Launched east from Cape Canaveral at about 30 degrees north latitude, the first few orbits have an opportunity to pass over Australia because it's big and roughly antipodal, especially as the Earth rotates by about 11 and 33 degrees after 1/2 and 3/2 orbits.

There is certainly quite a substantial history of radio communications support for Apollo and earlier crewed space missions and even a movie! The Dish (IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes)


  1. When was the first time there was communications of any kind between a spacecraft and a ground station in Australia?
  2. When was the first time there was voice communications? 3 Who was the first person to speak to an astronaut from Australia?


1 Answer 1


In March 1961, the NASA tracking station at Muchea (31°36′12.24″S 115°55′49.80″E), in Western Australia became operational. It was station 8 of 14 of the network NASA had at the time. It was estalished for the Mercury program. It closed in February 1964 and was replaced by the tracking station at Carnarvon, Western Australia. Between 1966 and 1975 the Carnarvon Tracking Station was assisted by OTC Satellite Earth Station, at another location near Carnarvon - OTC was the Overseas Telecommunications Commission.

During the first two sub orbital flights of the Mercury program, flown by Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom, Muchea was not involved. It first became involved in the Mercury program with Mission MA4, launched September 13, 1961, which was the first orbital test flight of the Mercury program. It did not have a crew. It was also involved with Mission MA5, launched November 29, 1961, which was crewed by Enos the chimpanzee. The flight controller at Muchea was Wally Schirra.

When the spacecraft reached Muchea, Australia, high thruster signals and capsule motion excursions were detected. Other data indicated that the 34° orbit mode was being maintained. When the MA-5 crossed the tracking station at Woomera, Australia, attitude control problems were not detected, so earlier reports were discounted

During Mission MA6, flown by John Glenn,

Muchea Communications Technician Gerry O'Connor became the first Australian to speak with an astronaut on 20 February 1962, when he contacted John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 on his first pass over the West Australian coast.

The flight controller for John Glenn's flight was Gordon Cooper.

In the picture of the inside of the Muchea Station, Gerry O'Connor is seated in the far right of the picture, in the Control Area. The foreground was the Acquisition Area.

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A better picture of Gerry O'Connor.

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Audio of the flight over Muchea, run time is 13 minutes 39 seconds.

00'01" Muchea’s Comm Tech, Gerry O’Connor is just audible at the spacecraft as he calls to establish contact.

00'14" Not realising that Muchea is calling, Glenn transmits in the blind, and describes his night observations.

Audio 2 of the flight, 25:36 to 26:10 Muchea 1st orbit, Muchea Comm Tech (Gerry O’Connor) calls Friendship 7

For Scott Carpenter's flight, in Mission MA7, Deke Slayton, who later became manager of the astronaut office after becoming disqualified from flight due to atrial fibrillation, was the flight controller at Muchea.


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