This is the weekend we tip our hats to the astronauts who carried the dreams of an entire planet into space, proving the “man on the moon” could be more than a nursery rhyme.

It’s 50 years since Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left their footprints in the lunar surface, after Michael Collins flew them there.

The radio telescope engineers on duty at the CSIRO Parkes Observatory that day, are among those being honoured for helping NASA achieve the seemingly impossible.

They were responsible for receiving and converting images of the mission and moonwalk, for a worldwide television audience.

Parkes even receives a nod in the latest Google Doodle, in which Apollo 11 pilot Michael Collins narrates his big “adventure”.

According to the telescope’s current Operations Scientist John Sarkissian: “there were two versions of the broadcast of the Apollo 11 moonwalk – the international and Australian versions.

“The international version was supplied to the US networks by NASA, and was then distributed worldwide. The Australian version was supplied by the ABC and distributed to Australian networks.”

“… pass on to the Parkes people that their labour was not in vain, they’ve given us the best TV yet.” (NASA’s Network Officer, Ernie Randall, during the Apollo 11 television transmission – July 20, 1969)

Mr Sarkissian made documenting those pictures, and recovering missing tapes of the moonwalk, his personal mission.

In his research paper “On Eagle’s Wings”, a reference to the name of the lunar module piloted by Buzz Aldrin, he compares what was actually received at Parkes, and what was seen by the rest of the world.

Converting the images for commercial broadcast meant there was a loss in quality.

The above slider shows those before-and-after images. (More photos like these can be found in Mr Sarkissian’s research paper and in NASA’s public Image Library.)

Some of the original footage of the landing and moonwalk could not be recovered, but 10 years ago – on the 40th anniversary – NASA released a compilation video of what could be restored.

They called it a “Moonwalk Montage”.

Even though he was the first to set foot on the moon, there is only one full-body photo of Neil Armstrong on the surface.

It was “inadvertently” shot by Buzz Aldrin, who was responsible for taking moon panoramas. It shows Armstrong working on the lunar module.

Moon landing

First man on the moon, Neil Armstrong (Photo: Buzz Aldrin, NASA Public Domain)

The restored photos, like Neil Armstrong’s double-horizon shot of Buzz Aldrin (below) have been described as “artistic masterpieces” that may never be surpassed.

But if humans can achieve something as magical as landing two men on the moon, who can really know what is yet to come…


– Hanh Yoon