Milestone-Proposal:Role of the Parkes Radiotelescope in the First Moon Landing

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Docket #:2019-01

This Proposal has been approved, and is now a Milestone

To the proposer’s knowledge, is this achievement subject to litigation? No

Is the achievement you are proposing more than 25 years old? Yes

Is the achievement you are proposing within IEEE’s designated fields as defined by IEEE Bylaw I-104.11, namely: Engineering, Computer Sciences and Information Technology, Physical Sciences, Biological and Medical Sciences, Mathematics, Technical Communications, Education, Management, and Law and Policy. Yes

Did the achievement provide a meaningful benefit for humanity? Yes

Was it of at least regional importance? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to pay for the milestone plaque(s)? Yes

Has an IEEE Organizational Unit agreed to arrange the dedication ceremony? Yes

Has the IEEE Section in which the milestone is located agreed to take responsibility for the plaque after it is dedicated? Yes

Has the owner of the site agreed to have it designated as an IEEE Milestone? Yes

Year or range of years in which the achievement occurred:


Title of the proposed milestone:

Reception of First Communication to Earth from a Human Walking on the Moon, 1969 – the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope and the NASA Honeysuckle Creek Stations in Australia on Monday 21st of July 1969 (AEST)

Plaque citation summarizing the achievement and its significance:

The Parkes radiotelescope and Honeysuckle Creek stations in Australia received voice and picture signals from the first moonwalk for redistribution to millions of people on Earth. Parkes' TV picture quality was superior to other ground stations, therefore NASA used Parkes as the TV source for the remainder of the broadcast. The type of corrugated horn feed first used at Parkes became dominant in ground station applications after 1970.

In what IEEE section(s) does it reside?

At Parkes, NSW Australia which is within the region of IEEE NSW Section.

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) which have agreed to sponsor the Milestone:

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) paying for milestone plaque(s):

Unit: IEEE NSW Section
Senior Officer Name: Sasha Nikolic

IEEE Organizational Unit(s) arranging the dedication ceremony:

Unit: IEEE NSW Section
Senior Officer Name: Sasha Nikolic

IEEE section(s) monitoring the plaque(s):

IEEE Section: IEEE NSW Section
IEEE Section Chair name: Sasha Nikolic

Milestone proposer(s):

Proposer name: Trevor S. Bird LFIEEE
Proposer email: Proposer's email masked to public

Please note: your email address and contact information will be masked on the website for privacy reasons. Only IEEE History Center Staff will be able to view the email address.

Street address(es) and GPS coordinates of the intended milestone plaque site(s):

585 Telescope Road, Parkes NSW 2870, Australia at -32.998402 S, 148.263488 E (GDA94)

Describe briefly the intended site(s) of the milestone plaque(s). The intended site(s) must have a direct connection with the achievement (e.g. where developed, invented, tested, demonstrated, installed, or operated, etc.). A museum where a device or example of the technology is displayed, or the university where the inventor studied, are not, in themselves, sufficient connection for a milestone plaque.

Please give the address(es) of the plaque site(s) (GPS coordinates if you have them). Also please give the details of the mounting, i.e. on the outside of the building, in the ground floor entrance hall, on a plinth on the grounds, etc. If visitors to the plaque site will need to go through security, or make an appointment, please give the contact information visitors will need. The plaque is intended to be placed on a plinth in the grounds of the Parkes Radio Telescope Visitors Centre which is about 75m from the radio telescope itself. The antenna itself is off limits to visitors as it is an operational observatory. The Honeysuckle Creek station has been dismantled and all that remains on the site are the concrete foundations and a plaque where there is little or no security.

Are the original buildings extant?

Yes, the Parkes Radio Telescope is still an operational observatory

Details of the plaque mounting:

The NASA Honeysuckle Creek station [1] no longer exists although the site where it was located is marked. As this is out of the way for visitors, a suitable place to highlight the event and locate the IEEE Milestone plaque is at Parkes. The milestone plaque is to be placed on a plinth in the grounds of the Parkes Observatory Visitor’s Centre. There is currently a sandstone monument pillar/obelisk in the grounds, which is 420mm wide, and the vertical height on the front surface is 850mm. This is to designate the site as a National Engineering Landmark by the Institution of Engineers Australia. Their plaque sits atop of the pillar on the sloping surface that is 305mm x 205mm. If the existing pillar were to be used, the IEEE plaque would need to be cast in portrait orientation.

How is the site protected/secured, and in what ways is it accessible to the public?

A caretaker and CSIRO staff are present at the site as the telescope is an operational observatory that operates 24 hours a day, every day of the year. The Observatory Visitors Centre is open to the public 7 days a week from 8am to 4.30pm. For information see .

Who is the present owner of the site(s)?

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO)

What is the historical significance of the work (its technological, scientific, or social importance)?

The historic achievement On the 20th of July 1969 (CST) two United States astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin disembarked from their lunar module and stepped onto the surface of the moon. The third man, Mike Collins, remained in the command module, which continued to orbit the moon, and from which the lunar module undocked for the descent to the lunar surface. The first man out of the lunar module, and onto the lunar surface was Neil Armstrong [1]. Many consider this to be one of humanity’s greatest achievements. In coming in to land, the lunar module, piloted expertly by Armstrong, skirted over a boulder field and landed at a different location than had been originally planned. He called this spot Tranquility Base which is in the Sea of Tranquility. After Armstrong and Aldrin had landed and had checked out all systems, the intention was for them to rest for about 8 hours and then explore the surface nearby. By that time the Moon would have set at Goldstone, California, but would have been high overhead at Parkes, NSW, in an ideal position to receive the signals from the Moon. Understandably, the astronauts were excited and keen to get out and explore, so sleep was out of the question. Consequently, Armstrong exercised his option for an earlier than planned moonwalk. Since he came out early, the Moon was still above the horizon at Goldstone and just on the verge of rising at the 30° elevation limit, at Parkes. Consequently. as Armstrong stepped on to the Moon, the TV signals from the Lunar Module, were received simultaneously at three tracking stations. They were the 64-metre Goldstone antenna in California, the 26-metre antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra in Australia [2], and the 64-metre radio telescope at Parkes [3]. At the beginning of the broadcast, NASA alternated between the signals being received from its two stations at Goldstone and Honeysuckle Creek, searching for the best quality picture. A little under nine minutes into the broadcast, the TV was switched to the Parkes signal. As the quality of the TV pictures from Parkes was superior, NASA stayed with Parkes as the source of the TV for the remainder of the two- and half-hour moon walk. Although the Parkes antenna had the bigger collecting area for receiving, according to Tink [4] the dish could not tip below 30° elevation, so it was not capable of receiving a strong signal for the first eight minutes of the moonwalk. Therefore, as Armstrong set foot on the moon and then uttered the now iconic phrase, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”, the TV pictures from the moon were being received by NASA's antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra [4]. Shortly afterwards, the Moon rose high enough for the Parkes Radio Telescope to receive the signals clearly. From then on, it provided the TV signals for one of humanity's most significant achievements, namely the first men walking on the moon. Humanity was able to witness this signal moment in history, with the greatest possible clarity, thanks to the Parkes Radio Telescope. The TV pictures were distributed to 600 million people watching it live around the world. The TV was finally switched off by the astronauts, just over 5 hours later, and 2 ½ hours after the end of the moon walk. It is because of this historic episode as well as the major technical achievement, which allowed this to happen, that we consider the Parkes Radio Telescope location should be an IEEE Milestone. As the event took place in Australia on the 21st July (AEST), the plaque at Parkes should carry this date.

What obstacles (technical, political, geographic) needed to be overcome?

The overall technical achievement was immense. On the lunar landing module itself, computers were required for navigation and tracking. On the communications side, the signal had to be transmitted from the moon’s surface to Earth to be collected by ground stations in three countries including Australia. The Parkes Radio Telescope, along with NASA's antenna at Honeysuckle Creek, was chosen to be part of the earth receiving network and was fitted out to receive signals from Apollo 11. The Parkes Radio Telescope was a unique instrument. It was commissioned by CSIRO in the late 1950s to very stringent specifications [3]. Freeman, Fox and Partners of London prepared a design that met these requirements and it was fabricated by Machinenfabrik Augsburg Nurnberg AG (MAN). The driving force behind this telescope was Dr Taffy Bowen FRS, who had extremely high standing because of his involvement in early radar [5]. As well as his involvement in radar on aircraft, he was the person who carried the secret and vital component, the high-power magnetron, to the US as part of the Tizard mission to the US at the commencement of WWII. Later, as a Chief of Division at CSIRO, he was able through his American contacts, to raise more than 40% of the cost of the telescope from the Rockefeller Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation in the United States. Bowen wanted a steerable dish comparable in size and more accurate than the 250 ft Mk I radiotelescope at Jodrell Bank in the UK, which had been completed in 1956 and was the first large reflector telescope. Parkes was used as a test bed for several future radio telescopes, then in the planning stage. It has several unique technical features including a master equatorial - designed by Barnes Wallis FRS of WWII dambusters fame - located in the column in the concrete tower supporting the telescope. The dish is ‘slaved’ to follow its master, which can be programmed to follow a celestial track and thus control the direction of the telescope. CSIRO scientist Harry Minnett was seconded to Freeman-Fox during the design phase and he made some unique contributions to the antenna structure. One improvement was that the parabolic dish at Parkes has a longer focal length than at Jodrell Bank. Minnett and co-worker Bruce Thomas FIEEE had undertaken an improved and detailed analysis of a parabolic reflector and this influenced the design of Parkes and showed the best-match feed for reception [6]. This led to their development in 1966 of the corrugated horn feed for Parkes [7-8]. The corrugated horn has, since the 1970s, become dominant in ground station applications. Both features and some others were first used on the Parkes Radio Telescope. Therefore in 1969, the Parkes radio telescope was superbly positioned to receive the weak signals under adverse local weather conditions. The reception at Parkes took place in very high winds, gusting to 110 km/h (68 mph), when the dish was fully tipped over at 60 degrees zenith angle (30 degrees elevation), risking damage to the dish to keep the antenna pointed at the moon during the moonwalk. A fictionalized account of Parkes’ role in the moon landing is dramatized in the movie ‘The Dish’ [8], which was the top grossing Australian film in Australia in 2000. It’s importance to regional/national/international development The first time a human being had stepped onto the surface of another heavenly body, in this case the planet Earth’s moon. There was international co-operation through the establishment of an earth station receiving network. In Australia, the receiving stations were the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope, along with NASA's antenna at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra. The Parkes site has already been recognized as a National Engineering Landmark.

Ways the achievement was a significant advance rather than incremental. Travel to the moon and land safely on it. This was the first moon landing as well as the first human walking on the surface of an extraterrestrial body.

What Obstacles Needed to be Overcome (technical, geographic)?: Technologies for human travel to and from the Moon and landing safely on it. This was the first moon landing as well as the first human to walk upon the surface of an extraterrestrial body. On the technical side, at the time of the moon landing the CSIRO Parkes Radio Telescope had been in operation for only a short time. Parkes was used as a test bed for several future radio telescopes then in the planning stage. It was also the prototype for the large antennas in NASA’s Deep Space Network, which is why they were all initially 64-metres in diameter. It has several unique and innovative, design features including a master equatorial that can be programmed to follow a celestial track and thus control the direction of the telescope. It has a longer focal length than at Jodrell Bank, which allowed more efficient feeds to be used. This led to the development of the corrugated horn feed, which has now become common in earth station applications.

What features set this work apart from similar achievements?

It was the first time a human being had stepped out onto an extraterrestrial body and communicated with Earth while doing that.

Supporting texts and citations to establish the dates, location, and importance of the achievement: Minimum of five (5), but as many as needed to support the milestone, such as patents, contemporary newspaper articles, journal articles, or chapters in scholarly books. 'Scholarly' is defined as peer-reviewed, with references, and published. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. At least one of the references must be from a scholarly book or journal article. All supporting materials must be in English, or accompanied by an English translation.

[1] H. Lindsay, ‘Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station: 1967–1981: Apollo 11’, [2] J. Hansen, ‘The First Man’, Simon & Schuster Ltd, 2018 ISSBN: 9781471177873 [3] B. Collis, ‘Fields of discovery: Australia’s CSIRO’, Allen & Unwin, Crows Nest, Australia, 2002, pp. 386-400. [4] A. A. Tink, ‘Honeysuckle Creek: the story of Tom Reid, a little dish and Neil Armstrong's first step’, NewSouth Publishing, 2018. ISBN 978-1-74223-608-7 [5] E.G. Bowen, ‘Radar days’, Adam Hilger, Bristol, UK, 1987. [6] H.C. Minnett & B. McA. Thomas, ‘Fields in the image space of symmetrical focusing reflectors’, Proc. IEE, Vol. 115, pp. 1419-1430, Oct. 1968. [7] H.C. Minnett & B. McA. Thomas, ‘A method of synthesizing radiation patterns with axial symmetry’, IEEE Trans. Antennas Propagat, Vol. AP-14, pp. 654-656, Sept. 1966. [8] T.S. Bird, ‘The early development of corrugated horns’, IEEE Antennas & Propagation Society Symposium, Puerto Rico, USA, 27 June - 1 July 2016, pp. 1009-1010. [9] ‘The Dish’, Roadshow Entertainment & Warner Bros movie, 2000, .

Supporting materials (supported formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG, PDF, DOC): All supporting materials must be in English, or if not in English, accompanied by an English translation. You must supply the texts or excerpts themselves, not just the references. For documents that are copyright-encumbered, or which you do not have rights to post, email the documents themselves to Please see the Milestone Program Guidelines for more information.

Please email a jpeg or PDF a letter in English, or with English translation, from the site owner(s) giving permission to place IEEE milestone plaque on the property, and a letter (or forwarded email) from the appropriate Section Chair supporting the Milestone application to with the subject line "Attention: Milestone Administrator." Note that there are multiple texts of the letter depending on whether an IEEE organizational unit other than the section will be paying for the plaque(s).