With the 50th Anniversary of the Apollo 11 – first Moon landing today, it was lovely to receive an email from an ex St Bede’s student Mike Dinn telling me of his incredible career and involvement with Apollo lunar missions 7-13.
Mike attended St Bede’s from 1944-1951, then he went on to do an electrical engineering degree at Bradford Tech. After graduating in 1955, Mike went to EMI Electronics in Hayes for a graduate apprentice working on airborne radar, before returning to Bradford in 1959 to join the Aircraft Equipment Division of English Electric. Mike has modestly said of his Apollo work that he “was in the right place at the right time” but the move began in 1960 with a three year contract to work on aircraft electrics system design for the Royal Australian Air Force based at Laverton near Melbourne, where he stayed on in the Aircraft Research and Development Unit, as civilian engineer in charge Flight Test Instrumentation. He then became Deputy Director of space tracking stations near Canberra; at Tidbinbilla in 1966; then at Honeysuckle Creek in 1967, in charge of operations, deep space and manned flight, including being actively concerned in Apollo lunar missions 7 to 13.
“During Apollo 11 I was Deputy Station Director at the Honeysuckle Creek Tracking station near Canberra, part of NASA's Manned Spaceflight Network. The station's role was to provide communications to and from the spacecraft - command, telemetry, voice, TV and tracking. There were two other similar stations in California and Spain, thus giving continuous coverage. For the near earth period of the mission, there were many other smaller tracking stations, ships and aircraft.
My particular role was to run the operations in real time. This involved planning, training and co-ordinating about 30 people in a team, and responding to ‘Houston’. The job was quite demanding, requiring many instant, accurate decisions, but very satisfying. The highlight of the mission was providing television of the first step on the moon, which was sent to the world. It is still the most used video clip ever.
The tracking stations tend not to get the acknowledgement they deserve, because when everything went well we were transparent to Houston and the astronauts, but without our contribution, there would have been no data (or voice) for Houston to use. In fact, if we were not ‘green’ at launch time there would be a scrub.”