When, at 12.56.20 AEST on 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first steps on the Moon, 600 million people around the world were watching.

[Music plays and image appears of a sunset with the Moon in the night sky and the camera zooms in on the Moon and then the image changes to show David Cooke stepping outside his house]

David Cooke: I’d always been interested in astronomy.

[Image changes to show a rear and then profile view of David looking out at the night sky]

It’s a great big place out there and I was quite interested in the stars.

[Images move through to show David Cooke sitting in a lounge room talking, a satellite dish, a male working at a control board, and a male at work on the project and text appears: David Cooke, CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope]

We began to hear from the Director that the Apollo 11 project was going ahead and that Parkes would take part in the project.

[Image changes to show a close-up view of the satellite dish]

Nothing like that had ever happened before.

[Images move through of Mike Dinn talking, black and white footage of two males working in front of computers at Honeysuckle Creek, and then Mike talking again and text appears: Mike Dinn, NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek tracking station]

Mike Dinn: I was the Deputy State Director at Honeysuckle Creek in 1969 and we had what was called Apollo 7, 8, 9 and 10, all manned spacecraft and we were actively involved in all those missions.

[Camera zooms in on Mike talking and then the image changes to show a close-up view of a satellite dish]

They happened at two month intervals so you could hardly take a breath.

[Image changes to show a view looking up at the satellite dish from underneath]

David Cooke: Well, it was just another day.

[Image changes to show a computer screen flickering and then the image changes to show footage of a male working on a control board]

We might have been a little bit nervous but there wasn’t much time for that.

[Image changes to show a newspaper article about the Moon landing and then images move through to show footage of various employees working in the Honeysuckle Creek station]

We were aware that it would be quite a momentous thing that was going to happen but mainly each one of us was responsible for something and we were concerned that we didn’t want that to go wrong and spoil the whole project.

[Image changes to show a male up on a platform making adjustments to a satellite dish and then the image changes to show a “Flight Plan” booklet]

I didn’t want the receiver to break down and we get no signal at all.

[Image changes to show a hand and pencil hovering above a chart and then the image changes to show Mike Dinn talking to the camera]

Mike Dinn: We had done a lot of planning of what ifs, Plan B, Plan C, Plan D.

[Image changes to show footage of various males working on the control boards]

The Director at the time said…

Voice recording: “Perhaps our biggest weakness is the weather.

[Camera zooms in on a hand adjusting a dial and then the camera pans up to show various data above the dial]

If we get a very severe storm and very high winds then we’d no longer be able to keep tracking”.

[Image changes to show David talking to the camera and then the image changes to show a satellite dish]

David Cooke: And, that’s what went wrong. The big storm came up.

[Image changes to show seconds counting up on a control board and then the camera zooms out to show a male operating the control panel and then the image changes to show David talking]

We had the telescope dipped right down to its horizon, the tower was shaking, and we were anxious.

[Image changes to show a close-up view of the satellite dish and then the image changes to show John Sarkissian talking to the camera and text appears: John Sarkissian, CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope]

John Sarkissian: Two gusts of 110 kilometres an hour actually struck the dish creating a lot of concern for the people inside.

[Image changes to show black and white footage of employees working inside the Honeysuckle Creek Station]

Mike Dinn: For, I don’t know, ten or 20 seconds while I was coming down the ladder no one was saying anything.

[Images move through show a male looking into a telescope, a male talking on a telephone, and then black and white footage of a male working wearing a headset]

You were keeping an eagle eye on everything else in case something played up.

[Image changes to show a room of people sitting in front of screens with a large TV screen in front of them on the wall]

Voice recording: We’re getting the picture on the TV.

[Image changes to show black and white footage of the Moon landing]

David Cooke: We started to get this signal.

[Image changes to show David talking to the camera while sitting in a lounge room]

It was pretty exciting to see it actually had happened. You know, this figure had come down the ladder and put his foot on the Moon and made his little speech.

[Image changes to show black and white footage of the Moon landing again]

Neil Armstrong Voice Recording: “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”.

[Images move through of black and white footage of various employees cheering and smiling inside the Honeysuckle Creek Station, and then Neil Armstrong putting a flag on the Moon]

[Images continue to move through of the Moon landing on the TV screen, a male working in front of the computers and looking up at the TV, and Neil Armstrong walking on the Moon]

Mike Dinn: We didn’t really know what to expect and it came out with a fairly strong contrast between the brightness of the Moon’s surface and the darkness of the sky but we saw enough.

[Image shows the astronauts near the ladder of the Apollo and then the image changes to show a spacecraft launching]

Voice recording: It works at Parkes. Roger. Capcom: reminder.

[Image changes to show the Moon in the night sky and then the image changes to show people looking up at the sky and then the image changes to show the surface of the earth and the Moon]

Mike Dinn: A lot of us thought at that time and still think we were lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time. It was the sort of highlight of my career.

[Music plays and the image changes to show Dr Sarah Pearce talking to the camera and text appears: Dr Sarah Pearce, CSIRO Astronomy and Space Science]

[Images move through of various views of satellite dishes in the evening and the daylight]

Dr Sarah Pearce: I think the largest contribution that Apollo has made has been the enormous enthusiasm it encouraged in school children at the time and young people towards science, technology and engineering.

[Images move through to show a close-up view of a satellite dish, an employee walking out over the satellite dish, the employee looking upwards, and then black and white footage of the Moon landing]

When I talk to people today it’s amazing the number of people who are engineers or who I knew professionally who say, “I became an engineer, I became a scientist because I sat in my classroom and I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon and it made me want to be part of that.

[Image changes to show a profile view of Sarah talking]

It made me want to be involved in science and technology and I think that’s absolutely priceless”.

[Image changes to show black and white footage of two employees in conversation and then the image changes to show the satellite dish]

David Cooke: There might have been a few cheers I think.

[Image changes to show David holding up a picture of the satellite dish and looking at the camera]

I went down outside and looked out of a telescope and I thought to myself, “Well, that’s pretty amazing. There’s a man up there on the Moon and we put them there”.

[Music plays and the CSIRO logo and text appears on a blue screen: CSIRO Australia’s innovation catalyst]

Apollo 11: Remembering Australia’s role

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Fifty years on, CSIRO Chief Executive Dr Larry Marshall said that Australians can be proud of the important role the country played in supporting the historic mission.

“The Apollo 11 mission and TV broadcast would not have been possible without the Australian expertise, skills, and technology supporting that ‘One giant leap’,” Dr Marshall said.

Australian teams at NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla and Carnarvon tracking stations played a key role tracking and communicating with the lunar module Eagle and command module Columbia, and monitoring the Apollo 11 astronauts’ biomedical readings.

The Honeysuckle Creek station was responsible for the world seeing most of the first eight and a half minutes of the international TV broadcast, before NASA switched to the signal received by CSIRO’s Parkes radio telescope for the remaining two and a half hours of the broadcast.

Dr Marshall said supporting the Apollo 11 mission was another proud chapter in the CSIRO’s 100-year history.

“As Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO solves the greatest challenges through innovative science and technology,” he said.

“Fifty years ago we used our expertise in radio astronomy and engineering to help share with the world that humans had reached the Moon.

“The next 50 years will bring Australia even more amazing opportunities to reinvent our future using science and technology.”

At the time of Apollo 11, Australia was home to more NASA tracking stations than any country outside the USA.

Today, CSIRO’s almost 60-year collaboration with NASA continues as its official co-operating agency in Australia.

For nine hours a day the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex, which CSIRO manages for NASA, takes the lead in tracking over 40 spacecraft exploring the Solar System.

While the benefits of the Apollo program are many, including new types of kidney dialysis machines, water filtration systems and fire-retardant clothing used by firefighters, its main legacy may have been to inspire a generation of young people to take up careers in science and technology.

“On 21 July 1969 I watched, spellbound, on my classroom floor, as Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the Moon,” Dr Marshall said.

“Like countless others it was one of the defining moments of my childhood, showing me the ability of science to bring people together, and the power of science to make the impossible, possible.

“Neil Armstrong called the Apollo 11 mission ‘a beginning of a new age’ that would inspire future generations to dream.

"In Australia that dream has never been more alive than now.

“CSIRO is working alongside the new Australian Space Agency and the local space industry on next-generation technologies for space exploration that will also allow us to make life better here on Earth.”

CSIRO is celebrating the Apollo 11 Moon landing anniversary with open days at its Parkes Observatory and the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex at Tidbinbilla.

For more information on Australia’s role in supporting the Apollo 11 mission, and the open days, visit www.csiro.au/apollo11

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Images

  • CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope

    CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope tracking the Moon during a practice run in 1969 prior to the landing.  ©CSIRO

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  • CSIRO staff watch the moon landing from within the Parkes radio telescope, on 21 July 1969.

    CSIRO staff watch the moon landing from within the Parkes radio telescope, on 21 July 1969. A monitor showing the moon walk is visible in background.  ©CSIRO

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