After a very hearty breakfast we set off for our day’s adventures to Mount Stromlo Observatory and NASA’s Deep Space Communication Complex (DSCC) in Tidbinbilla. We were met by the DSCC Education and Public Outreach Manager, Glen Nagle who gave us such an enthusiastic, behind the scenes tour of the facility. I have never met someone so passionate about his work, he was absolutely inspiring!

Glen showed us his favourite radio telescope (Deep Space Station 46) and shared with us the true story of what happened during the Apollo 11 moon landing and Australia’s involvement in that space mission. I was surprised to find out that it was actually the Deep Space Station 46, at its original home in Honeysuckle Creek, that played an integral role in the Apollo 11 mission, providing the first historic pictures of man walking on the Moon, not The Dish in Parkes as told in the Hollywood movie with the same name.

Radio Telescope DSS 43
DSS 43 is the largest steerable parabolic antenna in the Southern Hemisphere. The massive structure, weighing more than 3000 tonnes, rotates on a film of oil approximately 0.17mm thick. The reflector surface is made up of 1,272 aluminium panels with a total surface area of 4180 square metres. NASA Deep Space Communication Complex, Canberra Image: Chanele Moss
© Australian Museum

After exploring the grounds of the complex we headed to the visitor center where Glen gave us an update on future NASA projects and how the team in Tinbinbilla would be involved (look out Mars, the rover Curiosity is due to land on August 6, 2012 and Tinbinbilla will be listening to your every move!). I highly recommend any visitor to Canberra should make a stop at this amazing complex of Radio telescopes, the visitor center is open 7 days a week, 9am – 5pm.

From the DSCC we headed to Mount Stromlo Observatory, which was devastated by the 2003 bushfires in Canberra. The observatory was home to six research telescopes, the original solar observatory building (rebuilt after the 1952 fire), a large mechanical workshop, two office buildings, a visitor's centre and cafe, and 12 houses. Sadly, when the January of 2003 bushfires came through the area, it left more than a dozen buildings, five telescopes and residences in ruins. We had lunch in the Café there and met Australian National University astronomer, Brad Tucker, who spoke about his work in supernova cosmology and his possible upcoming role on the TV show Big Bang Theory. Brad gave us a quick tour of one of the telescopes that had been cooked inside a big steel observatory dome, during the 2003 fires. It was really fascinating. We climbed back on board our coach and settled in for our trip to Parkes via the Japanese Gardens in Cowra.

After a quick bag drop at our motel in Parkes, we rugged up in our warmest clothes and set off for The Dish. We were watching a partial eclipse of the moon that night, with some wonderful canapés under the stars and a glass of red to keep us warm. The local Astronomical Society met us there with some extra telescopes so we could see Saturn which was a truly amazing experience for me as I have never seen Saturn through a telescope before. To top off the night, longtime Member Bruce Spence brought along his bagpipes for some late night serenading under the stars. 

Next post - Day 3