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Meet the trackers who beamed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the moon to the world

1 July 2019

A fragment of moon rock, a satellite tracking console and a 1969 lunch menu are among the intriguing objects on display as part the National Museum of Australia’s Tracking Apollo: 50 Years since the Moon Landing exhibit which opens in Canberra on 1 July 2019.

The exhibit is part of a series of events taking place around Australia to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing on 21 July 1969, when American astronaut Neil Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon.

The Museum’s acting director Stephanie Bull said, ‘It is fitting that the National Museum can celebrate this defining moment in history, in which Australia and Canberra played important roles.

'It is also a special opportunity to share objects from our collection which tell this significant story,' Ms Bull said.

'The exhibit includes the console for the satellite tracking system from the Orroral Valley Tracking Station; a menu from a lunch held for Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and Buzz Aldrin at the Wentworth Hotel, Sydney in November 1969; and the guest book from the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station with Prime Minister John Gorton’s signature and comment,' Ms Bull said.

'We also have remarkable photos taken at tracking stations across the continent,' Ms Bull said.

The exhibit features the ‘goodwill rock’, a fragment of a moon rock brought back from the Apollo 17 mission in 1972, and later presented to the Australian Government by US President Richard Nixon.

There are also some quirky objects, including tie pins, badges, a rocket-themed ashtray, and a T-shirt showing the lunar landscape, Neil Armstrong and kangaroos.

A panel discussion on 19 July will cast a spotlight on Canberra’s role in the Apollo missions and the moon landing 50 years ago.

Robert Bunzli, the Museum’s digital programs coordinator, said 'The panel discussion will be a rare opportunity to hear first-hand accounts of when Honeysuckle Creek Tracking Station transmitted the live television coverage of Neil Armstrong’s giant first step to a worldwide audience of 600 million people.'

The panel will be hosted by Andrew Tink, author of the new book Honeysuckle Creek, and four of the original Apollo trackers: the station’s deputy director Mike Dinn, operations manager John Saxon, and technicians Gillian Schoenborn and Bryan Sullivan.

'The panel will discuss how this central role in tracking Apollo and relaying the video feed came about, the extraordinary challenges the team faced including technical hurdles and last minute changes, and how it and other Australian facilities including the Parkes radio telescope contributed to this defining moment in Australian and world history,' Mr Bunzli said.

Mike Dinn, who participated in Apollo missions 7 to 13, said 21 July 1969 was etched in his memory.

'It was the highlight of my career, but at the time I was completely focused on my role of ensuring the best data and voice and TV were sent to Houston. Only afterwards did the magnitude of our collective achievements register,' Mr Dinn said.

The Museum will also be part of a Canberra-wide Moon Rock Trail, which includes Questacon, Geoscience Australia and CSIRO.

Tracking Apollo: 50 Years since the Moon Landing panel discussion, 19 July, Gandel Atrium, 6–7.30pm. Bookings essential

Media contact: Diana Streak, 02 6208 5091 | 0422 536064 or media@nma.gov.au

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