Publications of the Astronomical Society of Australia

Research Article

On Eagle's Wings: The Parkes Observatory's Support of the Apollo 11 Mission

John M. Sarkissian

CSIRO ATNF Parkes Observatory, PO Box 276, Parkes NSW, 2870, Australia;


At 12:56 p.m., on Monday 21 July 1969 (AEST), six hundred million people witnessed Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the Moon through television pictures transmitted to Earth from the lunar module, Eagle. Three tracking stations were receiving the signals simultaneously. They were the CSIRO's Parkes Radio Telescope, the Honeysuckle Creek tracking station near Canberra, and NASA's Goldstone station in California. During the first nine minutes of the broadcast, NASA alternated between the signals being received by the three stations. When they switched to the Parkes pictures, they were of such superior quality that NASA remained with them for the rest of the 2-hour moonwalk. The television pictures from Parkes were received under extremely trying and dangerous conditions. A violent squall struck the telescope on the day of the historic moonwalk. The telescope was buffeted by strong winds that swayed the support tower and threatened the integrity of the telescope structure. Fortunately, cool heads prevailed and as Aldrin activated the TV camera, the Moon rose into the field-of-view of the Parkes telescope. This report endeavours to explain the circumstances of the Parkes Observatory's support of the Apollo 11 mission, and how it came to be involved in the historic enterprise.

(Received February 01 2001)

(Accepted July 01 2001)


  • history and philosophy of astronomy;
  • radio astronomy