“HOUSTON we have a problem….” These words have passed into everyday usage as a result of an explosion on board the ill-fated Apollo 13 moon mission of 1970.
Les Fellows from Tanilba Bay remembers them well but even more so he recalls the phrase “Thank God for the Aussies!”
You see, at the time, Les was one of a group of four scientists and technicians manning the radio telescope at Parkes NSW. The stricken craft was in a communications shadow and unable to contact mission control in Houston, Texas.
A frantic call was made to ‘The Dish’ as it was the only receiving station world wide which could possibly regain contact. Working under extreme pressure and with just a tiny window of opportunity, they established contact for some two hours, relaying messages to and from NASA until the Earth’s rotation put the spacecraft back in direct contact with Mission Control.
“After a bit of fine tuning, we heard some garbled voice messages but the first clear words were: ‘Thank God for the Aussies!’ after we identified ourselves.”
“The words came over through an old Holden car radio speaker we had rigged up.”
In the unfolding drama the vital role played by the Australians was forgotten but recognition finally came with the 30th anniversary of the event.
NASA director T O Paine travelled to Parkes and presented Les, along with his mates, unique medallions which were moulded from metal taken from the Saturn V launching pad.
More fame was to come when Les was consulted for the making of ‘The Dish’, a high grossing movie starring Sam Neil. They even sent Les a complimentary DVD.
Now 87 Les looks back at the events of 1970 as one of the most exciting times of his life.
By Geoff WALKER