Rita’s dad ensured the moon landing went to air

MUCH fuss is made about Parkes Observatory and the contribution it made to space exploration, in particular the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing. 

But for one Kangaroo Valley resident, the story behind one of the largest historical moments in modern history remains shrouded in mystery.  

Rita Botha is the daughter of Peter David Knowell Botha, one of the engineers who transmitted the live images from space into living rooms all over the world.

Before the moon landing, Parkes Observatory was nominated to transmit the live telecast from space, however, according to Ms Botha, the location was not a suitable choice. 

“Dad told me Parkes was an unsuitable because of the high wind conditions,” Ms Botha said.

After Parkes lost the signal, it was Rita’s father who called out “Change frequency” to retrieve the images in the last 40 seconds of the telecast.

“I don’t know why Parkes had been nominated, they got all the credit, but it was Tidbinbilla complex which got the images,” Ms Botha said.

Tidbinbilla is home to the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex and is located on the outskirts of the city. 

Ms Botha’s father worked there as an engineer, after moving from the Woomera Space Project in South Australia.   

LUNAR LUMINARY: Rita Botha holds the plaque which was awarded to her father for his dedication to NASA following the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

LUNAR LUMINARY: Rita Botha holds the plaque which was awarded to her father for his dedication to NASA following the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing.

Dad brought home the film and showed it to us kids. It was exciting.

“He helped design Tidbinbilla and maintained it. He was a brilliant man, always designing patents,” she said. 

“After the landing, Dad brought home the film and showed it to all eight of us kids. It was exciting, it really was.”

Ms Botha said her father was highly educated and was awarded many war medals as well as a plaque from NASA for his dedication to the space project. 

“After the moon landing, Dad went and worked in the US at NASA for a period of time,” she said.

Ms Botha recalled a peculiar conversation she had with her father, just before his death in 2009.

“It was so odd. He said to me, ‘I could blow this whole [moon landing] thing wide open.’ I really have no idea what he meant,” she said.   

Ms Botha doubts she will ever find out the truth and wonders why Tidbinbilla never received the accolades it should have.

“It must be very hush-hush, otherwise people would have come out and said something about it by now,” she said.

“For me, there will always be a question mark, about whether it really happened or not.

“If he said something, you could believe him. You just wonder.”

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