19 June 2019 Reviews

Honeysuckle Creek: the story of Tom Reid, a little dish and Neil Armstrong’s first step

Honeysuckle Creek near Canberra is not exactly a well-known name in the annals of space exploration but like Goldstone, Goonhilly and Jodrell Bank it had its part to play. This book “reveals the pivotal role the tracking station played in the first Moon walk”. Part biography and part personal history, it tells of how station director Tom Reid and his colleagues were involved in “transmitting some of the most-watched images in human history”.

It begins with the author’s memories of the Apollo 11 landing and his relationship with Tom Reid’s daughter: “It wasn’t until I stayed with Marg and her parents over the New Year’s weekend of 1972-73 that I began to realise the leading role Tom Reid had played tracking Apollo 11”, he says. Later, when he learned that the film ‘The Dish’ placed the radio astronomy antenna at Parkes at the forefront of Apollo communications, he thought “This isn’t right: wrong place; wrong person”... and decided to write this book.

It is imbued with a refreshing and straightforward honesty that one associates with Australians and is a welcome addition to the library of space-related biographies. It comes complete with 14 pages of chapter notes, a bibliography and a useful index and is illustrated with a small monochrome photo-insert.

Today, nothing remains of the Honeysuckle Creek station apart from concrete foundations (the 85ft dish was moved to the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex in 1982). Even during Apollo, Honeysuckle’s days were numbered because a bigger dish “three times the size... and six times more sensitive” was being built at Tidbinbilla. In his epilogue, the author points out that “the Americans never publicly acknowledged how Honeysuckle rather than Goldstone had brought that [Moon walk] moment to the world”. It may be 50 years on, but at least he has put the record straight.

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