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On the current Starlink mission as the 2nd stage passed over the Indian Ocean I heard mention of contact with a ground station at Diego Garcia. Checking that article I found the subsection Space Shuttle following the section on the emergency landing site on the atol. It says:

Space Shuttle

The island was one of 33 emergency landing sites worldwide for the NASA Space Shuttle. None of these facilities was ever used throughout the life of the shuttle program, but were used during the Apollo Program.

How was an emergency landing site at Diego Garcia (or any of the emergency landing sites) used during the Apollo program? I wouldn't be surprised if computers or a communications ground station there was used, but I don't see how landing sites would come into play.


Diego Garcia landing strip at 01:44 seen in a stunning video stream from space!

Discussed further in Hovering Carbonite! Why do these satellite videos of Earth appear to be made from a geostationary location?

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    $\begingroup$ I think the answer is "it wasn't" - the WP article seems to have originally just said it was an emergency landing site for Shuttle, and then someone tacked on a confused comment about Apollo at the end. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Jan 21 at 10:57
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrew that does seem to make sense; perhaps the site was used for tracking and communications for Apollo. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 21 at 11:05
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrew consider writing it up as an answer? I think it's pretty conclusive. $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 26 at 15:17
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    $\begingroup$ and done! I went back to the press kits to try and find something a bit more informative. Seems there was an Indian Ocean contingency early on, but it was operating out of Mauritius. $\endgroup$
    – Andrew
    Jan 27 at 18:49
  • $\begingroup$ @Andrew Interesting, thanks! $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 27 at 18:50
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Not the most helpful answer, but I think this is just a bit of a garbled claim in WP. A couple of years ago it stated:

The island was one of 33 emergency landing sites worldwide for the NASA Space Shuttle.[144] None of these facilities were ever used throughout the life of the shuttle program.

The mention of Apollo was added with a slightly confusing edit summary a few months back. I've now taken it back out...

More prosaically, as @PearsonArtPhoto notes, no Apollo flights ever used the Indian Ocean area for splashdowns. However, it was identified as a potential backup landing area. The Apollo 10 (p 23), and 11 (p 64) press kits identify "planned recovery lines" for lunar flights in the West Pacific, Mid-Pacific, East Pacific, two in the North and South Atlantic, and one in the Indian Ocean around 65E. For each mission, it seems that the Mid-Pacific was designated as primary, and one or two as alternates. By Apollo 12 (p 27), they were not listing details of recovery lines other than the backup.

There is a note about aircraft positioning which suggests they were all provisionally covered in some capacity - the Apollo 10, 11, and 12 missions all mention a C-130 based on Mauritius. This presumably meant that there was a minimal level of cover for the Indian Ocean landing area, but not operating out of Diego Garcia. This strongly suggests it had no role to play in the Apollo recovery plans.

By Apollo 13 (p 44), they had cut down the number of support aircraft to five bases, versus seven or eight before, and there was no longer an Indian Ocean presence at all, just west Pacific and Atlantic. The same was true for Apollo 14 and 15 (when it went down to four bases), and for 16 and 17 they didn't even mention it. It looks like the Indian Ocean was seen as a possible contingency early on, and abandoned as they grew more confident. But even at that point, Diego Garcia does not seem to have been used at all.

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I have looked at every splashdown of a spacecraft, none of them was ever anywhere near Diego Garcia. It might have been staffed for some attempts, in particular Apollo 13 once considered a splashdown in the Indian Ocean, where this would have likely been a prime spot for recovery. At best it was a spot that was considered essential for recovery in the event of an in flight abort, but not ever really used, although I can't find reference to it.

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    $\begingroup$ Fun fact: Exactly one mission has splashed down in the Eastern hemisphere, with the exception of an accidental lake landing by a Soyuz capsule. $\endgroup$
    – PearsonArtPhoto
    Jan 26 at 15:35
  • $\begingroup$ I hope there weren't any crewed mission landings in the Western hemisphere what accidentally landed on land! :-) $\endgroup$
    – uhoh
    Jan 26 at 15:42

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