John Saxon


John at the Ops Console at HSK
John at the Honeysuckle Operations Console

BA – Before Apollo

John Saxon was born and educated in the U.K. and first visited Australia in 1960.

He was involved as an engineer in the development of one of the world’s first Inertial Navigation systems.

He also flew in all 3 British V-bomber types (Valiant, Victor and Vulcan) dropping air-to-ground missiles at the Woomera rocket range.

See John’s site John’s website for an ‘interesting’ incident story.


After a few years back in England he was recruited as an Operations Supervisor at the Honeysuckle Creek Manned Spaceflight tracking station.

John supported all the Apollo missions at the main Operations Console, and had the unique experience of talking to Young and Duke on the lunar surface during Apollo 16.

After Skylab, and some unmanned missions such as Viking, John moved to the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex in 1980 working as an Operations Supervisor on all of the Deep Space missions from the mid 70s to retirement as Operations Manager in 1995.

At various times during his career with NASA and for 2–3 years after “retirement”, John spent varying periods at several NASA centres consulting on tracking operations and equipment.

AA – After Apollo (actually after 30 years with NASA).

John retired in 1995 as operations manager of the Canberra Deep Space Communications Centre, and after 2 years consulting at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, took up his current very busy life fixing PC hardware and software problems and teaching Internet, etc.


For more personal info see John’s website.


Favourite Mission

Asked about his favourite mission, John writes –

John Saxon Oct 2003
John in Canberra, October 2003.

“Personally I have always picked Apollo 8 with 15 a close second. Why 8?

1. An incredibly gutsy decision to go beyond the 850 mile altitude record – everything had to work!

2. Selfishly, it was the first time that the 85 ft antennae would assume the role that they had been built to do, and we had been preparing for 2 plus years.

3. Due to a combination of celestial mechanics and luck, we at HSK had the ‘lion’s share’ of that mission. There was always competition between the sites to be the ‘prime’ site for major mission events.

4. At HSK we saw the first lunar pass including the first time that an Apollo spacecraft came out from occultation from behind the moon (spot on time – indicating that the LOI burn was good).

5. Actually I was about 5 seconds away from being the first person to talk to someone in lunar orbit! We had configured redundant voice equipment (meant for the LM) to be used in the event that the spacecraft might be in a backup voice mode. Somehow there was confusion about the mode, and the man at the demodulators was frantically trying to find the correct source, while I (equally frantically) tried to select the correct intercom channel to remote to Houston. I can still hear the ‘Voice of Apollo’ PAO commentary saying “we have data but no voice yet”...

My fingers hovered over the local voice uplink buttons, ready to reassure the crew that we were sorting things out. But we persisted for a few more seconds and then the crew were able to talk to Houston normally. There – our dirty washing is now out there for all to see!

6. I believe we were also the prime site for the final orbit and Acquisition of signal after the critical TEI burn – another tense moment.

7. But most of all – even though most of us missed a lot of Christmas with our families, most of us (religious or not), would not have missed Frank Borman’s reading from Genesis. Probably one of the best moments of all the missions – including A-13.

But 15 was a close second – major increases in complexity with the extra CSM experiments and the weird Rover voice and data configurations + the first time the TV was 1/2 way decent. It was great to see Ed Fendell really hammering up the real time commands. Pan left... Pan left... Tilt up.... Zoom in... Zoom in.... Iris open.... etc.

A couple of years before we had built a local simulation system to emulate that (took the NASA aircraft simulation teams by surprise – we could checkout what they were doing up there in the Super Constellation via the TV system). So it was good to see the ‘real thing’ happening over a rather longer distance.”

Apollo 16

John spoke with the Apollo 16 crew (John Young and Charlie Duke) in the LM on the lunar surface during a comms outage with Houston.

Read a transcription of the conversation

Listen to the conversation (part 1) (mp3, 1MB, 9:36 - conversation begins at 8:15 into recording)

Listen to the conversation (part 2) (mp3, 450kB, 3:50)

and the subsequent re-establishing of comms with Houston (mp3, 1MB, 9:50).

See this photo taken when John Young met John Saxon to share the beer referrred to.

– all from Eric Jones’ Apollo Lunar Surface Journal.



The Space Show – 11th November 2003 with Mike Dinn and John Saxon. Listen in Windows Media Player format (about 18Mb) – about 80 minutes.


Conversations with Apollo

In August 2007, John was interviewed by James DeRuvo for Conversations with Apollo.

John’s interview is available here, courtesy of James DeRuvo.

(It’s a 47MB mp3 file, and runs for 51 minutes.)



John Saxon at Earl’s Court c 1955
John at Earl’s Court in London, about 1955.