The Dish: Australia’s Most Famous Radio Telescope Added to Heritage List

the dish satellite heritage
Image: Roadshow Entertainment

Australia’s most beloved radio telescope and the heart of Australian comedy, The Dish, has been added to the National Heritage List decades after it helped humans land on the moon.

The CSIRO’s Parkes Observatory, known colloquially as The Dish, will be the 118th entry to the National Heritage List, joining the ranks of Australia’s most iconic attractions, including the Great Barrier Reef and the Sydney Opera House.

The federal environment minister, Sussan Ley, announced the Dish’s addition to the list would serve to recognise the accomplishments of the country’s finest achievements in the science and engineering sector.

“The role of Parkes Observatory as a ground station (along with the NASA site at Honeysuckle Creek) in the 1969 Apollo 11 mission moon landing to a global audience of 530 million people, showcases a world of Australian science technology and engineering design,” Ley said in a media release.

“Along the way it has also shone a unique light on the role of rural Australia and its contribution to scientific discovery.”

The Dish, located in Parkes in New South Wales’ central-west, began operations back in 1961, according to the CSIRO, and measures in at 64 metres in diameter. It’s best known for its role in assisting NASA in its attempts to get humans to the moon. During the 1969 Apollo 11 mission, The Dish received the voice and video signals from the first men on the moon, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, and helped broadcast it to the world.

Despite its age, the radio telescope has received a number of improvements over the decades and continues to function as one of three key dishes used by the Australia Telescope National Facility. In fact, it’s responsible for detecting around half of the more than 2,000 known pulsars — rapidly spinning neutron stars.

In 2000, lauded Australian comedy writer, Rob Sitch, released a film in its honour, though the story took certain liberties.

While the The Dish’s Parkes team played an integral part of NASA’s Apollo 11 mission as the film showed, it wasn’t the only Australian facility to provide support.

The CSIRO provided a handy breakdown of the Sam Neill-fronted film’s creative storytelling of the events, including the omission of crucial broadcasting work by NASA’s Honeysuckle Creek, near Canberra, as well as other facilities around the country.

Sadly, the real-life team at Parkes also did not play a game of cricket on The Dish like the pack of galahs did in the film.