I was talking the other day to old Roger, at a Canberra Speleological Society trip to Wee Jasper, who was telling me about his first job in Australia working at the Orroral tracking station. I have long thought it is a tragedy that Orroral and Honeysuckle creek tracking stations, which were such an interesting piece of local history, were both left to be vandalised before being bulldozed by the National Park Authorities in the 90s. Orroral was a little overshadowed by Honeysuckle creek’s role in the Apollo 11 landing, but still had an important job in tracking and communicating with passing satellites.
Roger was there at the commissioning of the station. He said that all these boxes of electronic bits and pieces arrived from NASA with no instructions for how to put them together. There was one very large machine which sent a very accurate time signal based i think he said on some crystal inside.
There were three shifts of 8 hours each, about 12 people on each shift. There was also a kitchen and a couple of cooks, and for every shift they used to make a good meal, a roast leg of lamb and mint sauce for instance. Roger said it was a bit weird when you were on the night shift and had a meal like this at 3am. Orroral valley is a beautiful place, i can’t imagine how good it would be to work there, and to be doing such funky space stuff in the 60s as well.
Rog said they had to send messages to military satellites as well as scientific ones. One funny story he told was of a command that had to be sent to a satellite that was carrying a box of fruit flies as part of a scientific experiment on the effects of cosmic rays in space. Anyway the command was for the satellite to drop the box of flies and there was a plane waiting flying around somewhere to pick it up. Well anyway to send the command to the satellite, a punch card had to be inserted into a computer. Unfortunately the operator at Ororral inserted it the wrong way around, and by the time he realised his error, and put it back in the correct way, the satellite had moved on a couple of hundred kilometres. So no-one ever found the box of fruit flies.