John Lambie

My story – GEMINI and APOLLO

Carnarvon, Western Australia 1963-1967


 

Carnarvon

John Lambie on Carnarvon Tracking Station’s opening day, 25th June 1964. John is standing in front of the Gemini fountain designed by Monte Sala.

 

I graduated from Perth Boys High School in 1956 with a good “Junior Certificate” pass.

Our form teacher, Mr Rudeforth, had prepared us, and had encouraged the class to sit as many external exams as possible. Over the Christmas break a number of job offers were received in the mail, viz;

Junior Clerk in the Commonwealth Bank; Junior Clerk, West Australian Government Railways (WAGR). Technician-in Training (TiT) Post Masters General (PMG); TiT Department of Civil Aviation; and Cadet Draughtsman with the Lands Department.

I accepted the first offer in the mail, from the PMG Department, and started work on January 07 1957, along with 95 other fresh-faced schoolboys as “Technicians in Training”.

(Unbeknown to me at the time, but only two weeks prior, in December 1956, three scientist from the Bell Telephone Laboratories; John Bardeen, William Shockley, and Walter Brattain, were in Stockholm to receive the Nobel Prize in Physics for their research on semiconductors, and their discovery of the transistor effect. A discovery that would change the world.

And who can forget the wonder of early October 1957, when we stood in groups at dusk, looking into the sky in a south-east direction to see a moving spot of light traverse the horizon. Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite, orbiting the earth, and emitting a beep beep signal, heralding a new space age and a new era in telecommunications.

I probably did not fully appreciate at the time the profound effect the above events would have on my 40 year career with the PMG/TELECOM/Telstra).

The five year TiT training program, (reputedly worth 5000 pounds) was very good. The Instructors were excellent and first revised maths, algebra, and logarithms. Although passes had been obtained in the Junior certificate, the penny finally dropped when put into practical application. Studies were full time, with weekly tests, for the first year. And from second year onwards we were assigned to field stations, with two days a week at the Technicians School. A minimum pass mark of 60% was required for each weekly test, or else you were transferred out!

After a short period at the PMG Workshops in Crowther Street Bayswater, my field station was the Armadale telephone district. The Telephone exchange building in Jull Street had first-generation Strowger switching, and Kelmscott exchange had the latest SE50 switching. Roleystone, Karragullen, and Byford, had Rural Automatic Exchanges (RAX).

Jarrahdale, Serpentine, and Mardella were magneto districts. Various generations of Carrier systems provided for trunks. As well as experience in switching and carrier systems, on alternate weeks, trainees did substation equipment installation; viz. telephones and switchboards, etc.

At the completion of the five years training, I was eligible to sit the “Senior Technician” exam and was successful in becoming Senior Technician, Telephony and Long Line (subject to passing a further practical “Barrier” exam).

As was customary, if you wanted promotion, it invariably meant country service, and very soon I received a letter with a list of places, including, Rawlinna and Mundi Windi.

Also listed was Carnarvon. I thought… they grow bananas there! I had seen Carnarvon named on the ABC weather map at news time and knew it was on the coast.

So I ticked Carnarvon and thought about the possibilities, and potential adventure, of going out on my own, and leaving the comfort and security of living at home with my parents.

Some-time later a letter arrived from Engineering Branch confirming my appointment as Senior Technician, Carnarvon. It also mentioned three weeks training on M28 Teletype, and installation to commence in October?? Huh! What’s this about? No mention of NASA or a tracking station.

 

Carnarvon

The Letter.

 

The M28 training was conducted at The Technicians School, Lord Street, East Perth by Mr Peter Saw, Supervising Technician, Telegraphs Branch.

Peter had maintained the Teletype at the Mercury Tracking station, Muchea (60 kilometres North of Perth). He had recently returned from the Teletype Corporation Training School in Chicago, USA. (Presumably organised through NASA.)

Because I had no previous experience in this specialised field, the training had to include telegraph signalling theory, and codes as preparation for the specific training on the M28.

Several field visits were made to Muchea. Although the Project Mercury program had concluded, station staff were still on site.


Muchea photos from Glenis Wilkerson

Glenis Wilkerson and Freda Ash in the Teletype area of the Comms Room at Muchea, before Friendship 7, in January 1962, and before John’s visit.

John notes, “This is the Teletype ASR28 – probably the high point of fine mechanical design.”

Large, Larger.



In early September Peter Saw and I spent several days at Muchea dismantling and preparing 28 ASR and RO machines for transport to Carnarvon. I am not sure who’s initiative that was, but the equipment was now redundant at Muchea, and we had secured a spare channel in the 9 channel Voice Frequency telegraph system to Carnarvon. Orders were issued for the Trunk Room to extend the Nascom telegraph link from Muchea to Carnarvon.

Department of Supply transport division was contacted to collect and pack the Teletype and ship to CRO.

Strings were pulled to expedite the manufacture of a CG470 telegraph Relay Sets at the PMG Workshop in Bayswater, this was required to enable the telegraph channel to be extended from the Carnarvon Exchange (The Blue Room) to Browns Range.

In late September, 1963 Peter Saw and I prepared for a road trip to Carnarvon. I packed all my worldly goods into the boot of my M.G. Magnette, a four door Saloon model, and we headed north, first night stop Geraldton.

Because I was on transfer, my car was on hire (Regulation 90) for which the PMG paid me 10 pence a mile. As we passed through Muchea we called into the tracking station to pick up the Teletype tool kit which we had omitted to pack before. For that I could claim an extra penny for carrying PMG equipment.

The 11 pence for the 612 miles (28 Pounds) more than adequately paid for the petrol) I think in those days you could fill your tank for about three quid!

We made Geraldton on a full tank, the M.G. had a 10 gallon tank, and at cruising speed, better than 30 miles per gallon was achievable.

Welcome to the North-West

Welcome to the North-West!
My MG Magnette at the 26th Parallel. Income tax concessions for those who worked north of this line.



Not so on the second day’s drive from Geraldton to Carnarvon, we never ran out, but the fuel gauge was on empty short of our destination. The Norwest coastal highway is a lonely road, and when we saw a truck parked at the 40 mile tanks (40 miles south of Carnarvon) we pulled in. I wish I could remember his name, (Jim?) as he was a transport driver for the Department of Supply, and delivering material to Browns Range. Luckily he carried a gallon tin of petrol for such emergencies. We met to share a beer that evening, and on subsequent trips often caught up at The Gascoyne for a nog and natter. (The Gascoyne Hotel had the coldest beer in town.)

I can still remember arriving in Carnarvon, passing through the “Welcome to Carnarvon” arch (gifted to the town, and originally installed across Adelaide Terrace in Perth for the Royal visit of Queen Elizabeth and the Duke of Edinburgh).

We drove down Robinson Street through the town, marvelling at the width, wide enough for camel trains to U turn. At the end of the street we reached the Fascine. Not very impressed as the tide was out and all we saw were mud flats. We turned and headed for Tuckey’s Port Hotel and checked in, and then retired to the bar for a cold beer.

Next morning at breakfast, we detected and tuned into a U.S accent and a Southern drawl.

We introduced ourselves to Jim Welch, and Jim Coldwell (from Alabama), contractors from FPQ6 I think?

Next morning I reported to the Supervising Technician, Cameron Clarke at the Blue Room (behind the Post Office). I was given a lead on possible accommodation and board, as the opportunity to stay free at the Port Hotel was limited to one week.

There was no vehicle available to us so my car stayed on Reg. 90. and was used to get from the town to the Tracking Station on Browns Range.

We found the Teletype room in the newly constructed Telemetry building. A bare room with a floor suspended on metal piers and 600x 600mm aluminium tiles removable with the aid of suction cup handles.

Peter Saw, with his experience, mapped out a room layout for installation of the machines, switchboard, and cabinets. We found the cable terminating point, prewired by PMG lines staff. The power connecting point was found but the room needed to be reticulated with 115VAC. We were unable to secure an Electrician that could start on the work … so we did it ourselves (no Austel authority in those days). I think we obtained cable conduit, flexible conduit, and hubble boxes for mounting power outlets from the power station or the storeman. Power tools enabled us to cut the aluminium tiles for surface mounting of the power points. The ex-Muchea TTY arrived and appropriate relay sets from the PMG Workshops, and power supplies for the telegraph loop current.

After about a week’s work, the TTY was working and connected into the Nascom world wide network, to the Goddard network control centre.
Carnarvon Tracking Station (CRO) was now live and we had proudly installed the first operational system on site. I remember some of the first administration messages incoming on the TTY were daily bulletins on the DSIF Mariner program.

 

Carnarvon

The Carnarvon Teletype Room.

From a station Photographic Record. Preserved by Kevyn Westbrook. Thanks to John Westbrook. Scan by Colin Mackellar.

 

About the Teletype

The Teletypewriter System for Project Mercury and Gemini was a strategic and integrated component of the tracking network, and the world wide system serviced over 20 land stations and two tracking ships. The Australian sector comprised Carnarvon (CRO), and Woomera (WOM), and the Indian Ocean ship Coastal Sentry (CSQ) which communicated through OTC Bassendean.

NASA Contract no. NAS 1-430 was issued on July 30, 1959, in the amount of $33 million to the Western Electric Company. (A considerable sum in those days.) The contract was for the construction and engineering of the Project Mercury communication network, and was completed by July 1961 when the final report was issued. The network, with minor changes, supported Gemini.

The communication network included 165 000 kilometres of teletype lines, 100 000 kilometres of telephone lines (SCAMA), and 24 000 kilometres of high speed data lines.

You could say the telegraph systems of the 1940/50s were a fore-runner to the “internet”, with global telegram networks operating on the “store and forward” technique, with unique station addressing.

Later in the 1950/60s the TWX and Telex switched services, with unique coded answerback was a further evolutionary step.

The Telex service that I installed in the TTY room in 1964, a Siemens and Halske, model 100, is now in the Carnarvon museum, with the original answerback code NASCAR AA99061.

 

Carnarvon

This simplified schematic shows the ground communications network for Project Mercury.

The same basic network was used for Gemini, though with Carnarvon replacing Muchea, and Houston replacing MCC at the Cape.

The Goddard Space Flight Center is in Maryland, just north of Washington DC.

 

The Teletype Corporations Model 28 was a sophisticated design and an ingenious example of fine mechanics, one of the last iterations of electro-mechanical design before the electronic age. With six clutches on the mainshaft, springs, levers, bellcranks, eccentric cams, etc; built around a central programmable function box (the company called it a stunt box). The M28 was heavy duty, capable of continuous 24 hour operation (provided it was lubricated regularly). Motor speed was critical and the series wound governed motor was checked with a tuning fork, and viewing through tines on the fork ends at strobe markings on the rotating governor end assembly.

It was quiet (relatively) due to a small removable type box, which was positioned vertically and horizontally, and struck by small hammer to achieve printing on the paper page as it passed over the platen.

The typing reperforator unit punched the five unit code onto paper tape, chadless, that is; the marking holes were half punched and hinged sufficient to allow the sensing pins to penetrate (no confetti). The text was printed down the centre of the tape.

The large universal machine was called an ASR (automatic, send, receive) the smaller units were RO (receive only).

 

teletype

28-Type Automatic Send-Receive Teletypwriter (ASR).

Western Electric illustration.


teletype

28-Type Receive-Only (RO).

Western Electric illustration.

 

Other cabinet mounted units contained suites of ROTR (receive only typing reperforator), and RT (reperforator/transmitter).

 

teletype

28-Type Receive-Only Typing Reperforator (ROTR).

Western Electric illustration.


teletype

28-Type Reperforator-Transmitter (RT).

Western Electric illustration.

 

The Australian sector ran at the Australian PMG standard of 50 baud (50 bits per second) and this was equivalent to 66 words per minute. The U.S sectors ran at the U.S standard of 45.45 baud (60 words per minute)

teletype

28-Type Typing Unit.

Western Electric illustration.


teletype

28-Type Type Box.

Western Electric illustration.

 

The installation kit with new teletype machines, switchboard, etc. arrived in Carnarvon about March 1964, and installation was on in earnest. Cabling, installing cabinets and following an ergonomic floor layout, planned by Peter Saw.

TTY machines at remote sites had been installed by contractors but needed to be identified and cabled into the patch panel on the switchboard. These included:

 

Carnarvon

An M28 printer is built into the Gemini Engineering console – just behind Hamish Lindsay’s right hand.

A frame from Department of Supply footage, August 1965.

 

All three console printers were sprocket feed and proved troublesome during missions, jamming if the page was pulled roughly. OK if line feed advanced the page, and page carefully torn along the perforations. This problem persisted at most sites and an E.I. [Engineering Instruction] was issued by Teletype Corporation. It was no more than the adjustments detailed in the service manual. This was not the problem! The paper page would move to the rear in a normal machine operation. In the case of the console printer, the page was coming off the platen at an acute angle to exit through the front panel.

I cured the problem with an un-official modification. I went to the workshop at the power station, guillotined strips of stainless steel, shaped them in a bender, drilled and fashioned guide strips that allowed the paper page to clear the sprockets before being directed through the front panel window. It worked well and no more troubles.

 

Carnarvon

John at the Gemini capcom console.

 

Peter Saw, a trainee engineer named Dick Port, and I worked for two months on the installation and completed ahead of the official station dedication date in June.

 

teletype

Caranarvon Teletype Room, August 1965.

Foreground, Pam Lewis, and behind her, Barbara Thompson at an ASR. At left, Gloria Klarie at the Telex.

Frame grab from Department of Supply 16mm footage by Colin Mackellar.

 

Page Engineering and OTC

During 1966, while on site at Browns Range, I had a visit from Dave Williams of Page Engineering. He explained they were establishing a satellite earth station about 10km north of CRO, also on Browns Range. Their van mounted equipment had arrived and was positioned on site. Part of the installation was a Teletype Model 28 ASR which had arrived but needed assembly. They had no one in their team that could do that so I was asked if I could moonlight, and do the installation for them. Payment was to be “out of the cash tin”.

I agreed and found the TTY in a packing case. All module units mounted on small wooden pallets. All parts were tropical coated. It was straight-forward work, cleaning and preparing, positioning the cabinet, and assembly, and about a day and a half work.

I got on well with the Page guys and they insisted I stay on and kept me on the payroll for several weeks, including dining with them on big steaks at the Carnarvon Motel.

 

Down Under Comes Up Live

Dave Williams from Page Communications, closest to the camera, watches the satellite television from Goonhilly Down, at the OTC Australia Satellite Earth Station on Browns Range, 25 November 1966.

Photo: Guntis Berzins.



Later I was asked to commission a rack mounted four channel telegraph system, a Telesig brand.

Later still, I was asked to rehearse the acceptance procedure for the Telesig and the TTY, which was documented script.

When OTC senior management arrived from Sydney for the Earth station hand-over I was asked to be on site and I actually participated and did the acceptance testing for the telegraph!!

That evening my then fiancée Karin Krupa, and I, were invited to the acceptance handover party. Great days.

 

Carnarvon

Karin Krupa.
At left is John Nugent UNIVAC 1218 Engineer, at a tracking station function.

Photo: John Lambie.

 

Other PMG people involved at CRO

There were other PMG staff involved in installation work at Carnarvon. Jim O’Reilly, Pat Gibson, and a small team from “Construction Branch”, were on-site for 6 months doing installation work. Putting equipment into position and cabling, in the control room, and other locations throughout the Telemetry Room.

Staff from “Radio Lines” erected the bore-site tower.

Lines “Gas Pressure group” pressurised all underground cables on site. It was soon discovered that the American sourced cable was porous and the air from the pressurised gas bottles depleted too soon. The solution to that was the installation of an air compressor unit at the power house. It used to scare the pants off me as it was located next to the MDF (main distributing frame), and had a habit of starting up noisily while I was running a cross connect jumpers on the frame.

It is a pity that the contribution of the PMG staff was not more fully acknowledged in the book.

teletype

A general view of the Teletype room at Carnarvon during the Gemini missions, showing Model 28 teletypes, equipment racks and cabinets with power supplies, loop switchboards, and line interface units.

Photo: John Lambie.


teletype

John Lambie at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum in July 2019.

John writes that the machine is a Teletype model 28 ASR. This machine has an additional ROTR (receive only typing reperforator) mounted under the cover.

The machine originally came from OTC Bassendean and then to the museum at Wireless Hill Applecross. The Carnarvon museum acquired the teleype machine when the Wireless Hill musuem was beiing reconfigured.


teletype

John Lambie with a replica of the Gemini fountain at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum in July 2019.


teletype

John Lambie with a replica of the Gemini fountain at the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum in July 2019.



TELETYPEWRITER MODEL 28 RO (Receive Only)

Manufactured by Teletype Corporation, Skokie, Illinois, U.S.A.
(Part of the WESTERN ELECTRIC COMPANY, INC.)

The Model 28 Receive only teletype was part of a suite of equipment, including transmitting automatic send, receive (ASR), and tape perforating, and tape reader equipment, strategic to the overall ground communications for both Project Mercury (one man into space), and Project Gemini (two man into earth orbit). The whole series of Project Gemini missions were supported by Carnarvon (CRO).

The teletypewriter system consisted of a group of telegraph circuits radiating from an automatic switching centre at the Goddard Space Flight Centre (GSFC), Greenbelt, Maryland, U.S.A. to all sites on the world-wide tracking network, and the Mission Control Centre, at Houston, U.S.A.

During mission periods these circuits carried vital tracking data from Radar sites, as low speed binary coded signals from the remote tracking stations, (including Carnarvon) back to the main computing centre at GSFC.

Likewise tracking acquisition aid data (pointing data) was sent from GSFC to all remote sites. At Carnarvon the serial teletype code was converted by the ASR teletype to a parallel input for acceptance by the Digital command System, (DCS). This enabled the key Radar sites to be slaved to look at the precise point on the horizon to instantly acquire the spacecraft signals on each pass.

The Teletype RO is a message receiving unit used as terminating equipment, and for monitoring digital/teletype converting. A printed record is produced on page type paper.

The model 28 series of electromechanical machines were heavy duty and renowned for reliability and in many cases were operational 24 hours a day.

The sophisticated printing mechanism used a small type box, which is horizontally and vertically positioned before being struck by the fixed hammer. It was relatively quiet in operation. (Important where banks of many machined were situated.)

Another feature was the integral function (or stunt) box which could interpret incoming coded combinations for selective calling, or be used to perform many external remote functions.

On circuits shared by two or more sites, the stunt box is coded to respond to designated call letters. When the selective calling code letters are transmitted to the line, the called machine will respond to the signals and print the message. All other stations on the line are blinded. An end of message code transmitted by the sending station restores all stations so they are alert to the next selective calling code.

The use of Teletype equipment tapered off as the development of data modems and higher line speeds became available, plus a range of higher speed electronic printers and devices and during Apollo their use was mainly restricted to backup function and administrative traffic.

– John Lambie.