John Heath

John Heath JUly 1968
John Heath at Tidbinbilla in July 1968

I was one of the initial team of engineers at Tidbinbilla, coming out from the UK to join the team as the Microwave Engineer in July 1963 for what should have been a three year secondment from AEI, the Company I worked for in Leicester.

I became responsible for the transmitter in 1965 and in late 1966 / early 1967 upgraded our S-Band microwave and transmitter systems for our back-up Apollo role. Then in 1968 I became the RF Section Leader. I vividly recall the thrill of watching the Apollo 8 mission unfold in late 1968.

My time at Tidbinbilla ended in early 1969, when I was coerced into going across to our sister Deep Space Station at Island Lagoon for a year as the Chief Engineer. At the time of the Apollo 11 mission, a few of us at Island Lagoon made up a jury rig with test equpment and managed to display the video of the lunar landing, all very unofficial of course so we did not publicise our achievement! It did not have the best definition but was good enough to make out what was happening. 

Shortly after arriving at Island Lagoon, I became the CSR [Company Senior Representative], firstly with Spacetrack and then AWA, when the latter won the Contract from Spacetrack to operate DSS 42 and DSS 41 in 1971, and all in all I ended up staying close to four and a half years in Woomera! 

In late 1972, I had the sad duty to plan the closure and dismantling of much of the equipment at Island Lagoon. I was the last person to leave the Station (even the guards had gone!) when, a bit like the Captain going down with his ship, I went into the power house and shut down the last diesel generator in early May 1973.

I am proud to have been involved with the USA’s interplanetary and lunar Space Programmes in those exciting days, and although I could have returned to Tidbinbilla after my stint at Island Lagoon, I thought almost ten years in the Spacetracking Industry was enough and I opted not to.

I ended up in the Department of Defence, where I worked in Navy Office for 25 years until I retired. Although my work in Defence was not as exciting as in the Spacetracking Industry, it was nevertheless, an intriguing mixture of great satisfaction and mind-numbing frustration, the former being the more prevalent I am pleased to say.

Les Whaley - Analog console Bob Cudmore – Instrumentation Section Leader Jack Rothwell – Antenna Engineer Peter Papps – Magnetic recording John Heath – Microwave Engineer Bob Leslie – Station Director Neil McVicar – Receiver Technician Paddy Johnstone – Ops Controller Dave Watts – Antenna Technician Mal Glenn – JPL Rep