Spring 2009 Issue

Echoes of Apollo
A World Space Party
and an Amateur Radio EME Event

It was on July 20, 1969 that the world witnessed the Apollo astronauts set foot on the moon’s surface. For those of us alive at the time, it was one of those flashbulb events—events for which you remember where you were and what you were doing at the time. Now, 40 years later, amateur radio operators around the world are being encouraged to participate in events to celebrate the anniversary. Here AA6EG gives comprehensive coverage to the amateur radio related plans for the celebration.

By Pat Barthelow, AA6EG

In December 2008 I discovered a website that was a gathering place of members of the Overseas Telecommunications Veterans Association (OTVA), an Australian group with a high percentage of hams as its members. In visiting with them I discovered that some of them were thinking about commemorating, celebrating, the 40th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. In time plans were formulated for such commemorations, and as it turns out events have been taking place throughout the year and will culminate on July 20th, the anniversary date of the moon landing.

During the course of my visiting with these members, I discovered that some of them had active roles in the Apollo 11, and subsequent, moon landing missions, and had some exceedingly interesting behind-the-scenes stories to tell about that historic space mission and that era of telecommunications.
We discussed the Australian-produced movie The Dish, which I had only recently seen and enjoyed. I was amazed at the skill of the movie makers in bringing those of us who had lived that era back to the time, with proper electronic equipment, with “Nixie tubes,” and familiar names and models of the era.

I wondered how accurately The Dish portrayed the reality of the events, set at the famous Parkes Radio Telescope. I wondered whether the scenes inside the huge 65-meter Parkes dish control room were shot inside the real Parkes. It turns out that the interior scenes were very accurate, shot in a high fidelity set, meticulously recreating the real Parkes control room at the time of the Apollo missions. Particularly prominent in the Parkes control room, both real and the set, were the huge gusset plates and associated nuts and bolts that fortunately held the structure together through the severe windstorm experienced during Apollo 11.

In the movie a lot of creative license was taken with the plot relative to historic events, but I am sure it will hit resonant chords with radio amateurs and professionals who have been around big dishes. Another dish, at Honeysuckle Creek, was a critical player early on during the moon walk, but was not mentioned in the movie. Robert Brand, an OTVA member and now EOA (Echoes of Apollo) Events Manager, filled in with information and had especially interesting true tales of, for example, from time to time finding deadly Australian Brown snakes inside the Parkes control room among the warm racks of equipment.

The 45-meter SRI dish near Stanford University is scheduled to be available during the EOA on-the-air event. (Photo courtesy of SRI International)

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