Apollo 11 50th anniversary attracts almost 20,000 to Parkes Radio Telescope

Ask anyone who was lucky enough to watch - and remember - the Apollo 11 lunar landing, they can tell you exactly where they were and what they were doing that moment Neil Armstrong first set foot on the moon.

"Moon struck" is how the Parkes Champion Post described those feelings 50 years ago on July 21, 1969 in Australia.

'The main street during the lunch break was like Parkes at Melbourne Cup time - deserted!'

Fifty years on the town - and the country - is moon struck again after celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission over the weekend.

That day was called "Moon Walk Day", according to the Champion Post, and the many thousands who flocked to the Parkes Radio Telescope on Saturday and Sunday proves that science, astronomy and space travel are still as popular as ever.

In what has been described as an epic weekend of celebrations generously hosted by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), the Dish - which played an integral role in distributing the television pictures of the lunar landing to the world - opened its doors to an estimated 19,500 people in total over the two days.

CSIRO organised numerous free activities for these open days - they gave the public almost full access to its grounds, allowing people to get closer than they ever have before to the magnificent structure, including tours inside the Dish - which were extremely popular, its receiver labs and on-ground.


There were about 2226 people who walked through the Dish with about 14 people per tour - the free tour passes were gone by 11.30am on Saturday and many hundreds more lining up early Sunday morning for the opportunity.

CSIRO Parkes Radio Observatory Operations Scientist, John Sarkissian OAM, who roamed the grounds from open to close both days said they physically couldn't get any more people through those doors of the Dish.

There were several thousands who took part in the ground and receiver lab tours, and the talks tent - which had back-to-back presentations by scientists, astrophysicists and engineers and housed 200 seats - were pretty much to capacity for every talk, all day, both days.

An estimated 1200 people rugged up, with blankets and blow-up chairs in tow, turned out for the outside movie night to watch the 2000 Australian film The Dish with the radio telescope as their backdrop.

Actor Roy Billing, who played the Mayor of Parkes in the movie, introduced the film to the crowd.

On Sunday thousands gathered around the main stage to listen to Adelaide astronaut Dr Andrew Thomas, for the official ceremony and original broadcast of the moon walk.

Among the dignitaries at the official ceremony were Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, Minister for Industry, Science and Technology Karen Andrews, American ambassador to Australia Arthur B. Culvahouse Jr, CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall, MC and CSIRO deputy director for astronomy and space science Dr Sarah Pearce, and Parkes elder Lionel Lovett who gave the Welcome to Country.

Fifty years later to the very second, at 12.53pm, the crowd watched the actual footage of the moon landing from July 21, 1969 - it was life changing for millions back then and a very special moment that afternoon.

People cheered and applauded when they heard Neil Armstrong say those famous words "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" - but even more so when they heard NASA's Network Officer Ernie Randall during the Apollo 11 TV transmission say they were receiving a very good picture from Parkes and a few moments later, the line "Pass on to the Parkes people that their labour was not in vain, they've given us the best TV yet".

At the end of the ceremony former NASA scientist Dr Everett Gibson presented CSIRO CEO Larry Marshall a certificate recognising the Parkes Radio Telescope for its 50 years of support to NASA during its exploration of the moon and solar system.

The Australian flag on the certificate was actually flown to the International Space Station aboard the SpaceX-10 flight from February 23, 2017 to March 19, 2017. The certificate was signed by Mark Geyer, the 12th director of NASA's Johnson Space Centre.

Loving the numbers? Here's more

Now that the moon dust has settled, here's a closer look at some other numbers.

The Parkes Radio Telescope's Visitors Centre saw 13,248 people through its doors over the two days.

There were 110 CSIRO staff and their family members from across the country volunteering on site and the 18 Parkes SES volunteers helped to park an estimated 4500 cars on Saturday and 3000 on Sunday.

Western Road Liners' rough numbers for people on the Apollo Express buses was 450 for Saturday and 300 for Sunday.

"I thought it was a fantastic weekend and full credit goes to the people of Parkes, CSIRO and the team at the Dish," Parkes Shire Commander for the SES, Phil Snow said.

The Parkes Early Childhood Centre (PECC) ran the barbecue tent, where they made about 1600 sausage sandwiches and 700 steak sandwiches.

"We had to restock twice - the whole weekend's food was gone by Sunday lunch time," one of the organisers, Alan Blatch said.

"And the really special part is we couldn't get enough parents to help man the stand so PECC staff stepped in and saved the day."

Alan said many people gave tips as donations when they bought their sandwich, with all proceeds going back into the centre and equipment for the children.

"Some people's sole job was to put bread on napkins and they didn't stop for two days," he said.

"It was very much a team effort and quite enjoyable.

"Craig Smith who runs the Dish Cafe and is the PECC president, supported us in a professional manner, he made sure we had everything we needed."

Parkes Shire Council's tourism team was also at the Dish for the anniversary, handing out more than 1500 Visit Parkes complimentary bags. They also gave out 600 fridge memo pads, 600 colouring books, 120 pencils, 900 pens, 350 chocolates, 500 lollipops, 300 lanyards, 600 find-a-words, 300 Elvis festival wristbands and keyrings, 430 Parkes Destination Guides, 380 Newell Highway guides and about 350 each of other flyers (such as for the Elvis Festival, Peak Hill and the upcoming air show).

The Parkes Visitor Information Centre recorded some impressive numbers too - they had a 300 per cent increase in weekend visitation and a 79 per cent increase in museum tickets sold.

And there were reports almost every motel in town was booked out.