OK, everyone’s doing it, so it’s time for my “Where were you?” story about the moon landing, 50 years ago today or tomorrow or whenever it is.
I remember it well. In 1969 I was living in a flat at 17 The Esplanade, South Perth, right on the water looking at the city across the river. People pay a $million or more for that position these days, but our rent was $40 a week, I think. I was sharing the front flat in the block, on the second floor, the prime position. Sharing with Colin Smith, who I still see occasionally.
I was also into my third year of my job at Channel 7 in Tuart Hill (actually Dianella). On the day, I’m pretty sure it was a Monday, I was rostered on to what we called a B shift, 10.30am to 7pm. I used to like being able to sleep in a bit but didn’t like finishing at 7pm as I had a 20 min trip home.
Anyway, the tension had been building for a few days as the astronauts left Earth orbit and headed for the moon. We didn’t know at that stage exactly when they were going to land. Channel 7 was going to “beam it out”, what we’d call live-stream it these days. I was just a lowly videotape operator in those days, not in Master Control, so I didn’t expect to have much to do, which is how it turned out.
The trouble was, the live telecast started early, maybe 8.30am and I was watching it on our old black and white TV (no colour in those days) in the flat. Smithy had gone to work so I was on my own. I knew it would take me 20 minutes (wow) to drive my 1961 VW Beetle to Channel 7 but I was watching the TV. Surely they wouldn’t make the landing while I was driving?
It was hard to say when the actual step onto the moon would happen and I admit I considered being late for work so as not to miss it. But the transmission dragged on, so at about 10.15am I decided to make a dash for it, hoping it wouldn’t happen too soon. I drove as fast as I dared (the speed limit was 35 miles per hour then), and got to work around 10.35am. I dashed in to find it was still dragging on, no sign of the step off the LEM yet. I’d made it.
So the rest is history. I was standing in the videotape area at Channel 7 watching the black and white monitors. The step off finally occurred around midday our time, I think, maybe a bit later. I was interested to hear an American interviewed the other day who said it was around midnight or later in New York and everyone had to wait up to see it. Perfect timing for WA, of course – we’re 12hrs ahead of the east coast of the USA.
I was probably recording it on videotape, the big 2″ wide tape but I can’t remeber that. I know that it was pretty exciting. I was 22 and we were all standing around marvelling at the pictures. How did we get them? I don’t think the E-W microwave link system was built then. I suspect we got them from Carnarvon? Not sure. I’m seeing some of the old blokes for a drink tonight, so maybe I’ll find out, although I’m probably the oldest bloke by quite a bit now. Ugh.
PS: yes, it was a great night, but I was definitely the oldest guy at 72. The nearest was 60. It’s hard to believe these ages, as I’ve known them since they were mere “boys”, just starting out as trainees. Now they’re 60, a couple with 40 years service. “Techs never resign” I heard an executive say once, and it was largely true. The reason was we had such a big investment in our knowledge of how the station worked and was connected. I remember thinking that I had a three dimensional view of the station, with a mental picture of where everything was over the two floors and how it was all connected, where the cables were, what system drawing was involved and so on. You don’t build that up in a few weeks or months, it took many years. So starting again at another station was a daunting prospect.
One sad note: one of the guys I worked with for about 40 years was not there, because he was diagnosed with advanced lymphoma a few months ago and is having heavy chemo and radiation. Ugh again. The prognosis is not too bad at the moment, but who knows with these things.