June 28, 2009

A Global “˜Moonbounce’ For Apollo 11

Radio amateurs from across the globe have been communicating this weekend using the "Ëœmoonbounce' technique as part of the commemoration of the Apollo 11 landing 40 years ago in July.

They were able to engage in very clean and in depth conversations, but radio communication is not as fluid and immediate as with a telephone. It takes the radio signals 2.5 seconds to reach the moon, which meant waiting five seconds to receive each reply.

The contact between the groups was initiated by science buffs in Australia and the United States a few months ago. The so-called 'Moonbounce' came to an end on Sunday in Australia after 24-hours of radio chat. Organizers are hoping that it will become an annual event.

"ËœMoonbouncing', is also referred to as Earth-Moon-Earth communications, or E.M.E. It requires a higher grade of ham-radio technology than what is used for typical government approved earth-bound communication. There are only 1,000 hams worldwide have "Ëœmoon-bouncing' capabilities. Event co-founder Robert Brand, who as a 17-year-old played a minor role in the Apollo missions by helping with telecommunications installations used by NASA in Australia, said the results were exceptionally clear.

There was "very little difference quality-wise" to some common radios, he said.

The moon's spinning and rough surface tend to disrupt the signals, so they are forced to endure the interference armed with only luck and quite a bit of experience.

The hundreds of amateur radio hams joined together from around the world using as many parabolic radio antennas as they could find in order to send their voices 239,200 miles to the Moon and back, Brand told Reuters.

The even was meant to coincide with Apollo 11's 40th anniversary on July 20, but they had to cooperate with the Moon's orbit. Since the Moon does not orbit directly around the Earth's equator, this was the most practical weekend for organizers to arrange.

Bill Anders, known for his photograph of Earth from space called "Earthrise", was also taking part in the event.

While most involved were amateurs, operators of about 20 large dishes in the United States, Australia and Europe agreed to participate, including a 85.3-foot dish at Mount Pleasant in Tasmania and a 147.6-foot dish at Stanford University in the United States.

"The signals go up from these dishes in a tight beam to the Moon. They actually hit the ground and at an atomic level 'shake' all the atoms on the surface of the Moon," said Brand.

"It is still taking place as we speak."

"It's the equivalent of climbing Mount Everest in amateur radio," said Joseph H. Taylor Jr., a Nobel Prize winner and retired physics professor from Princeton University who has written software to assist radio buffs in communicating using a weak signal. "It's possible, but only barely possible."