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First encounters

Astronauts on the surface of the moon

Live TV - from the moon (July, 1969) : 'Tranquility Base - The Eagle has landed...'

When Neil Armstrong became the first man to step on the moon, on July 20, 1969, the human race accomplished its most spectacular technological achievement so far.

It was also a remarkable achievement for the Post Office's Goonhilly Earth Station in Cornwall, which was designated to act as Europe's receiving station for these historic television and radio broadcasts. Over the period July 16-24, Goonhilly received NASA's transmissions from the USA via the just-launched INTELSAT 3 and relayed them by microwave - not only to British stations but all over Europe as well.

The moon landing transmissions rank with the first satellite link-up with the USA in 1962 as the most significant broadcasts handled by Goonhilly. The station was the first to transmit by satellite a live television programme from Europe to the USA and the first to transmit colour television. It was also the first European earth station to pick up television transmissions direct from Australia and colour television direct from Canada.

Goonhilly Earth Station

Goonhilly Earth Station (1962) : ground control to everyone

Fenced off behind security wire looms the biggest satellite earth station in the world. Looking like a relocated space centre Goonhilly Earth Station sits with its 25 dishes at the tip of Cornwall.

Goonhilly simultaneously handles hundreds of thousands of international telephone, fax, video and data calls, alongside BT's four other Earth Stations. The site can handle 600,000 worldwide telephone calls simultaneously.

The dishes also transmit live television feeds all over the world. In fact, since opening in 1962, Goonhilly has probably helped the world share more amazing moments than anywhere else.

The very first satellite messages from Early Bird and Telstar, the Apollo 11 Moon landing in 1969 and the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, were all transmitted through here.

More recently Goonhilly has been expanded to handle international submarine fibre optic cables, making it the prime British link station to North America, Europe and the Channel Islands.

Sports journalist - phoning in results : William Pitfield

William Pitfield was born in 1921. His first experience with the phone was in the army during the Second World War using field telephones laid by the Signal regiment.

Having been demobbed, he became a journalist for a local newspaper in Dorchester during the 1950s, before working for some of the major London papers. During this period he began to use the phone in earnest.

Here he talks about how essential the phone became for filing copy through to the newspapers, and how he employed a runner to phone in football results at various times as a match progressed.

audio clip


Telephone - as far as the journalists side of it's concerned - a telephone was very much used of course and I used to telephone a lot of the news stories direct to London and the regional newspapers by telephone four maybe five, sometimes different papers, practically every day and this would take up to an hour or more of my time every day. And at the other end there would be a person called a copy taker who would take it down verbatim your story. Papers like Fleet Street had a large number of lines and large number of copy takers; there was never any delay because it was they couldn't afford delay because if you were phoning a story say about four o'clock in the afternoon that would be probably in the paper by about twelve o'clock at night, so there was a very strict time limit on it. Of course there were no sophisticated communications, so what I had to do was to employ a runner. In those days, in a football match for example you sent two or three pieces as the match was progressing. You would write it out as the match was going on, on a piece of paper, and then the runner would take it back to a telephone.

fun and games

Can you beat our games? Explode equipment to see what's inside, hear the changing sounds of telecommunications, see how telecommunications designs have changed over time or send an e-postacard.

what's on

The UK's first permanent gallery dedicated to the history of information and communication technologies opens in the new Information Age gallery at London’s Science Museum.

audio history

Take a trip down memory lane with extracts of the interviews which have been recorded as part of the Connected Earth oral history programme.

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