OTC and Apollo 11

Apollo 11 40th anniversary Celebrations

This article was published by me (Robert Brand) as part of the Apollo 11 celebrations. The OTVA and OTC stories were told to the world through many media including radio.
This was published 40 year after Apollo 11 took off and it was 57 hours into the relived flight:

Apollo 11 right now (minus 40 years) and 57+ hours into the mission
Skip back 40 years to the minute with Apollo 11

Right now (minus 40 years) and 57+ hours into the mission – Neil and Buzz have just finished checking out the Lunar Module. They are about to enter the area where the moon has the greatest influence and mission control will switch to moon reference as the spacecraft begins to accelerate towards the moon.

I was just listening to the audio feed minus 40 years and heard them ask the Apollo 11 astronauts to “stir up the cryos”. It would have been a different story if they had gotten the tank that ended up on Apollo 13!

This takes me back to my personal involvement in the Apollo missions. I like many of my counterparts working at the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (Australia) – OTC – 40 years ago listen to the astronauts’ channel all day on my shifts. Not much else to do as it was “hands off” during the missions. Listening to the pops and crosstalk in the quiet periods I can tell that it was all carried on cable – narrow bandwidth compared to satellite channels (3.1kHz compared to 3.4kHz). During the quiet times I can also hear the noise and crosstalk. Occasionally a string of faint tones can be heard in the background. This was the CCITT No5 signalling that was predominant in international telephony at the time.Like the tones on modern telephones, but sent in a tight string by the switching equipment.

Send me your stories of what you were doing at the time and we will publish as many as we can. robert.brand@echoesofapollo.com

My involvement with Apollo 11 was mainly wiring up the Voice, data and video wiring for the mission at the Sydney terminal in Australia. Not a big job, but I was doing field training during my term breaks from college at the grand age of 17 years old. Fellow trainee Paul Davies and I were asked to wire some some NASA equipment and although I initially messed up the colour code, I got further work doing more wiring. I was working under Wayne Ozarko who was the only technician in the area that had TV experience. It must be remembered that international TV was pretty new and the Moree earth station had been built especially to suit the time-frame of Apollo missions. Moree was 6 hours drive north from Sydney and located in a radio free area in a shallow valley with farmland all around.

By the way, thanks to the CSIRO and the Honeysuckle Creek group for their photos and stories

At Paddington we had the NASA gear that controlled the switching for the mission. It was pretty much state of the art and there was no way that the communications work had seen modems capable of switching the massive bandwidth needed for the mission. Speeds that a standard dial-up modem exceeds today.

Without too many boring details, here are some pictures of the setup at Paddington.

The last photo (above) was taken with the media present for the moon walk. The NASA video and switching gear is located inside the glass-off room. I watched the moon walk from back in my technical college with about 100 others on a small TV. I was a little bit more excited than the others knowing my small part.

For those that want more technical info please explore the CSIRO and Honeysuckle Creek sites:

http://www.parkes.atnf.csiro.au/news_events/apollo11/

http://www.honeysucklecreek.net/msfn_missions/index.html

Also remember that one of our sponsors is the OTVA (OTC and other international comms veterans). You can find more at:

http://www.otva.com

Now for some more technical details for the telecommunications geeks like me:

The images from Parkes were amazingly better and the world is searching for the lost data tapes. To give you some idea, here are a couple of Polaroid snaps from the TV screen at Parkes:

Ignore the color differences – they were all black and white for Apollo 11. These comments directly from the CSIRO website:

Above are two images received by the Parkes Radio Telescope and taken at approximately the same time on 21 July 1969 (AEST). The image on the left is a Polaroid taken directly off the Parkes SSTV monitor, and the image on the right was the broadcast image taken at approximately the same time. The left Polaroid picture is an image of what was actually received by the Parkes Radio Telescope and the right image is after it was scan-converted to commercial TV standards and broadcast to the world.

Compare Armstrong’s reflection in Aldrin’s visor; the SSTV image clearly shows Armstrong whereas in the scan-converted image his reflection is barely recognisable. Compare also, the creases in the gold foil on the LM ladder leg. It is clear from these comparisons, that the pre scan-converted SSTV images were of a higher resolution and definition and contained much more detail than was actually broadcast to the world.

These images were provided courtesy of Bob Goodman, the OTC International Co-ordinator for all the transmissions between Australia and the USA. Bob was in charge of the International Telecommunications Operating Centre (ITOC) located at the OTC Paddington Terminal, Sydney in July 1969. The images were scanned by his son, Rob Goodman, in February and March 2004.

It should be noted that these pictures were taken before satellite transmission and media conversion for other standards such as the North American NTSC system. What other countries saw was far more degraded than what was seen locally in Australia. Most of the moon walk originated from transmissions received here in Australia – initially from the Honeysuckle Creek dish and then from the Parkes dish.

The images below are Honeysuckle Creek (left) and Parkes (right). Note that Parkes has been strengthened and modified for reception of higher frequencies and the dish has a near solid surface these days. Also the Honeysuckle Creek dish was relocated to NASA Tidbinbilla (nearby) and is possibly to be retired in August. We are awaiting the outcome of discussions about its future.

North America and Europe saw initial coverage from the US Goldstone Dish below with Walter Cronkite in the photo. Echoes of Apollo was saddened to hear of his passing. Most of the world watched his coverage of the lunar landing.

CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite (left), with Apollo station Bendix Manager Tom Turnbull in front of the Goldstone MSFN 85 foot antenna. 4th July 1969

As a closing comment, I just heard that the crew has finished a meal break.

This story was published 19th July 2009.

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