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The role Australia played in relaying the first television images of astronaut Neil Armstrong’s historic walk on the Moon 50 years ago this July features in the popular movie The Dish.
But that only tells part of the story (with some fictionalisation as well).
Movie - Dishes - Australia - Host - NASA
What really happened is just as dramatic as the movie, and needed two Australian dishes. Australia actually played host to more NASA tracking stations than any other country outside the United States.
Read more: How big is the Moon? Let me compare ...
Location - US - Spacecraft - Australia - Orbit
Our geographical location was ideal as US spacecraft would pass over Australia during their first orbit, soon after launch. Tracking facilities in Australia could confirm and refine their orbits at the earliest possible opportunity for the mission teams.
To maintain continuous coverage of spacecraft in space as the Earth turned, NASA required a network of at least three tracking stations, spaced 120 degrees apart in longitude. Since the first was established in the US at Goldstone, California, Australia was in exactly the right longitude for another tracking station. The third station was near Madrid in Spain.
Australia - Place - Radio - Astronomy - Factor
Australia’s world-leading place in radio astronomy was another factor, having played a key role in founding the science after the second world war. Consequently, Australian engineers and scientists developed great expertise in designing and building sensitive radio receivers and antennas.
While these were great at discovering pulsars and other stars, they also excelled at tracking spacecraft. When the CSIRO Parkes radio telescope opened in 1961 it was the most advanced and sensitive dish in the world. It became the model for NASA’s large tracking antennas.
Commonwealth - Rocket - Range - Woomera - South
The Commonwealth Rocket Range at Woomera, South Australia, also allowed Australians to gain experience in tracking missiles and other advanced systems.
NASA invested a considerable amount in its Australian tracking facilities, all staffed and operated by Australians under a nation-to-nation treaty...
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