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America successfully lands on the Moon


Working between the Soviets and Americans
Bernard Lovell Astronomer
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We... we also collaborated with NASA because the United... the United States Air force work on sending objects into space had been taken over by the newly formed NASA, National Aeronautical and Space Administration. It was extremely unpleasant being in the middle of this sandwich between the Soviets and the Americans. You must remember that at that time the Cold War was... was a very bitter one, and unknown to me, I did know that the Americans had launched an... an Echo 2 balloon, which they... which one could communicate by reflecting radio signals because at that time the problem of long distance communication still existed, as I mentioned earlier, because geostationery satellites did not exist.

Unknown to me, I think the meeting happened in Rome because then a delegation from Soviet Union and a delegation from America and they had agreed that they would communicate via the Echo 2 balloon from Washington to Moscow, but since there was no mutual visibility at any time between those two cities, they would use the Jodrell Bank telescope to receive their message from the Echo 2 balloon and then retransmit it to... to Moscow. I was informed of this arrangement by someone from London and I said, 'Well, I know absolutely nothing about this. I haven't been asked, but I'm quite happy to carry on if I can be told more about it', so we agreed to collaborate in this venture.

The day arrived when we were going to... I... I think we're now talking about... 1964, they arrived when we were, that evening, going to receive a message from transmitted... originating from Washington, transmitted in America to the Echo 2 balloon received by us at Jodrell Bank, and re-transmitted via the Moon to Moscow. About two or three hours in the afternoon before this event was due to take place, suddenly there appeared at Jodrell Bank an American army colonel and he said, 'You are on no account to proceed with that arrangement this evening'. And I said, 'Why not?' And he said, 'I'm ordered to instruct you not to proceed with that arrangement', and I said, 'Colonel', I said, 'We are an independent university establishment. We do not take our orders either from America, or directly from London, or from Moscow and we are intending to proceed with that experiment'. He said, 'In that case, I must ask you to receive a telephone call from London',

And quite a few minutes later, I had a telephone call from London, which I... from such an authority that I could not possibly disregard, and I had to conceede that we would not carry out that experiment. Well, I was very angry and so was John Davis, but a touch of genius, Davis said, 'Don't worry; we will transmit via the Moon to Moscow'. The Americans don't own the Moon, so that night we did not transmit any message from America. We transmitted our own messages to our colleagues in Moscow and that... that was highly successful. I need hardly say that this left the Americans with no alternative but to calm down and proceed with what was originally intended. I... it was not a pleasant period. It was a very exciting one and at least we were free from debt and we... we began to earn quite a few dollars from the Americans.

Now, I... that... that is really the end of the story. I would repeat that shortly after that, and particularly after the... the Russian success in photographing the Moon, and I remember the newspaper people telling me that oh, look, as soon as the... as soon as an American or Russian lands on the Moon, you'll be left in peace. Well, that did, in fact, happen after the American landing on the Moon, but until that time, which is many, many years later, we were deeply involved with the success of Soviet attempts. And I had, for other reasons, made visits to the Soviet Union and had been assured that they would send a man to the Moon when they could be absolutely certain of returning him safely to Earth.

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: Megan Argo Alastair Gunn

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.

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.

Tags: NASA, United States Air Force, National Aeronautical and Space Administration, Cold War, Rome, Soviet Union, USA, Washington, Moscow, Echo 2 balloon satellite, Jodrell Bank, London, the Moon

Duration: 5 minutes, 51 seconds

Date story recorded: January 2007

Date story went live: 05 September 2008