PARKES, Australia (Reuters) – It is known as "The Dish" and rises above a nondescript paddock in rural Australia. Without him, hundreds of millions of people 50 years ago would never have seen Neil Armstrong's entire generation-defining footage on the moon.
Parkes Observatory radio telescope pictured at sunset near Parkes, Australia on July 15, 2019. REUTERS / Stefica Nicol Bikes
An estimated 600 million people around the world held their breath while watching their television screens on July 20, 1969, waiting for Armstrong to disembark from the lunar module Apollo 11 and be included in the history books becomes.
Back on Earth, it was just another day of work for David Cooke, senior reception engineer at the Parkes Observatory radio telescope in the southeastern state of New South Wales, about 360 km west of Sydney.
The Parkes Observatory was one of three tracking stations, with Goldstone in California and the now decommissioned Honeysuckle Creek station in the Australian capital, Canberra, tasked with beaming live images of the Moonwalk to the World.
Cooke was just concerned about doing his job right and making sure that the signal was not lost.
In the United States, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) control room switched the signal between the three tracking stations and reached the parkes signal eight minutes after the broadcast began.
NASA found the quality of the Parkes images so superior that they retained the signal of the observatory there nicknamed "The Dish" for the remainder of the hours-long broadcast.
"It was after we finished the chase when I went down in front of the telescope and looked up and saw the moon," recalled Cooke, now 87 years old and responsible for surveillance at the Observatory.
"At that time I realized that this was an amazing thing, that there was one man, two men on the moon and a third there too," he said.
The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization Parkes (CSIRO) radio telescope, officially opened in October 1961, is still one of the largest astronomical telescopes in the US Southern Hemisphere, measuring 64 meters in diameter.
"The Dish" is still used by astronomers around the world.
Constant upgrades keep it up to date with radio astronomy. The telescope is now 10,000 times more sensitive than during commissioning.
The magical images broadcast around the world in 1969 also changed the life of a six-year-old boy who saw the Moon and his classmates land on the cold wooden floor of their school room in Sydney.
"It became clear to me that it was time to think about astronomy," said John Sarkissian, now a CSIRO telescope operations scientist.
"At the time, I had no idea that 50 years later, I would actually be working in the place where those television pictures were received," he said.
Reporting by Stefica Nicol Bikes; Published by Phyllis Xu, Karishma Singh and Paul Tait