Why there could’ve been an Aussie flag on the moon
The moon landing captured the world’s collective imagination in a way that has been unparalleled either before or since.
This is part of the the newly digitally-enhanced NASA footage of the landing:
Humanity’s will to discover has been the engine room of progress and Neil Armstrong’s steps on the moon are perhaps humanity’s greatest achievement of discovery and a most magnificent triumph of the will.
It was an achievement born of one President’s declaration combined with seven years of political will to realise it.
What followed was extraordinary problem solving and innovation blossoming from a commitment to make JFK’s declaration happen.
The result was a moment in history every bit as significant as Magellan’s first circumnavigation of the globe and Columbus’ encounter with the New World.
While the declaration was made by JFK and the flag adorning Neil Armstrong’s suit was the stars and stripes, Australia played her role in the events of 20 July 1969.
I was two when Neil Armstrong climbed down that ladder but my mother assures me I saw it on TV while sitting on her lap. Those TV pictures came to us via Australia and one of the items carried by Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on to the moon was designed in Australia.
In the late 1960s, at the Sydney University School of Physics, Professor Brian O’Bryan designed the first instrument that would be used on the moon: a moon dust sensor that revealed how the dust from the takeoff rocket of the moon-lander affected the operation of the solar cells used to power the instruments that transmitted data back to earth.
Professor O’Bryan’s dust sensor remains on the moon to this day.
Australia’s geographical advantages – a strategic location, clear skies, and large radio-quiet zones – as well as the strength of our diplomatic relationship with the United States, made it an ideal location for some of the major tracking stations supporting the Apollo 11 mission.
The key Australian tracking station was at Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra, which was part of the Manned Space Flight Network that had been specifically designed to support the Apollo Program.
It was assisted in this by the Parkes Radio Telescope in NSW, and the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Station.
As immortalised in the movie, The Dish, our scientists were the ones who brought humanity’s first steps on the Moon to the world - for at this point the moon was in Australian tracking space.
In the first eight minutes of the moonwalk, Honeysuckle Creek provided the world with the television feed, including Armstrong’s famous line “it’s one small step for (a) man, one giant leap for mankind”.
Parkes then took over TV transmission and continued transmitting television until the moon had passed out of Australia’s view.
The contribution of the people who worked at these tracking stations was invaluable. It enriched Australia’s scientific expertise in the areas of astronomy and astrophysics: areas in which we still excel. Indeed the Australian Government has earmarked $160.5 million over four years for Space and Astronomy under its SuperScience Initiative.
There have been many Australian contributions since to the development of space, not least through the two Australians that have voyaged into space.
Paul Scully-Power delivered the Royal Institute’s Bakerian Lecture in the footsteps of Rutherford and Faraday and was the first Australian to enter space providing a pathway for the footsteps of Australian discoverers of the future. Having sat inside the Challenger spacecraft he touched both the wonder and the sacrifice of humanity’s journey into space.
Dr Scully-Power’s journey from a Sydney schoolboy to a man who flew into space embodies the possibilities of a single human life.
Along with Andy Thomas, he represents not only Australia’s pioneering spirit, but also the ability of Australian scientists and engineers to make a difference at a global level.
Humanity’s first step on the moon was an epoch-defining moment. Yet at its core, this achievement celebrated the pure innate joy of wonder contained in all of us.
For a person who still looks on with a wide-eyed delight to see a boiled egg sucked into a milk bottle simply by a burning a piece of paper inside; I feel lucky to have lived in the era of Man’s walking on the Moon.
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