MEETING American astronaut Buzz Aldrin — the second man to set foot on the moon — was a huge thrill for Collie’s Lauri Glocke during a recent “awesome” weekend in Carnarvon.
Lauri was among 30 “ex-trackers” (former Carnarvon Tracking Station staff) invited back to the Gascoyne for the Carnarvon Space Festival and opening of the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum.
The festival recognised their role in the first manned mission to the moon and 82-year-old Dr Aldrin, who piloted the lunar module onto the moon’s surface, officially opened the museum.
When she addressed him as Dr Aldrin, he said: “Are you one of the ex-trackers? It’s Buzz.”
He happily posed for pictures with Lauri and chatted about old times.
It did not look like it might have happened that way. At Perth Airport, before the flight to Carnarvon, a highly groomed woman wearing a “press” sign (presumably she was mainly press liaison) directed her to gate 26 for boarding.
Lauri thanked her and confided she was hoping to speak with Dr Aldrin.
“That’s not going to happen, he will have a very busy weekend,” the highly groomed woman said.
“That’s what you think,” Lauri thought to herself.
She not only met and spoke with the “gorgeous” and “very approachable” space hero, but sat next to and chatted with his glamorous girlfriend, Michelle Sucillon.
“She is so tall and leggy, she was just gorgeous and like Buzz, so lovely to talk to.” Lauri said.
In conversation Lauri remarked on the stress of such a long trip for the elderly astronaut and tightness of their schedule.
His companion said they were used to constantly travelling and talking about the space program.
Lauri asked if he ever got sick of it and was told Dr Aldrin did not like to continually dwell on the moon landing. He was more interested in advocating moving forward into space travel.
The plane north had been packed with 200 people who had paid $1500 for a weekend deal.
But Lauri and her fellow ex-trackers got it for free. “We were VIPs,” she said.
A small girl helped Buzz Aldrin cut the ribbon at the museum opening.
Her “space nut” mother and three brothers had paid the $1500 each to attend the celebratory weekend, but she, the youngest of the family, was to be left at home before winning a competition to take part in the opening ceremony.
Dr Aldrin was an excellent speaker, Lauri said.
Carnarvon’s NASA space station supported a number of significant space missions, including the Apollo 11 flight in 1969.
Dr Aldrin told the crowd he first heard the name Carnarvon 50 years ago, when John Glenn was making his first orbital flight of the earth.
“We needed a tracking station down here in the Southern Hemisphere. Fortunately the wonderful country of Australia obliged.
“It’s places like Carnarvon that give the last-minute instructions of when to fire the retrorockets so that we can land in the Northern Hemisphere,” he said.
“This location here is very, very important to America’s space program.”
Lauri left Collie for Carnarvon in 1967 and worked at the tracking station until 1970. She was the baby on the site and dubbed “Teenybopper”.
She was actually in the control room when Buzz Aldrin piloted the Apollo 11 lunar module onto the moon’s surface on July 21, 1969 (local time, it was July 20 in America).
He was the second human being to set foot on the moon, following mission commander Neil Armstrong.
“I had to take a tape to the main building for the Goddard space station,” Lauri recalled.
She was going down a hall when the lights went out and she was called into a room by a man who said “you can watch this”.
That man, another girl and Lauri were part of history, watching that first manned lunar landing on the big-screen monitors in the telecommunication and control room at the tracking station.
During the celebrations, Lauri met a man who was six years old when Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked on the moon. “His son had his sixth birthday on the day Buzz came to town”
MUSEUM CELEBRATES CARNARVON’S ROLE
THE Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum celebrates the little known history of the town’s role in the manned space program and in the Australian communications industry.
The museum focuses on two parts – the tracking station and the OTC satellite earth station. Both stations played roles in the early space industry.
The tracking station is 10 kilometres south from Carnarvon. It was built to support NASA’s Gemini, Apollo and Skylab programs. It was commissioned in 1964 and operated for 11 years.
Carnarvon was the last station to communicate with the space capsules leaving the earth orbit, and the last to make contact before splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
At the height of the operation it had a staff of 220 people.
The satellite earth station (and now museum site) is at the northern end of Browns Range, about six kilometres from the centre of Carnarvon, and four kilometres north of the tracking station.
It was opened in 1966, initially with a 12.8 metres wide Casshorn antenna as part of the global satellite communications system. The antenna has interacting parabolic and hyperbolic reflectors in a characteristic “sugar scoop” form.
On July 21, 1969, the day of the Apollo 11 moon landing, the Casshorn antenna relayed Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon from NASA's Honey Suckle Creek Tracking Station to Perth's TV audience via Moree earth station — the first live telecast into Western Australia.
Later in 1969, a larger 29.6 metre wide steerable antenna was built for better communication between the station and the USA.