Tue Jul 23, 2019, 09:35 PM

Army Tank Radio & Chicken Wire - Eavesdropping on Apollo 11 on the Moon!

Apollo 11
Chris Graney

The nearly forgotten story of how a radio amateur successfully detected transmissions from the first men to land on the Moon.

In July of 1969 a ham radio operator and amateur radio-astronomer by the name of Larry Baysinger, W4EJA, accomplished an amazing feat. He independently detected radio transmissions from the Apollo 11 astronauts on the lunar surface. Fortunately, his accomplishments were recorded by Glenn Rutherford, a young reporter for the Louisville (Kentucky) Courier-Journal. “Lunar Eavesdropping: Louisvillians hear moon walk talk on homemade equipment,” sporting Rutherford’s byline, appeared in the Wednesday, July 23, 1969 issue of that paper — front page of section B, the local news section (see Figure 1).

Rutherford opened the Courier story with “Thanks to some homemade electronic equipment, including a rebuilt 20 year old radio receiver from an Army tank (see Figure 2) and an antenna made of spare pieces of aluminum, nylon cord and chicken wire (see Figure 3 and 4), a small band of Louisvillians was able to ‘eavesdrop’ Sunday (July 20) night on the American astronauts’ conversation directly from the moon.”

The story discussed how Baysinger recorded 35 minutes of conversation from VHF signals transmitted between astronauts Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins (he did not attempt to pick up the encoded S-band signals from the main Moon-Earth communication link).1 These 35 minutes included the time during which President Richard Nixon transmitted a message of congratulations to the astronauts.

Rutherford’s story briefly mentioned how Baysinger had been previously successful in constructing a device to detect radio signals from Jupiter and in tracking and reproducing pictures transmitted from Earth-orbiting satellites. It briefly described the antenna used for the lunar eavesdropping project — a fully steerable 8 × 12 foot “corner horn” — and it briefly discussed the amazing sensitivity of the receiver, which Baysinger specially modified for the lunar eavesdropping project. Rutherford finished the story with “Needless to say, the receiver worked to perfection Sunday night.”

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