Carnarvon was full of excitement this month, as celebrated astronaut Buzz Aldrin flew into town to acknowledge Carnarvon’s important role in the Apollo moon landing and to officially open the new Space and Technology Museum. I was delighted to be invited and be part of the first Carnarvon Science Festival.
Those of us old enough all remember that significant day in 1969 when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed on the moon. What most of us didn’t realise at the time, was the key role that the Carnarvon Tracking Station played. In fact, it was the largest NASA space tracking station outside of the United States, and was used to transmit instructions and receive data from the Apollo missions.
Over 20 of the original tracking station staff were at the opening ceremony and it was a wonderful opportunity to finally acknowledge their part in this most significant event of space exploration history.
Coincidently, there is another interesting science link between Western Australia and the Apollo Moon landing of 1969. When the lunar samples (collected by Armstrong and Aldrin) were examined back on earth, scientists found three new substances, all believed to be unique to the moon. They were: pyroxferroite, armalcolite(a combination of Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins) and tranquillityite (after the Sea of Tranquility where it was found). In the 1970s, the first two substances were discovered on earth, but tranquillityite remained a mystery.
That is until last year, when Curtin University Professor, Birger Rasmussen, identified tranquillityite on earth for the first time. And where did he find it? - In dolerite dikes in the Pilbara. We know that Western Australia is full of ancient rocks, and there are many more treasures to be discovered in our vast state. I can’t wait to see what our scientists find next?
Whilst I was in Carnarvon, I also visited the Gascoyne Aboriginal Heritage and Culture Centre, built to preserve and communicate the history and knowledge of the indigenous people of the Gascoyne. I was fascinated by the impressive interactive display where visitors can select their topics of interest and view thousands of images donated by local residents and preserved by the centre.
At the centre, I learnt about how significant the night sky is to indigenous people, who were our first astronomers and who have been studying the stars and understanding their signals for thousands of years.
When looking at the Milky Way, indigenous people see the emu, Jangurna, shaped by the dark patches between the stars. In summer, the emu stretches high into the sky reaching for berries. But when Jangurna is crouching low, it is a sign she is nesting and that is the best time to collect emu eggs.
The Carnarvon Science Festival was a terrific couple of days, and I must thank the people of Carnarvon for their fabulous hospitality. The Space and
Technology Museum is now open, so make sure you pay it a visit the next time you are in Carnarvon.