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Working between the Soviets and Americans


The first picture of the surface of the Moon
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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I think it was 1966 the Russians sent another rocket to the Moon and this time we tracked it and it was quite late one evening. I was with JG Davis in the place where we were receiving the signals and suddenly the signal stopped. It was silence and I looked at JG and I said, 'Oh my goodness, the thing's failed'. As the words were being spoken, a new signal appeared, and JG said, 'Good heavens', he said, 'It's transmitting a photograph'. It was... it was one of these photograph machines which scanned the picture, so we phoned one of the daily newspapers, either the Daily Mail or the Daily Express, had they... could they possibly lend us one of their picture machines? And... and I'm... I'm very happy to say they did immediately and we connected this, and there was a picture of the surface of the Moon appearing.

Now, real drama, that was the next day, and by that time, I... I could scarcely move in the... in the control building, so I... I rushed out of... out of the... the dark room with this damp picture of the surface of the Moon transmitted by... by this lunic and it was all over the world's press almost immediately. Well, there was no... no mention whatsoever from the Soviet Union and I then got into great trouble from many colleagues in America for having what they called scooped this brilliant success of the Soviets. Now, the Soviets... Blagonravov, General Blagonravov was in charge and I met him quite soon afterwards and I expected to be reprimanded. Not... not a word. He said, 'That... oh, I see you were good enough to... to collect our photograph for you'. He said, 'But you know, unfortunately it was rather annoying from our point of view, the photograph you published was... was rather wrong. You see, it showed that the... the peaks, the rocks on the Moon were not the rocks that we photographed'. You see, what had happened is that the Russians had... were using a different picture recorder with a different thread form the English one and the photographs we published of the surface of the Moon showed the... the rocks had very sharp peaks, whereas they were in fact rounded, so that was the only reprimand other than thanks I ever got from the Soviets for... for that work.

Bernard Lovell (1913-2012), British radio astronomer and founder of the Jodrell Bank Observatory, received an OBE in 1946 for his work on radar, and was knighted in 1961 for his contribution to the development of radio astronomy. He obtained a PhD in 1936 at the University of Bristol. His steerable radio telescope, which tracked Sputnik across the sky, is now named the Lovell telescope.

Listeners: Alastair Gunn Megan Argo

Alastair Gunn is an astrophysicist at Jodrell Bank Observatory, University of Manchester. He is responsible for the coordination and execution of international radio astronomical observations at the institute and his professional research concerns the extended atmospheres of highly active binary stars. Alastair has a deep interest and knowledge of the history of radio astronomy in general and of Jodrell Bank in particular. He has written extensively about Jodrell Bank's history.

Megan Argo is an astronomer at the University of Manchester's Jodrell Bank Observatory researching supernovae and star formation in nearby starburst galaxies. As well as research, she is involved with events in the Observatory's Visitor Centre explaining both astronomy and the history of the Observatory to the public.

Tags: the Moon, Daily Express, Daily Mail, Soviet Union, J G Davis, Anatoli Blagonravov

Duration: 3 minutes, 13 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008