With contributions from

Hamish Lindsay, John Saxon, Bryan Sullivan, Ron Hicks, Mike Dinn, Mike Linney, Ian Edgar, Danny Twomey and Neil Sandford.

from Hamish Lindsay

1. Banished from Honeysuckle for Life

2. Wrong side of the Road

3. Out of Control Antenna Ride

4. “C’mon – There’s no snow in Australia!”

5. Some Mothers do ave ’em

6. Romantic interlude with the sims team

7. Prime Minister John Gorton’s second visit to Honeysuckle (also with Danny Twomey’s account!)

from John Saxon

1. George Mueller’s visit to HSK

See also John’s Apollo 8 party story.

from Bryan Sullivan

1. Computer Problems

2. The one and only Union strike action at HSK

3. The Honeysuckle Command Data Kludge. (Link to another page.) New.

from Ron Hicks

1. How we created the computer printout of Harold Holt for the opening ceremony, March 1967

from Mike Dinn

1. Why Honeysuckle was called HSK


from Mike Linney

The Linney Files: Mike Linney’s collection of tall tales and true from Honeysuckle Creek (Link to another page.)


from Ian Edgar

Hotel Sierra Kilo Testing


from Danny Twomey

The Mini and the Irishman (Link to another page.)


from Neil Sandford

Power Amplifier problems



From Hamish Lindsay

1. Banished from Honeysuckle for Life.

During the Apollo days a new operator (who had better be nameless) in the USB area decided he would like to bring family and some friends to Honeysuckle Creek to show them what a wonderful, high tech place he worked in.

On the Friday before the weekend he chose to bring his visitors to visit the station, he came around each equipment area and asked how things worked. In my case he asked me how you could remove plug-in printed circuit boards in the time standard, and how you set up the time standards to real time. As he was supposed to be a staff member in training, nobody had any qualms about showing him whatever he wanted to know. Also, none of us knew what he had in mind.

On the Sunday, he turned up with his family and proceeded to demonstrate how the station worked, though he had only been working there for a few days. He pulled out printed circuit boards but plugged them back into different slots, he tried to adjust the time standards but put them out of synch, then he rang up the power house for extra power to move the antenna, which meant bringing up another diesel engine.



Warn Power House

Note the label fixed to the Servo console:


Detail from this photo, kept by Tom Reid, scanned by Colin Mackellar.


Unfortunately he forgot you had to wait for the powerhouse operator to ring back to say the power was ready, and tried to bring up the antenna hydraulic servos.

As the poor diesel was still coming up to speed and its alternator was not on line the engine that was driving the station power couldn’t handle the extra load and promptly ground to a halt, so the whole station blacked out when the power shut down.

When the staff arrived at work on the Monday morning and found out what he had done, he was whipped off the mountain so fast he didn’t have time to draw breath, and told never to enter the station again.

It took us days to check all our equipment to make sure it was working, as nobody knew all that he had done, or how many or which printed circuit boards he had removed.


2. Wrong side of the Road

In the early days of Honeysuckle, two Americans were working on the site; one of them had been there for a while and the other had just arrived. As we know, in America they drive on the right side of the road.

One day, American 1 had just left the station and was coming round the bend outside the gate and met American 2 coming up, both too close to the centre of the road. It was one of those moments when there is little time to think, as the cars head for each other, and both Americans rapidly tried to figure out which side of the road they should be on.

American 1 thought to himself, “As he’s been here for a while he will go for his left side of the road,” so he pulled over to his left.

American 2 thought, “He’s only just arrived so he’s going to drive over to his right,” so he pulled over to his right.

There was no time for any more thinking as the two cars collided head-on.

The result is shown in the photo.


two Americans meet by accident

Polaroid photo: Hamish Lindsay. Scan: Colin Mackellar.


3. Out of Control Antenna Ride

Before every track it was the servo operator’s task to tour the antenna and its associated machinery and log down certain readings to keep track of its performance. Before going up the antenna the operator placed a board over the servo controls to flag to all and sundry that someone is up the antenna and not to move the antenna, as it could be very dangerous.

One afternoon shift I put the board over the servo controls and was in the transmitter room directly under the dish taking the readings when suddenly I felt the antenna take off as the servo motors whined under the load.

Momentarily surprised, and trying to figure where we were going, I dropped the clipboard of readings to clatter onto the now sloping floor and grabbed a structural pipe next to me and hung on as the room began to turn on its side. Under my legs now dangling in space, I could see the phone and its wall heading down to become the floor, and realised we were tilting westwards and going for the Collimation Tower. The doors of the transmitter flung open and hung down just missing me, while I was powerless to do anything as gravity and inertia took control of my body as we headed for the ground at 3 degrees per second. I looked around for any items that might be loose but everything seemed secure.

So this was what it was like for the transmitters as the antenna rolled around the sky tracking spacecraft at all angles. All I could do was hang on until the antenna stopped, which it did when it reached the Coll Tower. With the floor vertical next to me I dropped down to the phone, now on the ‘floor’ and dialled the ops room as fast as I could (you can’t make a mechanical dial go fast!) to give them a piece of my mind.

The shift supervisor answered and told me another shift member had thought the readings were finished and the board had been left in place, so sent the antenna off to the Coll Tower to do some of his own readings. “I knew you were up the antenna,” he said, “We both stared at the phone waiting for it to ring, hoping to God you would say you were okay.”

Luckily I was.


transmitter room

The antenna sitting on the Collimation Tower showing
the Transmitter Room on its side.
The phone was on the wall at the tip of the arrow.

Photo: Hamish Lindsay.

4. “C’mon – There’s no snow in Australia!”

“C’mon – There’s no snow in Australia – it’s all desert... and it’s hot.”

That was the reaction from the Goddard Space Flight Center when we requested warm bunny suits for working on the antenna when we first started in 1966. They thought we were kidding and refused to supply them. They were probably conditioned by Muchea and Carnarvon which were situated in sandy deserts and it was hot, especially at Carnarvon.

We found that it got so cold at Honeysuckle at times in winter that we left skin behind on the handrails. There were times when we would arrive for work and have to walk up to the building from the gate because the roads were so slippery from ice and frozen snow, they were dangerous.

Piles of snow at HSK
Photo: Hamish Lindsay.


We had to send photographs of the snow before they supplied us with the bunny suits, the one above, taken in 1966, being the main one to convince them.

It looks so deep because we had just tipped all the snow in the dish out, and I chose a spot that made it look like we were really ‘snowed under. Bruce Cameron (nearest camera) is looking at the snow with an unidentified companion.’

5. Some Mothers do have ’em


On Saturday 22 September 1979 Des, the station cleaner decided to take the Toyota 4-wheel drive into the bush during the afternoon and became bogged. Around 1600 he borrowed two jacks and a winch from the local Park Ranger and vanished with a station Falcon sedan.

By 2130, Ken Brieze, the station security officer, set off to look for Des, searching all the nearby creeks and finding the Falcon deserted by the roadside. I reported Des as missing to the Police Rescue.

Around 2330 a fire was seen in the bush and, using radio communications, the search party found Des beside a fire, dazed with a gash on his forehead. Nearby the Toyota was jammed on a rock.

Apparently he had extricated the Toyota from the bog okay, but while driving back in the dark the lights fused. With no starlight or Moon he decided it was too dark to walk anywhere and decided to wait for daylight.

6. Romantic interlude with the sims team


Before each mission a Simulation Team from the engineering center at Goddard would arrive at the station to spend a week checking out the station equipment and operational procedures.

A specially equipped Super Constellation would fly back and forth over the station simulating a spacecraft, while among the equipment and staff on the ground observers would evaluate the performance of the whole station and conduct de-briefings after each simulated pass. They would point to key personnel and say they were having a heart attack, and not only were they to be replaced but they had to have medical attention. Except for Apollo 13, missions were a breeze after these simulations.

To get our own back on these teams we concocted a plan to have some fun with them. Sim Team member Bob Burns was selected as a target as it was his first trip out. These are his own words of what happened:

“I was new to this simulation business at the time – to say I was nervous and a bit edgy would probably be an understatement. I was the Ground Telemetry Observer and we had conducted several simulated aircraft passes, and I was just beginning to feel I might know what I should be commenting on.

I was listening to the various in-house voice channels when I heard a sugary-sweet young lady’s voice in my headset saying, ‘Robby darling....... oh Robby daarling.........’

I broke into a cold sweat as the voice kept getting more personal by the second. I kept thinking that everyone could hear what was going on and I couldn’t figure out how to get her to stop. I just wanted to crawl behind the cabinets and hide. It seemed to go on for hours, but was probably only a few minutes.The pass was completed and the debrief began. I was so flustered I’m not sure I made one intelligent statement. The Operations people assured me (so they claimed!) I was the only one who could hear the comments.”


See also –7. Prime Minister John Gorton’s second visit to Honeysuckle (Now with Danny Twomey’s part of the story!)

From John Saxon

1. Visit of Dr George Mueller.

I believe George Mueller visited HSK on more than one occasion.

He came across as a typical German Rocket Scientist [though he was American born] without a huge sense of humour (at that time).

He gave us a lecture on trajectories, etc. in the only room big enough to house all the staff – the Canteen.

As he used an overhead projector (who didn’t in NASA?), the curtains were drawn across the big picture window looking out over the car park. But there was a gap of 4 – 5 inches between the curtains and the floor and the picture window was right down to the floor.

Midway though his talk I noticed a pair of Kangaroo feet and hands ambling gently along from stage left to stage right. About half way along I nearly fell off my chair laughing – and so did several others who had also noticed.

George was not amused. The Kangaroo was a young tame one that someone had brought to the station (featured in the picture of Tom Reid and George Harris). It used to position itself just outside to door to the Car Park – next to the Canteen, as if waiting for a handout. Many off-going shift members used to ‘shake a paw’ on their way out to the cars.


One of the kangaroos which adopted the Station.

Photos: Bruce Withey.

From Bryan Sullivan

1. Computer Problems.

On the top right of each computer control panel were two larger indicator lights, one RED the other GREEN.

Most of the time the green light indicated that all the software and hardware was functioning normally but, sometimes the red light, labeled FAULT, signalled the dreaded computer glitch.

One evening during an Apollo 11 pre-launch routine CADFISS* test, Frank Hain’s arrival on shift was greeted by the dreaded bright red light on the Telemetry computer. Frank literally crashed through the computer room door, nearly knocking over the Comms. Operators.

Tripping over a chair, he dropped his bag, parka, an armful of books on the desk and many cans of Coke rolled onto the floor as we all sat back, relaxed and calmly reading magazines.

It took several moments for Frank to realise that some smart ass had reversed the glass lenses on the computer RUN and FAULT lights.

Geoff Seymour, the Computer Supervising Engineer, was NOT amused.

* CADFISS, Computation and Data Flow Integrated Subsystem


2. The one and only Union Strike Action at HSK

There was only one occasion, on 3rd October 1972, when tracking data was interrupted due to union strike action.

For both ALSEP and the Particle and Fields lunar sub-satellite support, the PSRM’s (Post Summary Report Msg TWX) to Houston Network simply stated: ‘... track not supported due to industrial action’. It just about broke John Saxon’s heart to have to send them.

Strike Action

The Post Summary Report Msg TWX indicating strike action.

Scanned by Bryan Sullivan.

Better salaries and conditions for technical employees at other comparable establishments eventually precipitated industrial action by tracking station union members.

In those days tracking station employees had no defined industrial award governing the type of work they were undertaking. Conditions and remunerations between the Public Service sector and Space Tracking Industry continued to diverge. A union campaign was initiated to establish an industrial award for space tracking employees.

The Professional Radio Employees Institute (PREI) covered equipment operators and other non-engineering employees. Technician grades were covered by the Association of Architects Engineers Surveyors & Draftsmen of Aust. (AAESDA), often referred to as the alphabet union, under the leadership of the affable Charlie McDonald, who had a little office upstairs above the Kingston (ACT) shops.

Several stop-work meetings and a brief strike soon resulted in a Space Tracking Industry Award. Care was always taken not to jeopardise any of the Apollo missions through any reckless or irresponsible action.

rom Ron Hicks

How we created the computer printout of Harold Holt for the opening ceremony, March 1967

From Mike Dinn

1. Why Honeysuckle was called HSK.

Three letter codes were used for the network stations, and other NASA elements connected to NASCOM (which I think was every facility including JPL and DSN) headquartered at Goddard, Maryland.

Add one letter in front – G for Goddard, J JPL, M Houston, H Huntsville, K Kennedy, A for Australia, L for (the original) London switching centre for Madrid and Jo’burg - and that was the teletype address.

ACRO was Carnarvon, ACSW was Canberra Switching center (Deakin). The US stations were usually G, because Goddard was responsible for them – eg GGWM, GHAW, GBDA.

Honeysuckle was initially known on the manned flight net as “Canberra” code CNB and the teletype address was ACNB but when anybody called down the line for “Canberra” our Canberra Switch (Deakin) would often respond.

So the name was changed to Honeysuckle, HSK and address AHSK. In some ways I regret that. We could/should have worked a solution without name change. Then “Canberra” would have been far better known. Madrid (Switch and stations) managed without a change.


From Ian Edgar

Hotel Sierra Kilo testing.

For Skylab the S-band voice was augmented with UHF capability via Motorola UHF transceivers under the control of the Air/Ground Comtech. The transmitter output was fed into a 100w linear amplifier before uplink via the Teltrac antenna.

HSK during Skylab

The Skylab Teltrac antenna is visible at far right – behind the microwave tower.

Photo: Hamish Lindsay.


One early morning shift I decided to do a ‘proper’ radio test as we hadn’t used it operationally.

I fired up the antenna and pointed it toward CBR airport so that I could perform a ‘radio check’ with CBR tower on the military UHF tower frequency. The test went something like this ( I was/am a licensed pilot!) :

“Canberra tower, good morning,  this is Hotel Sierra Kilo on 25x.x for a ground radio check. How do you read?”

Silence at the tower......... because HSK was also the identifier of the middle marker beacon of the Instrument Landing System (ILS) for runway 35!!


“Hotel Sierra Kilo reading you 5 by................. is that Honeysuckle Creek?”

“That’s affirmative, just testing the uplink capability and I thought you might find the test a bit different from the norm.”

“Roger Honeysuckle, your transmission came in very loud and clear!”
When I think of the gain of the antenna coupled with 100w feeding it, I must have hit them with a huge signal! Normal aircraft transmitters only use about 10W.



From Neil Sandford

Power Amplifier problems

During one of the summer missions we experienced some embarrassing intermittent PA trips which took some tracking down.

The power supply cabinets were the same as used shipboard comprising a fully enclosed hermetically sealed steel cabinet. Cooling air from noisy high velocity fans circulated in external vertical plenums. The airflow of each fan was monitored by an airflow microswitch. The trips usually occurred shortly after PA activation.

The problem was traced to large Bogong moths that found shelter in the plenums. They would hang on in the high airflow for as long as possible, eventually let go, trip the airflow switch in passing then be splattered by the fan.

Solution.... Always turn off the lights in the Power Supply room to reduce moth attraction and fit gauze screens to all plenum areas after removing the messy moth remains!

There were some interesting questions and comments regarding the Fault Report to Mission Control “PA trips caused by Bogong moths”, as they had never heard of Bogong Moths.


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