If you were born before 1955, you will remember exactly what you were doing when man landed on the moon-20 July 1969. One Central Victorian resident has a closer connection than the rest of us because he was there, "at the coalface," helping to make that iconic telecast happen.
Rod Lindrea now of Axe Creek, was a young technician working at Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station in the Australian Capital Territory. Fifty years ago, Rod was part of the team selected to work on the Apollo missions. His role included relaying the television pictures of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walking on the moon which were seen by millions of people world-wide. Everyone knows the names of the astronauts involved Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins. But very few people know the essential role that Lindrea played in the historic event.
In 1968 Rod successfully applied for the position of Electronics Technician to work on the Apollo Missions which were developed for the sole purpose of landing a man on the moon. He was employed by the Department of Supply who were contracted to NASA. (National Aeronautics and Space Administration, an independent agency of the United States Federal Government).
NASA built three tracking stations across the world, specifically to track its space craft as they orbited the moon. They were situated at Goldstone USA, Madrid Spain, and Honeysuckle Creek ACT.
President John F Kennedy had promised the nation that America would "land a man on the moon, and return him safely to Earth, before the end of the decade." His goal was accomplished when Apollo XI landed on the moon. In the earlier research missions, Apollo spacecraft were restricted to orbiting the Earth, they travelled to the moon and back without landing. The first successful moon landing took place with Apollo XI on 20 July 1969.
Later missions completed research on different areas of the moon. Apollo XIII's mission caused extreme stress when an oxygen tank exploded during its transit from Earth to the moon. This sent the Command Module off track; their signal was undetectable for some time. Eventually, Honeysuckle Creek relocated the signal and the crew successfully returned to earth without landing on the moon.
Rod was a twenty-one-year-old, working twelve hour shifts plus an hour each way on travel during the missions. "It was my role to drive the tracking dish from a nearby control room. Each mission lasted two weeks, working under extraordinary pressure." Rod explained. "We all just made it our focus to finish the job successfully and safely."
Once each mission was completed there was only a short hiatus of two to three months to prepare for the next one.
Rod explained how the equipment was state of the art for the time. "While I tracked the spacecraft, I could hear the astronauts' conversations." "They were relaying their telemetry and biomedical data back and forth to the NASA Command Centre in Houston." "When the spacecraft went behind the moon there was no signal, so the astronauts recorded those details."
The missions had been programmed from America six months earlier with no expenses spared. After the Apollo missions NASA gradually withdrew funding and finally removed the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station.
Rod is now retired, happily a Mr. Fixit, between his short trips around the country, with Carol his wife of fifty years.
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