Parkes and Honeysuckle
Monday 21st July 1969

watching Neil Armstrong

The world watches through Honeysuckle Creek as Neil Armstrong steps onto the Moon.

Hamish Lindsay, who took this photo, writes –

“This picture was taken of the HSK antenna tracking the Apollo 11 Lunar Module just before Armstrong took his first step onto the lunar surface.

Tom Reid, the Station Director, sent me out to record the moment. It was a wet and cold mid-winter morning – we were suffering sleet showers at the time which you can see on the hills behind.”

Large, Larger.


Over the years since 1969, there has been friendly debate between Parkes and Honeysuckle as to who had the TV at the first step.

While there was no competition between the stations – and everyone expected the video to be taken from Goldstone (because the EVA was called early, and because the signal path from Goldstone to Houston was considerably shorter) – it is now clear that the first few minutes of TV came through Goldstone, but that Houston switched to Honeysuckle Creek just before Neil Armstrong’s first step.

The picture from Parkes was used from about 9 minutes into the TV broadcast.

So what happened?


Problems at Goldstone

At Goldstone they were having problems with their TV.

Although the slow scan TV picture being received at Goldstone was excellent (see the one of only two known surviving Goldstone slow scan photos here), once the slow scan video was scan-converted, it became almost unusable.

It appears that Goldstone’s scan converter had been set incorrectly, resulting in a very dark picture with high contrast.

As well, at the start of the broadcast, at Goldstone the toggle switch to invert the TV image (due to the TV camera being mounted upside down on the MESA on the side of the Lunar Module) was in wrong position when the TV came on-line.

All this made it very difficult initially to work out what was what. (Capcom Bruce McCandless was very impressive when he immediately preceived the picture was upside down!)

Several minutes into the EVA the Goldstone picture was sent out as a negative image – apparently due to the Goldstone video operator attempting to improve the picture.

Remember, all this happened very quickly, with no time for experimenting with settings or troubleshooting problems. From the moment the television camera was turned on – to when Armstrong stepped on the Moon spanned only 2 minutes and 20 seconds!


The Switch to Honeysuckle

Thus, with Honeysuckle Creek being the only other source of video, the Houston TV controller Ed Tarkington switched to the picture coming from Honeysuckle – just before Neil Armstrong stepped onto the lunar surface.

Note: In Australia, the local networks were taking a split off the feed going from Sydney Video to Houston. Except for the first few seconds of the broadcast taken by satellite from the ‘international’ version originating in Houston, Australians saw the TV from Honeysuckle and then Parkes throughout.

See The Australian TV broadcast for the story – and a relatively recently discovered recording of the start of the Moonwalk as seen only in Australia.


When did Parkes come on line?

In John Sarkissian’s paper, “On Eagle’s Wings: The Parkes Observatory’s Support of the Apollo 11 Mission” published for the Apollo 11 30th anniversary in 1999, a helpful animation shows that, at the start of the TV broadcast, Parkes could not see the Moon using its on-axis main beam receiver (not until 03:02UTC). The Moon was simply too low.

However, it was possible, from 02:54UTC, for the off-axis receiver to be receiving data.

So what actually happened?

The TV broadcast started at 02:54:00UTC according to John Saxon’s log – and Armstrong set foot on the Moon at around 02:56:25 +/- a few seconds...

John Saxon’s station log - part

Part of John Saxon’s log at the Ops console.
Times are GMT (UTC).

Click the image for the complete page.

And see the full Honeysuckle log for Apollo 11 here.
With thanks to John Saxon for the scan.

In order to follow the sequence, one other important source document is invaluable – a recording made at Honeysuckle Creek, of NET 2 (the NASA tracking network) mixed with Alpha (the internal Operations comms loop at Honeysuckle).

To follow the sequence –

see the transcript of the recording (opens in a new window – you might find it helpful to print it out.)

and then listen to the recording – a 1.2Mb mp3 file.


Keep in mind that while Parkes’ TV signal was going direct to OTC Sydney in Paddington, all the rest of the Parkes data was being sent to Honeysuckle – so the technicians and engineers at Honeysuckle knew when the Parkes data started coming in. (Mike Dinn was responsible for integrating Parkes into the network through Honeysuckle.)

The audio recording made at Honeysuckle indicates that Honeysuckle began processing Parkes data 8 minutes after the TV began. Previously, there is no mention of data from Parkes, but from that time there is discussion of how the Parkes data is being demodulated at Honeysuckle.


Why was this?

Robert Taylor from the Goddard Space Flight Center, who led the NASA contingent at Parkes, controlled the releasing of data from Parkes to the Network. As far as the Network people were concerned, the data (especially from the astronauts’ Portable Life Support Systems) was far more important than the TV. Experienced space trackers are convinced he would not have allowed data to be sent until Parkes had a stable signal on the main beam.

This would fit with the audio recording made at Honeysuckle.

Bob Taylor

Robert Taylor, from the Goddard Space Flight Center, headed the NASA contingent at Parkes.

From an Australian Information Service film showing the preparations at Parkes. (with thanks to John Sarkissian.)

Hear Bob Taylor explain Parkes’ integration into the MSFN in this 780kb mp3 file recorded at Parkes in July 1969.

Robert Taylor

Robert Taylor with the NASA equipment in the Parkes control room several days before the lunar landing. The Parkes control desk is just out of view to the right, around the central column.

The slow scan monitor is at far left.

Photo is a screenshot from NASA footage, courtesy of Mark Gray.

To ensure the integrity of the data lines to Honeysuckle, Parkes was sending a multiburst ‘test signal’ down the line until they were ready to send data.

At Honeysuckle, this multiburst signal was received until just before Station Director Tom Reid (at the prompting of Deputy Director Mike Dinn, who was on the phone to Parkes) asked SDDS operator Kevin Gallegos if Parkes data was now being received.

Note the convergence here (on the recording above made at Honeysuckle) –

08'00" – “can you confirm that we are receiving Parkes data?” – Honeysuckle Director Tom Reid indicating he has been told Parkes now had a good lock – and
08'42" –
Charlie Goodman advising Houston that he had a “very good picture from Parkes”


To summarise:

While it’s quite possible that Parkes was receiving data (including slow scan TV) from near the start of the broadcast, evidently it was not of sufficient quality and stability to send on to either Honeysuckle or to Sydney Video.

At 8 minutes into the TV, Honeysuckle Station Director Tom Reid asked SDDS operator Kevin Gallegos to confirm that Parkes data was now coming in. When it was confirmed, the demodulating of the Parkes signal was discussed.

Thirty-six seconds after Tom Reid’s first mention of Parkes, and just 3 seconds after Kevin Gallegos begins the demodulation at Honeysuckle, Charlie Goodman – the NASA controller at Sydney OTC responsible for choosing between Parkes and Honeysuckle’s TV – announces that he has “a very good picture from Parkes”. Obviously, he hadn’t earlier.

This doesn’t mean that the people at Parkes didn’t see the first step – as John Sarkissian’s animation shows, they probably did – (as those at Parkes on the day recall) but it seems likely that the NASA network people at Parkes (led by Bob Taylor) exercised their usual caution and did not release the data (probably including the TV) to the network until they were confident there was a stable signal on the main beam.

This seems to be confirmed by John Saxon’s Honeysuckle station log (above) that at 03:06UTC Honeysuckle is now processing Parkes data. “Parkes up using their TV and PAM -90dbm”.


What if TV was being sent from Parkes from the start?

At Sydney Video, the NASA controller Charlie Goodman, would have been aware of any initial TV that may have been coming from Parkes from their off-axis receiver. However, with a perfectly acceptable (though more noisy) television picture coming from the smaller antenna at Honeysuckle, he elected to stay with that until Parkes had its signal on the main beam. To switch to an off-axis signal with the knowledge that it would be lost for a minute or so (or maybe longer) when Parkes changed to the main receiver would have been considered risky.

To compound problems Parkes’ problems, unprecedented wind gusts were buffetting the dish and could have made the off-axis signal more prone to dropouts. (And great credit goes to Neil ‘Fox’ Mason who was driving the telescope – and the rest of the team at Parkes who kept tracking, despite the wind storm which threatened the integrity of the 1000 tonne antenna directly above them.)


TWX re Apollo 11 TV

This TWX (pronounced “twix” – Network teletype message) was sent by the Honeysuckle Station Director on behalf of Sydney Video (who probably didn’t have TWX facilities) to the Goddard Networks Operations Manager – at 7:19pm AEST on Monday 21st July 1969 – only four hours after the lunar EVA had finished.

The TWX lists Sydney Video as sending Honeysuckle Creek pictures to the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston from 109 hours 22 minutes Ground Elacpsed Time (the start of the TV) to 109 hours 30 minutes Ground Elapsed Time – and then Parkes pictures for the rest of the EVA.

With thanks to Honeysuckle Video tech Ed von Renouard for the scan.

John Saxon has kindly deciphered the abbreviations –

“This is a routine (NN) message to Canberra switching centre (ACSW) and Goddard (GCTR) and Houston Network (HNET).

The message is from (DE) HSK (AHSK) – the originator is Station Director (nominally Tom Reid – but could have been written by someone else) using input from Sydney Video.

The message goes to Goddard NOM (Networks Operations Manager) and NST/USB (Network Support Team USB position) for action if required.

Info copies (cc these days!) were sent to Houston Network team (HNET) NC (Network Controller – Ernie Randall?). Also to Canberra Switch (ACSW) for forwarding to Parkes and Sydney Video.

The 21/0919Z is the Date/Time Group (DTG) of transmission – sent at 0919Z
(7:15 pm local) on the 21st July 1969 – I think the year might have been on
the Time of Preparation (TOP) on the bottom of the message.

Finally it was a message of Operations type (OPN) for NCG-725 (Network Control Group number) = Apollo 11.”

The movie The Dish was a lot of fun – and brought to light the vital Australian involvement in Apollo – but it re-wrote history and left people believing that Neil Armstrong’s first step on the Moon was seen through Parkes.

Hopefully, the material above will help to set the story straight –

1. The coverage of the EVA began with Goldstone,
2. then continued through Honeysuckle Creek
3. and then Parkes provided the TV for the rest of the EVA.

The team at Honeysuckle Creek had the unexpected pleasure of bringing the television pictures of the First Step on the Moon to the world.

Other resources

See Mike Dinn’s article on the topic.


Note of Congratulations from the Apollo 11 Flight Director

Clifford E. Charlesworth, Apollo 11 Flight Director, sent this congratulatory TWX to Honeysuckle Creek, Tidbinbilla and Parkes after the Apollo 11 EVA. (Note that while he mentions the TV as ‘the greatest television spectacular of all time’, it is the voice and data which is most important to the Flight Operations people.)

TWX from Cliff Charlesworth

John Saxon preserved this copy.

TWXs were printed on multi-ply impact sensitive paper. John’s copy is a top level one. See another copy from lower down in the same printout – kept by Mike Dinn, photo by Colin Mackellar, March 2006.

Bill Wood writes, “This is one page of a Teletype multi-ply printout. The teleprinters were loaded with special paper that acted like carbon paper and produced as many as six copies of every message that came in.”


“Magnificent Australian Support of Apollo 11”

Press release page 1 Press release page 2

This Press Release from the Minister for Supply, Ken Anderson, the day after the Apollo 11 EVA – Tuesday July 22, 1969, states that Honeysuckle, and then Parkes, provided the TV pictures. He also pays tribute to the work of NASCOM at Deakin.

(Provided by Mike Dinn. Click for larger images.)


newspaper clippings

This newspaper clipping from the Sydney Morning Herald, Tuesday 22 July 1969, isn’t completely correct at several points, but it captures the excitement of the day. Scan by Colin Mackellar.




Back to the main page for Apollo 11 TV.