From the first steps on the Moon to the edge of the Solar System, we've been working with NASA at the forefront of space science. In July 2015, we were the prime tracking station for the closest encounter between the New Horizons spacecraft and dwarf planet Pluto.

For more than 50 years, NASA's Deep Space Network has been tracking spacecraft in our Solar System, and we've been right there with them.

Artist’s concept of the New Horizons spacecraft as it approaches Pluto and its largest moon, Charon. © © NASA/JHUAPL/SWRI

Launched in 2006 and about the size of a grand piano, the New Horizons spacecraft has travelled further in space than any other mission. It took 4.5 hours for the data to travel from New Horizons to Earth. As it passed Pluto, the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex (CDSCC) received the best quality, most detailed images we’ve ever had of the former planet. See our Australia captures world first close-ups of Pluto! media release for more details.

[Music plays and text appears: We asked CSIRO]

[Camera pans over the Communications Complex buildings and satellite dishes]

[Image changes to show Major Charles Bolden, NASA Administrator]

Major General Charles Bolden: Since we started flying satellites and scientific investigations into deep space we needed a capability in the southern hemisphere, for one thing, that would enable us to be certain that we could track these various missions, just as we’re going to see over the next 20 years most of our missions going to deep space are going to be best viewed from the southern hemisphere, so once again CSIRO and the Communications Complex here at Canberra will play a key role. That is the primary reason that we came looking for something, and it was here, all the way back to the very beginning for NASA.

[Camera pans over images of the Communications Complex, satellite dish and a group of people]

The Communications Complex here in Canberra, as a part of CSIRO, has been an incredible partnership for us for 50 years now.

[Image has changed back to Major Charles Bolden]

It is through this particular complex that we saw Neil Armstrong take his first step on the moon, it’s through this complex that we saw Voyager leave our solar system and go into interstellar space, and it’s through the work of CSIRO and the Canberra Communications Complex that we actually saw Curiosity several... at least a second before we did in the United States when it landed on Mars. So this is a continuation of our incredible partnership.

NASA is about exploring, and we have learned through our own 50 plus year history that we don’t do anything alone.

[Camera pans out on the satellite dish and CSIRO signs and then moves back to Major Charles Bolden]

So everything that we do is going to be done with international partners. When it comes to communication this is... here and Spain are our principal international partners, and being here in Canberra, where that partnership started 50 years ago, is one of the reasons that we’re here to celebrate the 50th anniversary.

[Image changes to show Major Charles Bolden seated with colleagues]

I’m asked frequently, how do we get young Australian boys and girls to be excited about becoming a part of the exploration community?

[Image has changed back to Major Charles Bolden]

I think that is the key role that CSIRO has played, and will have to play even more in the future. There are very few people who actually get an opportunity to go fly, there are thousands, literally thousands of people who support us when we do that, and many of them are right here in Australia.

[Image changes to show Major Charles Bolden and colleagues walking towards a satellite dish and gathering underneath it]

When we go to an asteroid by 2025, or when we put humans on Mars in the 2030s, it will be absolutely critical for young Australians to have to be a part of that team, so that we can communicate with our space craft that are doing those missions.

[Images changes back to show Major Charles Bolden]

You know, I’m here because it’s the 50th anniversary of the Communications Complex, but more importantly, as we build this, CSIRO and the Communications Complex here run it for NASA, so in essence we are CSIRO. It’s an incredible partnership, an invaluable partnership that has existed for years, and we hope will exist for decades to come.

[Music plays andCSIRO logo appears with text: Big ideas start here www.csiro.au]

NASA on working with us

Australia's partnership with the United States in space missions formally dates from February 1960, when the two governments signed an agreement to facilitate cooperation.

We began joint spacecraft-tracking projects with NASA in 1962, when our Parkes radio telescope was used to receive signals from NASA's Mariner 2 spacecraft.

Now, we are continuing to contribute to the wonders of space exploration. We manage and operate the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla, one of three tracking stations around the world that make up NASA's Deep Space Network. Together, the three stations provide around-the-clock contact with more than 40 spacecraft, including missions to study Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Pluto, the Moon and the Sun.

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