Mike Dinn on Apollo 11 TV

Television of the First Steps on the Moon

Honeysuckle Creek first received television from Apollo 11 at 1254 AEST on 21 July – immediately after Aldrin pushed in the TV circuit breaker on the Lunar Module. The same signal was also received in California – at the Goldstone Manned Flight and Deep Space Stations. Parkes had not quite acquired because the moon was below the 30 degree antenna elevation limit, even using an available offset feed.

The camera on the Lunar Module was deployed on a panel swinging out from the Module’s base and was upside down. A special switch was included in the equipment at Honeysuckle and Goldstone to correct this. The switch was left in the wrong position at Goldstone, and if you listen carefully to the Capcom comments after the picture comes through he says, “...There’s a great deal of contrast in it, and currently it’s upside down on our monitor...”.

There were a couple of attempts to sort this out between Houston and Goldstone, but just before stepping on the moon, Houston TV said: “All stations, we have just switched video to Honeysuckle”.

After another three and a half minutes, Houston announced that they had “...switched to Goldstone video” but one minute later said “...we have just switched back to [Honeysuckle]”

Two minutes later, Honeysuckle starts processing telemetry data (not including television) from Parkes, indicating that Parkes had acquired and was getting a good signal.

At OTC Sydney, there was an operating position called Sydney Video. Here was –

The telemetry spectrum from Parkes was on sent to Honeysuckle for processing. This included the astronauts’ life support backpack and biomedical data which was regarded by the Apollo Mission people as far more important than Television!

Shortly after, “Sydney Video” says to Houston: “Please be advised I have a very good picture from Parkes – shall I give it to you?”
Houston TV - “Roger Sydney Video – You have it.”
Houston TV - “Roger, beautiful picture, thank you”

9m 20s after first TV - “Houston TV – We are switching to Parkes at this time.”

A couple of minutes later, “Network” at Houston (Ernie Randall) says to Honeysuckle: “You might pass on to the Parkes people their labour was not in vain, they’ve given us the best TV yet” and Tom Reid replied: “Roger, thank you very much, they’ll appreciate that, they're monitoring.”

So – in summary – Television of the first step on the moon to Australia, Houston and the world was from Honeysuckle, but the best and majority of the lunar television was from Parkes.

Primary sources for the above are from an audio recording of the Houston Net and the internal Honeysuckle net, the log written by John Saxon (Assistant Operations Supervisor), and the recollections of Mike Dinn (Operations Supervisor at the time) and John Saxon.

Parkes bookThe essence of the above is also recorded on page 141 of “Parkes – Thirty Years of Radio Astronomy” published by CSIRO in 1994. The recollections of John Bolton – the first Parkes Director and a very eminent radio astronomer – are on page 135. This account is at variance with the above.

Below are extracts from the actual book text, to complete the picture:

Extracts From “Parkes – 30 years of Radio Astronomy”
page 135, by John Bolton – “Parkes and the Apollo Missions”


Time went on until it appeared that the walk would begin during the ten-minute coverage of our less sensitive receiver with the off-axis feed. Then with the dish at its zenith-angle limit, dust could be seen racing across the country from the south and the dish was hit by two sharp gusts of wind exceeding 70 mph. The dish was slammed back against the zenith-angle drive pinions and the control room floor moved under us. Fortunately the zenith-angle racks survived the blows, with only lasting impressions of the pinions on their reverse sides.

The winds abated and our image from the main feed showed on our direct monitor which we relayed to the ABC; both showed a very much improved picture. The TV from the Moon was in slo-scan (10 frames a second) and scan converters in Sydney were used to provide both Australian and US standards. The US converter had not been completely shut down after trial the night before, burning a hole in the screen.

We had thought that most of the world would get coverage of the Moon landing through Goldstone, as Parkes was being used in the overlap period. We were very surprised, therefore, to hear Walter Cronkite say: “That white spot on your screen is coming from Parkes.”

Taffy and I rang Bill Merrick at JPL as soon as the telecast was over. Goldstone had had a wonderful picture but it disappeared into the ground 20 miles from the site where two cables had not been connected. [See also Mike Dinn’s account, p. 141.]


page 141, by Mike Dinn – “NASA, Parkes and Voyager”

For years, however, there’s been a debate about the various roles played in, and the television coverage of, the Apollo 11 mission. I am about to describe this the way I saw it, and so let me present my credentials.

In Australia, I was running the operation at the Honeysuckle Creek Manned Flight Tracking Station on the Apollo mission from 1967 to 1971. For Apollo 11, I was physically at the desk, and I happen to have the log we wrote at the time; we have an audio tape. Now, this can be ignored or even rejected, but the sequence of events was as follows.

When we first saw the TV image after the Moon landing it was at 02.56’25” UT. We had Parkes coming up about ten minutes later.

Now, TV might well have been coming from the offset feed at Parkes. But my signal was going into Sydney, and the decision as to which signal should be used – Parkes or Honeysuckle Creek – was the result of a decision made by a NASA representative at OTC Sydney.

NASA were actually trying to use Goldstone TV but the picture was upside down. As the camera swung out from the lunar module, NASA knew that the picture would be upside down, but there was a switch on the scan-converter to invert it. The trouble was that Goldstone did not operate this switch.

John Bolton claims that Bill Merrick said that their signal was lost outside Goldstone. John’s story is that the signal selected was Parkes. He could be right, he could be wrong. At the time, of course, we were all concentrating on the job in hand and it’s difficult to recall, 10 or 15 years later, just what actually happened.

Anyway, I won’t labour the point, but when Parkes’ 50th Anniversary comes up I'll be saying the same thing.


Mike Dinn Canberra July 1999

See also Mike’s document The Truth about The Dish