Don Gray

Senior RF Engineer DSS 41 Island Lagoon
Deputy Director, DSS 42 Tidbinbilla
Station Director, DSS 42 Tidbinbilla
Station Director, Honeysuckle Creek

March 1994 interview

Hamish Lindsay recorded this interview on a DAT tape, and we are grateful to the ACT Heritage Library
and to Antoinette Buchanan and her team for their help in making a transfer of this tape.


Don Gray

Don Gray was interviewed by Hamish Lindsay on 29 March 1994.
Photo: Hamish Lindsay, Scan: Colin Mackellar

Don Gray

audio Interviewed by Hamish Lindsay (71 minutes, 26MB mp3 file)

Some highlights:

00:24 Born in Melbourne, then moved to Ballarat.
00:50 1949 Joined RAAF, Graduated Engineer 1954.
01:20 Resigned October 1963 to start as Senior Engineer at DSIF 41, Island Lagoon, Woomera to late 1967.
04:22 Lunar and planetary unmanned exploration – Ranger, Lunar Orbiter.
05:12 Transfer to Tidbinbilla to be Deputy for Manned Flight.
05:30 Life in Woomera.
08:00 Island Lagoon.
08:57 Early Minitrack, DSIF 41.
09:40 Staffing issues.
10:44 Life, responsibilities, equipment at the Station.
14:22 Bill Mettyear, Station Director. John Haseler, Deputy. Don Cocks, later StaDir. Most had service backgrounds, mainly Navy and Air Force.
16:50 American visitors. Lunar Orbiter – contractors for Mission Dependent Equipment, Boeing.
19:30 Arrived in time for Ranger VI. Ranger VII first success.

20:20 Typical Ranger pass, and pre-mission simulations / JPL. Good experience for Apollo. World-wide network simulations.
24:35 Aim for 48 hour break before the mission started. Normally one crew of 12 hour shift, until actual mission.
25:30 Tracking sequences after launch.
27:55 Approaching the Moon. Ideally two stations in view. Australia and South Africa both performed very well.
Very high intensity. Asleep behind equipment during 3 day mission.

32:30 Moved to multiple shifts for long duration planetary missions. Helped with radio astronomy. WRE radio astronomers. VLBI with Parkes and Goldstone. Shift from South Africa to Spain.
35:40 Handovers between stations.

37:00 Lunar Orbiter. Long duration missions. Film assembled at the station. Moon mapped in detail, including the lunar far side.
40:00 First time Earth was seen from the Moon. Very exciting.
40:40 Public relations problems.
43:00 Ranger data shipped back on tape. Lunar Orbiter: Film flown back to USA.
44:15 Ranger VI TV camera failure most disappointing event. Post-mission party became a wake. Jack Dickinson. Ranger VII made up for the failure.
47:25 Remembrances of Ranger VII. Great trepidation. Cheers. Post mission party.
50:00 Friendly rivalry with South Africa. During Apollo, similar rivalry. Madrid. Doug Hogg (DSS 51 Hartebeesthoek, Station Director).

52:10 Tidbinbilla. Sent to set up the MSFN Wing for Apollo. Operational interface with Honeysuckle. Carnarvon and Muchea not to be forgotten. Some involvement with Surveyor. Acting StaDir then StaDir.
55:00 Island Lagoon backed up Tidbinbilla for Surveyor 1. Dr William Pickering’s “disastrous success”. Hughes MDE.
59:30 Surveyor very important for Apollo.

60:40 Apollo. Apollo 11, tracking Command Module. Sense of excitement. Looking at the TV when the CSM behind the Moon. Mind-blowing. Proud to be part of the mission.
63:50 Apollo 8. Apollo 9. Tidbinbilla antenna designed for sidereal rates. Need for commands to the LM. Using Acquisition antenna. Power transformer fire (during Apollo 11).
70:10 Letter of thanks from the Apollo 11 crew.

See also

Hear this 2010 interview with Don by Colin Mackellar.

And this page about Don.

Interview recorded by Hamish Lindsay, 29 March 1994.
DAT tape transferred by the ACT Heritage Library, November 2019. Very special thanks!
Lightly edited and encoded by Colin Mackellar, November 2020.

In memory of Don Gray, 03 November 1931 – 04 November 2014.