APOLLO 11 EXHIBITIONS | First televised steps on moon weren't beamed from Parkes after all

By the mid-1950s, CSIRO was seeking a sparsely populated site free from radio interference to establish a radio telescope that'd impress US space agencies so Australia could play a major role in their space program.

Several sites were considered before it came down to Parkes or Cowra. Parkes was chosen, partly for co-operation from the mayor and the council who helped with infrastructure to set it up.

The Parkes radio telescope, "The Dish", was up by 1961. On July 20, 1969 it played an integral role by supporting facilities in California and HoneysuckleCreek near Canberra to show an estimated 530 million TV viewers the first moon landing and walk by NeilArmstrong.

Fifty years on from one of the world's most historic days, a twist to Parkes' involvement in televising those images of Armstrong brings a different perspective. It's been believed for 50 years that Parkes was the source of the "moon step" TV transmissions but, in fact, it was the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station.

Mike Dinn worked at Honeysuckle Creek during the Apollo 11 moon mission. He said: "Parkes was complementary to the network, not fundamental. If we'd had no Parkes, we could've still supported the mission; if you had no Honeysuckle, you wouldn't have a mission."

Parkes was not a tracking station and didn't have a transmitter to process data sent from the moon. The movie The Dish (2000) obviously bent the truth two decades ago.

Honeysuckle Creek transmitted the first 8 minutes and 50 seconds, which included Armstrong famously climbing down the ladder and putting his feet on the moon. The images came from its dish outside Canberra, not Parkes!

"Parkes had a very important role and carried out very well the majority of the television during the moon walk," Dinn emphasised.

The Parkes site was originally owned by the Helm family. It was called Kildare and was in the GoolongValley, about 20 kilometres from town. Australia ("Austie") Helm sold 70 hectares (then 170 acres) to the CSIRO. He had an unusual first name, itself a unique piece of Australian history. Austie was born on the first official Australia Day, commemorated on July 30, 1915 -- not January 26 which came into fashion in 1935. He was christened "Australia James Helm" by his parents but obviously favoured the more abbreviated and less pretentious name for most of his life.

  • Giant Leap: At Casula Powerhouse to Sep 7, Mon to Fri 9am-5pm, Sat and Sun 9am-4pm, 8711 7123.

03/08/19: website address corrected, pictures added

05/08/19: pictures, credits added

This story 'Leap' wasn't from Parkes first appeared on Liverpool City Champion.