First IEEE Milestone Award in country goes to Parkes Radio Telescope

The skies above the Parkes Radio Telescope joined in on the applause with claps of thunder on Friday, as the facility made engineering history.

The world's largest technical professional association, the Institute of Electrical and Electronic Engineers Inc (IEEE), has awarded its first Milestone Award in Australia and it's gone to the Parkes Radio Telescope.

Of all moments for it to rain in an area in the grip of drought right now, it was the moment the president elect of IEEE Professor Toshio Fukuda unveiled the plaque recognising the distinguished occasion.

But it was just another reason to celebrate.

The prestigious award has been dedicated to the Parkes Radio Telescope's contribution in receiving the Apollo 11 communications from the moon on July 21, 1969 (AEST).

IEEE Milestones, which are conducted by the IEEE History Committee, recognise the technological innovation and excellence for the benefit of humanity found in unique products, services and patents. They honour the achievements, rather than a place or person.

While it's the first commemorated in Australia, it's the 202nd IEEE Milestone in the world and the 36th located in IEEE's Region 10 (of which Australia falls into), but only the third outside Japan.

Friday's gathering in the visitors centre featured several speeches and presentations from special guests from the IEEE and CSIRO, including those travelling from Japan, former Parkes Radio Telescope radio engineer and OIC David Cooke who was part of the team in 1969, and Parkes' deputy mayor Barbara Newton.

A joint NASA and IEEE gold commemorative coin from the US Mint celebrating the 50th anniversary of the moon landing was also presented to Dr John Reynolds, former officer in charge of the Dish and now head of operations at the Australia Telescope National Facility.

The presentations were followed by the unveiling of the plaque outside by Mr Fukuda and IEEE History Committee representative David Burger, prior to lunch and some tours of the Dish.

In addition to the dedication ceremony, Parkes Shire Council hosted a civic reception for guests the night before on Thursday.

Eddie Fong, who spoke on behalf of IEEE Australian Council Chair Stefan Mozar, said the Milestone was very significant and the telescope's achievement has given Australia world-wide recognition.

"Australia has a long history of engineering excellence," he said, also referencing CSIRO's invention of WiFi.

Mr Fong added they hope the Parkes Dish's Milestone is the first of many more IEEE Milestones to come out of Australia.

Chair of the NSW Section of IEEE, Sasha Nikolic, thanked all involved in both the 1969 event and those making the IEEE Milestone for the telescope happen.

"Pure passion was put into making this happen," he said.

CSIRO's Parkes Radio Telescope and NASA's Honeysuckle Creek stations in Australia received voice and video signals from the Apollo 11 moonwalk, which were redistributed to millions of viewers around the world.

The televised images from Parkes were superior to other ground stations, and NASA used them for most of the broadcast.

Parkes was one of the first radio telescopes to use the newly developed 'corrugated feed horn', and Parkes became the model for the NASA Deep Space Network large aperture antennas.

The Dish celebrated the 50th anniversary of the moonwalk and its own role with almost 20,000 visitors when it opened its doors to the public on July 20-21 this year.

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IEEE has more than 400,000 members world-wide, with Australia's membership in excess of 8000, who are employed in all aspects of electrical engineering and electronics.

It conducts technical professional activities by way of over 400 conferences a year around the world, as well as providing specialist instruction and information on the leading technical developments as they happen.

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