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Apollo 11 – Canberra’s Finest Hour

By Questacon Media 24 Jul 2013


At 12.56 pm AEST on 21 July 1969, Neil Armstrong became the first person to set foot on the moon. A feat watched live by 500 million people and billions since.

What most people don’t know is that the initial television signal originated out of a small building on the outskirts of Canberra, the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station.

To celebrate the Centenary of Canberra, Questacon dedicated two days to tell the story of the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station, the Apollo 11 mission and NASA’s ongoing involvement in Canberra. Over 3,000 people visited Questacon over the weekend and took part in the celebrations.

Visitors were treated to a wide range of presentations, one of which included previously unreleased audio recorded from Apollo 8 capsule when, for the first time, someone saw the dark side of the moon with their own eyes. The weekend included numerous movie screenings, including Australian feature film The Dish – introduced by the Honeysuckle Creek team with an explanation of the true facts behind this fictionalised account. A range of memorabilia from NASA and private collections were also on display in the Questacon foyer, including a live seismogram reproduction of the seismic traces recorded as the astronauts walked on the moon.

In a world first, a presentation on Sunday afternoon by Glen Nagle from the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex included a photograph of the Earth taken by the NASA Cassini spacecraft orbiting Saturn. The photo was taken at 7.53 am on Friday 19 July 2013 and had not yet been released to the media by NASA.

The weekend was highly successful and well-regarded by both attendees and presenters. The staff of Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station used the weekend to organise a reunion of sorts. The group was most surprised to discover that 82-year-old Ed von Renouard had travelled from his home in London to attend the celebrations. Ed was the first person on the planet to see the television signal from Apollo 11 as he was the Senior Video Technician at the tracking station.

The weekend’s program of events delighted both old and young and delivered on its brief to share the stories of Canberra’s involvement in past and future space exploration.