It has been mentioned here before that the landing of Apollo-11, as well as other Apollo missions were not only monitored by the official NASA communications and telemetry stations, but also by a number of amateur and professional facilities operating in an unofficial capacity. One of the most capable of these facilities was the Jodrell Bank Observatory in North West England. Despite having one of the largest radio telescopes in the world, Jodrell Bank was not an official tracking station for NASA’s Apollo missions. Instead, the European portion of the receiving network was located at the Madrid Deep Space Communications Center.
Jodrell Bank had, however, provided critical data reception and tracking for the Soviet Luna program. Early on in the Soviet program, the Soviets lacked the capability to reliably receive the weak signals from the tiny probes and therefore had to rely on Jodrell Bank to provide tracking and reception capabilities – an uneasy relationship during the Cold War. By 1969, however, the Soviets had upgraded their tracking stations and improved the transmitters on their lunar probes. However, Jodrell Bank continued to track and observe Soviet probes even after its services were no longer critical to the program. In 1969, The Lovell Telescope at Jodrell bank was the largest fully steerable antenna in the world (today it is the third) and thus was capable of providing greater signal gain than anything the United States or Soviet Union had.
On July 20 1969, the scientists at Jodrell Bank were simultaneously observing two dramatic events. The Lovell Telescope, their largest, was receiving signals from the Soviet Luna-15 probe, which was supposed to land just hours after the Apollo 11 landing. Rumors had been floating that Luna-15 carried a sample-return spacecraft that was intended to beat the US in getting the first lunar soil and rock samples back to earth. Having had experience with the Luna program, the scientists at Jodrell Bank were very eager to see if the rumors were true and to observe the landing of Luna-15.
Meanwhile, even as Luna-15 was preparing to land on the moon, the Mark-II telescope, another large radio telescope on the grounds of Jodrell Bank, was tracking and receiving transmissions from Apollo-11. Audio and data from the mission was being demodulated, and although the facility didn’t have the equipment necessary to demodulate and display the video from Apollo-11, they were able to watch the transmissions via the BBC’s coverage of the events on broadcast television.
Recently an audio recording of the events on that historic night was released by the Jodrell Bank Observatory. It records the reaction of those present to the successful landing of Apollo-11 and the crash of Luna-15. It is really a fascinating account of the events and worth listening to. Sir Bernard Lovell, the founder of the Jordell Bank observatory and the director at the time, can be heard narrating the events. At one point in the recording, a voice can be heard saying “I say, this has really been drama of the highest order.” (You know how the Brits love their understatements)
It is interesting to note just how precise the measurements by Jodrell Bank were. Not only was the observatory able to receive data from the spacecraft, it was also able to pinpoint the region of the moon they were located in and to measure their speed and trajectory using measurements of the Doppler shift, combined with highly accurate signal vector and other measurements. They were even able to detect when Apollo-11 abruptly stopped descending to the lunar surface and began to climb in altitude. This was the result of Neil Armstrong taking manual control of the Lunar Module to find a suitable landing site, after noting that the site that the automated system was headed for was strewn with large boulders.
And no, I’ve never seen a good explanation for this from any conspiracy theorists, other than all the observers at Jodrell Bank must have been part of it.
This entry was posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2009 at 2:10 pm and is filed under Conspiracy Theories, Good Science, History, Space, media. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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