An old friend reflected on his experience during the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.
He was employed by Australia’s Postmaster-General’s department (PMG) – you know it today as the privatised gouging entity, Telstra.
In those days the PMG was run by engineers whose core mission, after delivering letters, was to deploy telephone cables to the entirety of Australia. An NBN Co done properly. A division of specialised technicians and engineers built and operated radio transmitters for broadcast, including Ms Guthrie’s anachronistic Radio Australia.
Those engineers and technicians attended to the transmission of the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio and television output from transmitter sites radiating around this vast continent of 7.7 million kilometres (or, at the time, 3 million square miles for US “imperial-ist” colleagues :-). The ABC technicians were separate and confined to studio and outside-broadcast work.
The PMG is a great story – and an incredibly interesting and important nation-building one.
During the 1969 moon-landing mission – Apollo11 – our friend oversaw parts of the signal exchange from Parkes Radio Telescope to NASA in the United States. He and hundreds, perhaps thousands, of PMG technicians – and lucky commercial television techs – witnessed first-hand the incoming signals from the moon, in a clarity not seen since due to the multiple conversions of format and relatively primitive recording technologies at the time.
He muses on how incredible a feat it would be for conspiracists to “pull the wool over the eyes” of so many astute techies of the day. A bit like telling today’s IT community that encryption would retain integrity with a government back door. Add the astronauts, staff and contractors of NASA to the duped list.
Well, here we are, several centuries into the Age of Enlightenment, with millions of educated Earthlings doubting the scientific consensus that humans are affecting the amount of atmospheric carbon dioxide. Even conceding that global warming (if thermometers are not also conspiring) might be but one of a series of fluctuations over the eons doesn’t negate the measured accumulation of greenhouse gases, rising temperatures, and measured sea level rises.
But for the sake of simplicity, if not our sanity, let’s assume human history and scientific research isn’t an endless series of conspiracies. Histories written by victors, perhaps, but…
So over coffee my pal reminisced.
Some loonies say that we never went to the moon and it was all done on a sound stage. Unfortunately for them, I was there at the time and if the Yanks pulled off a con like that, all I can say is that they were very clever – especially how they got the signal into the Parkes Radio Telescope by pointing it directly at the moon.
I expect that they would have had to pay off a lot of PMG (later Telecom Australia) employees to perpetrate their con. I don’t remember being paid off at the time.
I do remember that NASA wanted use of both terrestrial links from Parkes to the Moree earth station in 1969. This left the ABC with no way to get programmes to their regional transmitters so they had to send outside broadcast (OB) vans to mountaintops to get the national programme around. I recall that they had one set up at Somersby (near Gosford, NSW).
Somehow, it all worked fine.
Coincidentally the off-air pictures from channel 2 (ABN Sydney) were very good at the time. We could have put them to air – and Middle Brother Mountain (near Taree, NSW) TV on channel 6 was getting a perfect picture from channel 5 Sugarloaf (that was before it was changed to 5A in 1975). After 5A, the Middle Brother off air receiver was useless because 5A Wollongong came in at about the same signal strength as Newcastle. Though both had the same programme, they arrived at different times (about half a line apart) – speed of light and all that – so the pictures were useless.
When NASA was controlling the links, I watched two different feeds on both links from Parkes. They were in 525 horizontal lines standard. It was the first time our Marconi monitors had to switch to 525 (in Australia, the television standard was PAL 625 lines). They worked fine.
The pictures from Tidbinbilla Tracking Station were a bit noisy when Armstrong started down the ladder, but when the Parkes telescope locked on and the signal to the U.S. switched to that, the pictured cleaned up beautifully (it’s a big telescope).
The pictures from the moon that I saw looked much better than the later recordings we see. I’m sure it suffered in the analogue link on the satellite to the U.S. and the standards conversion (which was also analogue at the time). All in glorious black and white of course. The original pictures in 525 didn’t have any long-term streaking and the resolution was much better than on recordings we see now.
Like I said, if all that was rigged in 1969, it was very cleverly done. It certainly fooled me.
And how did they get those moon pictures into the Parkes telescope right under the noses of the scientists and PMG’s staff at Parkes?
Photograph credit: By CSIRO, CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=35481714