Kianga man remembers waltzing with astronauts

Kianga's Tony Ross.

Kianga's Tony Ross.

Kianga's Tony Ross was only a child when he watched Neil Armstrong's historic first steps on the moon, pictured on a black and white television.

Little did he know he would one day play a significant role helping humans explore space.

Four years into his semi-retirement, Mr Ross celebrated 50 years since Apollo 11 by sharing his favourite memory of working at Orroral Valley, one of three tracking stations in the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex.

"The most memorable thing that happened for me was during the Space Shuttle program," he said.

In 1969, Mr Ross began work at the tracking station as a mechanical fitter.

"I worked on the big diesel-powered generators; there were four Caterpillar engines which were about 64L engines driving 750 kilowatt generators," he said.

Mr Ross had an important role in the first space shuttle mission in 1981.

"We were at the site all night from 7pm to 7am to monitor the equipment and make sure nothing failed and then to fix it if it did," he said.

The shuttle program was the fourth human space flight program carried out by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The shuttle transmitted audio and video signals to tracking stations as it passed near earth.

"It passed very quickly, about 5 or 6 minutes from horizon to horizon," Mr Ross said.

"We could all hear what they were talking about," he said.

At about 2am Mr Ross said American astronauts John Young and Robert Crippen gave a shout out to their "Aussie friends".

"As we were tracking the shuttle we heard it over the PA; John Young said "it's pitch black down there, we can't see you but have something for you"," Mr Ross said.

"He pushed the button on his cassette player and down through the speakers came strains of Waltzing Matilda.

"It was only a few bars, but it was something which made me really feel like a part of the team - it was like those guys were speaking directly to me.

"It never made the news, I never read about it afterwards."

When Orroral Valley closed, Mr Ross transferred to Tidbinbilla where he worked for 37 years and met his wife Ana.

He worked on a 26-metre antenna - the same antenna which received signals from the very first moon landing 50-years ago.

Ana and Tony Ross following Narooma News' moon landing feature articles each week in the lead up to the anniversary.

Ana and Tony Ross following Narooma News' moon landing feature articles each week in the lead up to the anniversary.