As I write this, I remember teaching Year 12, 50 years ago, sitting in a lab with my biology class watching the Apollo 11 moon landing on a tiny TV screen. School stopped as we watched the beginning of a new era in space exploration. I was very much into Dr Who at the time, and the images and sound looked very Dr Who-ish!
On Saturday 20th July 2019, I will be participating in the 50th Anniversary Celebration at the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station site, with a number of people who used to work at the tracking station and who will be visiting the site again to celebrate.
Role of Honeysuckle Creek
The first seven minutes of the Moon Walk wasbroadcast to the world from Honeysuckle Creek tracking station, in the ACT. The station had communication and telemetry contact with the lunar and command modules.
It received the footage because even though the Parkes radio telescope had a more powerful antenna, the angle of the Parkes dish was not in view of the Landing Module, the Eagle. (This was not as portrayed in the Australian film The Dish, in 2000).
The actual broadcast took everyone by surprise! Apparently the astronauts had been told to rest and wait for about 20 minutes after landing before doing anything, because they were supposed to be tired from the landing procedure.
But in the end their excitement got the better of them and they left the spacecraft as soon as they could, sending people back here in a flurry to catch the signal. Just as well Honeysuckle Creek was on the ball and listening!
NASA astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin were the first people to step onto the surface of the moon. Armstrong’s words “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind” immortalized the event. The third astronaut, Michael Collins, remained orbiting the moon aboard the Command Module.
Among the items left on the surface of the moon was a plaque that read: "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot on the moon—July 1969 A.D.—We came in peace for all mankind."
The 26m antenna from Honeysuckle Creek was relocated to the nearby Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla after Honeysuckle Creek closed in 1981. It was decommissioned in 2009 and declared a Historical Aerospace Site by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics in 2010. It remains at Tidbinbilla.
Christians in space
Apollo 11 was the 11th mission to the moon. Prior to that, on Christmas Eve in 1968, Apollo 8 left earth’s gravitational field and achieved lunar orbit, circling the moon 10 times before returning to earth. Frank Borman, James A Lovell and William A Anders were the first to see the whole earth from afar, a view captured by Anders in his “Earthrise” photo.
They broadcast a running commentary of their observations. NASA had told them to do something “appropriate” so they selected a passage from Genesis Chapter 1 and they took turns reading this at the end of their broadcast. Borman then signed off, saying, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you, all of you on this good Earth.”
This provoked a well known atheist to file a law suit against NASA!
NASA was plainly intimidated by this. The first activity carried out by Aldrin when the Eagle touched down on the moon’s surface was communion. This was the first food ever poured or eaten on the moon.
He began by saying “I would like to request a few moments of silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whomever he may be, to contemplate for a moment the events of the past few hours and to give thanks in his own individual way.”
Aldrin wanted this to be broadcast to the whole world, but pretty much the only people who heard it were the ground crew back on earth.
But personally, I think it was really appropriate for Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 crews to honour God, the creator of the universe, in those momentous times.
50 years down the track…
What has changed?
Since John F Kennedy, who initiated the “Space Race”, spent millions of dollars and involved 400 000 people in the effort to put a man on the moon, America has backed off. But recently President Trump has given NASA a timeline: to be on the moon by 2024.
Then there is Elon Musk with his Space Exploration Technologies (SpaceX), preparing to reach for Mars.
Also China has become a player in space, with a module on the far side of the moon as we speak.
There may be a new impetus to explore space, not necessarily dominated by NASA. But one thing that hasn’t changed is the bizarre reluctance to publish anything Christian in the media. In our open global society, surely one would expect people to be free to express their beliefs how they choose, without being censored or vilified.
After all, The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for he founded it on the seas and established it on the waters!Psalm 24, verses 1-2.
Aira Chilcott is a retired secondary school teacher with lots of science and theology under her belt. Aira is a panellist for Young Writers and indulges in reading, bushwalking, volunteering at a nature reserve and learning to play clarinet. Aira is married to Bill and they have three adult sons.
Aira Chilcott's previous articles may be viewed at http://www.pressserviceinternational.org/aira-chilcott.html