Carnarvon’s iconic OTC Dish that played a part in Moon landings may be set for demolition


An iconic dish which played a key role in NASA’s first Moon landing 50 years ago faces an uncertain future at its home in the remote WA town of Carnarvon.

The 30-metre-wide dish has been an integral part of the town’s skyline for decades, ever since the parabolic reflector antenna was commissioned in 1969 to assist in the US space program.

It sits on a hill outside the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum and attracts tens of thousands of visitors each year.

But the Shire of Carnarvon has warned its future may be in doubt with an expected remediation bill of $1.7 million over five years.

“This level of expenditure is beyond the current Shire of Carnarvon financial capacity, and without significant additional funding the future of the dish is in doubt,” the report said.

A structural engineering review estimated remediation works on the aging OTC Dish in Carnarvon would cost $1.7 million.(Supplied: Shire of Carnarvon)

Dish neglected for years

Carnarvon Space Museum chairman Phil Youd said the Overseas Telecommunications Commission (OTC) Dish was the only one of its type in WA, and only the second in Australia alongside Ceduna’s facility in South Australia.

Mr Youd said he had been raising concerns about the lack of maintenance on the Shire of Carnarvon-owned dish for many years.

“I think it’s great that finally the dish is being recognised that it does need some work,” he said.

The Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum viewed from a drone
The tracking station lives on today as the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum.(ABC News: Chris Lewis)

“We’ve been trying, me personally and the museum’s been trying for years to get something done.

“When I was on council I proposed a budget be set for it, even if its 20 grand a year or whatever, just put some money aside because at some point you are going to need to do some serious maintenance on it.

“Unfortunately the money that was originally allocated ended up getting used in a different project.

“So once again the dish misses out and hey presto, here we are looking at a $1.7 million bill that obviously the council can’t afford.”

Mr Youd said demolition should not be considered and the cost of that would be “horrendous” — both in terms of the physical cost as well as the hit to tourism.

‘Slipping through the cracks of history’

Last month, the OTC Dish and the Carnarvon Space and Technology Museum drew 11,000 visitors.

Space to play or pause, M to mute, left and right arrows to seek, up and down arrows for volume.
Watch the 1964 ABC News report on the newly-opened Carnarvon Tracking Station

“It came into working just after they landed on the Moon, and basically what it was set up for was all the command and all the main instructions sent via that dish directly back to Houston.

“NASA realised prior to the landing on the Moon that they needed some better communication … back to Houston and that’s what the dish was built for.”

He said it was disappointing the dish was slipping “through the cracks of history” while other places like the Parkes Observatory in NSW had received wide acclaim.

“The dish in Parkes, there was a movie based around it, and that’s where it’s got a lot of focus in the past 20 years,” Mr Youd said.

“Poor old Carnarvon, as normal, misses out on the limelight, even though the base that was in Carnarvon had a far greater role than Parkes ever did.

A large satellite dish at the Carnarvon Tracking Station pointed skywards.
The Carnarvon Tracking Station measured complex telemetry data from space.(Supplied: State Library of WA)

The Shire of Carnarvon will discuss the report at its meeting today.

It has recommended councillors vote to establish a working group with the support of the shire, the Gascoyne Development Commission, and the Space and Technology Museum to establish a strategy for the dish.



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