2017 year Reviews

Australis Oscar 5

Owen Mace,

ATF Press, 2017, 186pp,

softback AUS$54.95,

ISBN 978-1-925309-80-5

In the 1960s, a group of University of Melbourne science and engineering students banded together to build a satellite in their spare time. This book describes “the journey of those students as they built Australis OSCAR 5 and had it launched into orbit by NASA in January 1970”. Australis was significant in being the first satellite built in Australia. Although it operated in orbit for only a couple of months, according to this book it achieved “a number of important technical milestones, including over a dozen world firsts”.

Given the wealth of space-related textbooks, coffee-table books and other reference sources, it would be easy to dismiss this quirky little book as a slightly amateurish project from a group of former university students in a following space nation. A quick flick-through reveals images of circuit boards, dubious looking antenna facilities and balloon launches, while an appendix portrays a facsimile of the 1969 “Users’ Guide” with its hand-drawn illustrations and typewritten text reproduced, as the introduction proudly admits, “complete with ‘bleed through’ from the reverse side of each diagram page”.

Despite its less-than-polished appearance, there is something charming and undeniably bluff-honest-Australian about this book. The photos of the students in suits and ties, the circuit board of the VHF transmitter with its discrete components, and the strange mottling of the colour snaps are reminiscent of a simpler, earlier age. And to those who used it at the time, the familiar stripe of the lime green and white print-out paper will trigger memories as sharply as any olfactory impulse does.

The author admits that the book is “a personal indulgence”, but it is no less valid because of that admission. Space geeks stimulated by anything between the shock of Sputnik and the age of Apollo will associate with the content of this book.

Mark Williamson, Space Technology Consultant

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