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Eavesdropping on the moon, circa 1969
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In July, 1969, a ham radio operator named Larry Baysinger, from Louisville, KY, used a 20-year old radio from an army tank and a homemade folded dipole antenna array to listen to the Apollo 11 astronauts on the moon. This page is an archive with the original newspaper piece, photos, PDFs of a couple of radio hobby mags and books of the time, and a sort of where are they now update. MP3 of Baysinger’s recordings of the audio are also there. Fascinating stuff.

Lunar Eavesdropping in Louisville, Kentucky

5 thoughts on “Eavesdropping on the moon, circa 1969

  1. This is so cool! I’d never heard of this – a fascinating story! I especially love that he discovered that nothing was edited out before hitting the public feed. Cool! :)

  2. The problem with this is why wasn’t it covered in the amateur radio magazines at the time? There was certainly no major article. I have a vague memory of reading some filler about someone hearing something and it turned out to be some intermediate level (like from the Command Module rather than from the actual moon).

    Space was covered in the ham radio magazines. When Sputnik went up, it could be heard easily because it was in the shortwave range, so no fancy equipment was needed. There was a group at a school in England that was well known for tracking satellites as they went up, I seem to recall they were a source of information about new Soviet satellites for a while.

    “Popular Electronics” had small column for a while in the early sixties about the frequencies of satellites, and even ran an article about building a converter to receive the 136Mhz range that was later used by some.

    Amateur Radio got into space early, with OSCAR 1 going up in December of 1961, hitching a ride on a rocket that was used to launch one main satellite (and thus introducing the notion of non-government satellites, the notion of small satellites, and the notion of using one rocket for multiple launches, it got so crowded that it becomes harder and harder as the years go by to find space to launch an amateur satellite).

    “CQ” magazine had a space column for years, starting in the late fifties or early sixties, reporting on the new satellites as they went up.

    That page lists a couple of articles in “CQ” in 1969 about the communication systems used for the Apollo program, and in the same issue as the second one, there was an article by Frank Jones about building a converter for the 200MHz range that was supposed to be used for some of the communication.

    But I don’t recall anyone having success at that time, at least as reported by the ham magazines.

    Later, some implemented some quite complicated receiving systems, and that was documented in several articles in “QST” in the early seventies. One of the problems was not just the weak signals, but no real way to test the system until there was a trip to the moon, and then there wasn’t much time to adjust things. I seem to recall there was some success with the later trips to the moon, but even then I can’t remember if it was directly from the moon or via the Command Module that acted as a repeater.

    It’s worth adding that there was a project back then to put an amateur radio repeater on the moon. It was never clear how far along the project got, or whether NASA would have made room for it, but when the Apollo program was cut short, there was no hope for the project.

    So yes, there was definite interest in hearing the signals from the moon, and certainly some prepared for trying to receive it, and more than just one guy. But one would have to dig further to get the full picture and results.

    Michael

  3. One of the challenges that hams had back then who wanted to listen to the Apollo missions was that the frequencies used were way up in the 2Ghz part of the radio spectrum. Back then 2Ghz equipment was rare, expensive and difficult to adjust. That certainly tempered the enthusiasm of the average ham radio enthusiast! However there were indeed some stories published on how to do it and the frequencies to tune in to.

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Gareth Branwyn is a freelance writer and the former Editorial Director of Maker Media. He is the author or editor of over a dozen books on technology, DIY, and geek culture. He is currently a contributor to Boing Boing, Wink Books, and Wink Fun. And he has a new best-of writing collection and “lazy man’s memoir,” called Borg Like Me.

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