tidbinbilla, and other Australian space history, have a look at http://www.honeysuckle.net

Mike Dinn

Starrie 7:48 pm 16 Jul 15

At Tidbinbilla you can see DSS44/46, the actual dish from Honeysuckle Creek that received the first moonwalk images. It’s been decommissioned now. Every now and then I just go there just to stare at it in wonder.

http://www.cdscc.nasa.gov/Pages/Antennas/dss46.html

gooterz 6:44 pm 16 Jul 15

You get the same thing in any restaurant in Canberra,
Ask them where the seafood is from they’ll probably just say the kitchen!

cranky 6:01 pm 16 Jul 15

I worked for the PMG on the day of the lunar landing. The signals from the spacecraft went from Honeysuckle to the US via the co-axial cable network. I and others were techos on the co-ax, and our boss was so terrified of things going wrong (like a dropped screwdriver into a co-ax rack) that he closed the Goulburn exchange and told us to find something else to do.

Spent the time upstairs at the Gordon Hotel watching the entire event on TV.

watto23 3:16 pm 16 Jul 15

I worked at Tidbinbilla for a few years. Most of the interaction is with JPL and to a lesser extent Madrid and Goldstone. Many people in NASA would have no idea how the Deep Space Network actually works!

I also always point out to any moonlanding skeptics, that the signal was received in Australia and I highly doubt the US government could have faked the landing and either fooled the Australian and/or kept them quiet if it was a fake. I used to know a few of the operators and they don’t talk about that kind of thing with the passion and fondness of the moment if it was a fake!

rubaiyat 2:46 pm 16 Jul 15

Dame Canberra said :

Great story, Richard. I can’t believe the guides thought Honeysuckle Creek was in Louisiana, but it’s cool to hear that John-David Bartoe – a legit, proper astronaut – considered Canberra (via Honeysuckle Creek) to be part of the NASA family.

As an aside, the Kennedy Space Center looks very cool. I haven’t been to the US but I’ll have to add it to my list of places I’d like to visit when I eventually get there.

NASA has offices in Forestry House, Yarralumla, if you want to go say hi to them.

Dame Canberra 2:22 pm 16 Jul 15

Great story, Richard. I can’t believe the guides thought Honeysuckle Creek was in Louisiana, but it’s cool to hear that John-David Bartoe – a legit, proper astronaut – considered Canberra (via Honeysuckle Creek) to be part of the NASA family.

As an aside, the Kennedy Space Center looks very cool. I haven’t been to the US but I’ll have to add it to my list of places I’d like to visit when I eventually get there.

rubaiyat 2:16 pm 16 Jul 15

GardeningGirl said :

Very disappointing about the guides for two reasons. The lack of knowledge about the history and geography. And the lack of understanding about the science, what I mean is that if all the tracking stations were only in the US there’d be times none of them are facing the right way so that’s why they have them elsewhere like in Australia and Spain.

But thank you John-David Bartoe for remembering us!

Due to the inclination of the Earth and Pluto’s eccentric orbit it is important to have tracking stations in the southern hemisphere because currently the USA probably can not even see Pluto.

Spain is just a gap filler for the northern hemisphere during the daily rotation.

GardeningGirl 1:30 pm 16 Jul 15

Very disappointing about the guides for two reasons. The lack of knowledge about the history and geography. And the lack of understanding about the science, what I mean is that if all the tracking stations were only in the US there’d be times none of them are facing the right way so that’s why they have them elsewhere like in Australia and Spain.

But thank you John-David Bartoe for remembering us!

switch 12:02 pm 16 Jul 15

I thought the “lost” original signal tapes were found in Perth a few years back?

rubaiyat 10:21 am 16 Jul 15

We quickly learned in America that if you weren’t talking about America, about how amazing America is, how only America is the best at everything, how Americans are the only ones to have ever done anything, that conversation was going to be very short.

Holden Caulfield 9:50 am 16 Jul 15

Haha, great story, thanks for sharing that. The reaction to Canberra when meeting other Aussies overseas is bad enough, so it probably shouldn’t surprise you that a bunch of cloistered ‘Mericans hadn’t heard of our fair city.

All I could think of when you were met ignorance was this: “I personally believe that US Americans are unable to do so because, uh, some, uh, people out there in our nation don’t have maps…”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lj3iNxZ8Dww

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