How Cornish satellite 'Arthur' beamed the historic Moon landing to Europe (without a plan B)

  • Report by ITV News Wales and West of England Correspondent Rupert Evelyn

Those lucky enough to watch the Moon landings as they happened in 1969 marvelled in the technological accomplishment of the scientists and engineers who made it possible.

One of the greatest feats that day (or middle of the night as it was in the UK) was broadcasting the entire event live across the planet.

For millions of people in the UK and Europe the transmission was wholly dependent on a satellite dish and its operators in Cornwall.

Pip Greenaway and his colleagues at Goonhilly Earth Station, based on the Lizard peninsula's Goonhilly Downs, were on duty as Neil Armstrong set foot on the Moon.

It took approximately six to seven seconds for the pictures to reach Cornwall.

Due to a temporary satellite failure over the Atlantic in the days running up to the Moon landing, the huge satellite receiver at Goonhilly known as “Arthur” was pointing East as the broadcast from Houston came via the Pacific instead.

If that had failed then hundreds of millions of viewers would have missed out as there was no Plan B.

"If we'd messed up, there would have been millions of people disappointed," Mr Greenaway told ITV News.

Goonhilly will be hoping it plays an integral role in other future space operations.

"We believe the European audience was approaching 200 million."Goonhilly played its part and the millions watched mesmerised by the grainy pictures from the lunar landscape, mostly unaware of precisely how they were receiving them.

In the history of broadcasting it remains one of television’s finest hours.

Mr Greenaway said: "I think that the Moon landing was man's greatest achievement.

"And the actual broadcasting and the reception of the Moon landing at Goonhilly was Goonhilly's most important ever programme."

While many satellites have been made smaller thanks to new technology, satellites like the one at Goonhilly are being repurposed for future space explorations.

As the globe marks the 50th anniversary of the Moon landing, Goonhilly will be hoping it can play an integral role in showing the world space missions for another five decades.