Partners in Space - 1960–2010: CSIRO and USA celebrate 50-year partnership

Partners in space: CSIRO and NASA celebrate its 50th anniversary

The 26th of February 2010 marks the 50th anniversary of Australia's partnership with the USA in solar system exploration. Learn more about our historic collaboration in this video. (7:08)

  • 23 February 2010 | Updated 17 March 2014

The milestone in international cooperation marks the completion of the first half century of treaty level partnership in space tracking between CSIRO and NASA.

Since the early 1960s NASA has contracted CSIRO radio telescopes to augment its network of tracking stations for particular missions as part of its Deep Space Network (DSN).

CSIRO manages the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC), one of three DSN stations around the world used for communicating with NASA's spacecraft.

In this video, key personnel from CSIRO and NASA reflect on the accomplishments of the CDSCC and the DSN, which is founded primarily on its people and the strength of international collaboration stretching back to the beginning of space exploration.

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Partners in Space
Video looking at the collaborative efforts of CSIRO and NASA in Australia.


[A didgeridoo can be heard and images of radiotelescopes rotating can be seen on screen]

[Aerial images of the landscape that surrounds the radiotelescopes can be seen on screen]

[Image changes to show Dr Andrew Thomas, NASA Astronaut]

Dr Andrew Thomas: As an Australian and as a NASA astronaut I've seen the real advantages that have come through international cooperation in the exploration of the solar system. In the past 50 years there's really been no better demonstration of that cooperation than the partnership between the United States and Australia through NASA's deep space network.

[Image changes back to a radiotelescope and the Australian and United States of America flags next to it]

[Image changes to show a computer generated picture of a satellite sending signals to Earth]

Narrator: To stay in constant radio contact with robotic spacecraft exploring the solar system and beyond, NASA established three tracking stations located near Madrid, Spain, Goldstone, California and just outside Canberra, Australia.

[Image changes to show an aerial shot of Pasadena, California and then to different shots of employees of NASA working in different areas]

Coordinated through the jet propulsion laboratory in Pasadena, California, they form NASA's deep space network. Responsibility for operating and maintaining each of the complexes falls to a close team of dedicated men and women who share their knowledge and expertise around the world.

[Image changes to show Bill Dobie, Antenna Mechanical Team Leader]

Bill Dobie: The collaboration between the three sites, Goldstone, Madrid and Canberra, is crucial to us. We're all tend to be maintaining very similar equipment and there are certain things that are learnt on the different sites.

[Image changes to show Bill and a colleague inspecting the radiotelescopes]

We all strive to try and achieve the best outcomes.

[Image changes to show Basillo Ormeno, Deputy Operations Manager]

Basillo Ormeno: The cooperation is we all have a real time interface with them, anything that we need to ask them, they tell us their experiences and we also pass on any experience that they may not have. We cooperate one hundred percent100%.

[Video of a previous space launch plays]

Narrator: Ever since we took our first steps beyond Earth to explore the universe around us, Australia has played a vital role in the exploration of space.

[Image changes to show a computer generated picture of Earth and zooms in on Australia where radiotelescopes are positioned showing where the stations are located within Australia] Antennas across the country supported NASA's first satellites and followed their astronauts as they journeyed into Earth orbit. They also provided telemetry, command and ranging for a fleet of deep space probes headed for the moon and the planets beyond.

[Video of a previous space launch plays]

[Image changes to show John Murray, Radio Frequency Systems Team Leader]

John Murray: It could get quite exciting. I remember back to the days of Lunar Orbiter when I first started, there were several spacecraft going around the moon and you could hear the beat of a spacecraft come in as you were trying to look up to it.

[Video of the first successful moon landing plays]

[Video of a previous space launch plays]

[Image changes to show Don Gray, Station Director (Tidbinbilla 1967 – 1970)]

Don Gray: The marvellous thing was how well the Americans trusted us, they trusted our judgement, they trusted us for being competent, professional people and they listened to the people on the station.

[Image changes to show the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex]

Narrator: Today the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex stands alone as the Southern Hemisphere's only deep space tracking station. Supporting the missions of many nations and dozens of spacecraft every day, each process in the communication path relies on teams of highly skilled personnel.

[Image changes to inside the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and employees working in different areas] Their work focuses on areas of antenna maintenance, systems engineering, spacecraft communications and logistics administration.

[Image has changes to show Dr Miriam Baltuck, Director, Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex]

Dr Miriam Baltuck: The best thing about working here is the people, they are so sharp, so professional, so dedicated. Many of them have been here for decades and there's something about our culture that's so caught up for in getting this right, in making these missions work.

[Image has changed back to show the radiotelescopes in action and then to Basillo Ormeno]

Basillo Ormeno: We operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week so you have to choose people that is compatible with each other.

[Image has changed back to Bill Dobie performing maintenance work on an antenna]

Bill Dobie: We can be called up at any time to come out and repair and antenna and get it back online.

[Image has changed to show Lan Pham, Database System Administrator]

Lan Pham: They might get a bit isolated at times so being able to refer to someone else that has the exact same knowledge and expertise in the area is excellent.

[Image changes to show people performing maintenance on a radiotelescope and then changes back to John Murray]

John Murray: Dedication of staff is crucially important because they might have to make split second decisions on their own to keep the systems running so that operations can get back on a spacecraft. And the middle of the night that's… you want somebody that's totally dedicated.

[Image changes to show a man addressing a roomful of children]

Male: It takes three days to get to the moon, it takes seven months to get all the way to Mars.

[Image changes to show people walking around the inside of the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and looking at the exhibits]

Narrator: The incredible discoveries made in space over the last 50 years would not have been possible without the role played by the hundreds of men and women who have worked at the tracking stations. They stand as an inspiration to the next generation of space explorers who just now are looking to the stars.

[Image changes to show a rocket being launched]

[Image has changed back to Dr Baltuck]

Dr Miriam Baltuck: It's our people I'm so proud of. It's their dedication, their professionalism. More than that, they love what they do. The anniversary of 50 years of partnership in space tracking, it's a great opportunity for us to reflect on the accomplishments and science engineering and goodwill of our long history but it's also a great opportunity to look ahead. On site we're currently building a new state of the art antenna to usher us well into the 21st Century.

[Camera pans up a radiotelescope]

Narrator: The success of the deep space communication complex and the deep space network is founded on its people and the strength of an international collaboration stretching back to the beginnings of space exploration.

[Image has changed back to Dr Baltuck]

Dr Miriam Baltuck: It's the thrill of being a part of something that's so… magnificent in concept and yet requires so much attention to detail and these are the guys that do it. We'll be here in partnership with the deep space network as long as there's a deep space network.

[Image changes to show the NASA and CSIRO logos on screen]

Learn more about the CDSCC and NASA [external link].