Jarntimarra Diary - Jennifer Laing


Woomera, South Australia
Jennifer Laing

The convoy of vehicles left Adelaide at 11.30 am to the stares of watching bystanders - JNT-1 was underway!

We stop for lunch 50 km from Adelaide, after one and half hours travelling, just long enough for Graham Mann, our robotics expert from Murdoch University in WA to do a short interview with BBC Radio 5. Appropriately, the name of the town is called Dublin!!

Finish up at Woomera around 7.00 pm - tired, hungry, but glad to be finally at our first overnight stop. Pitch tents, quick dinner under the stars and then the conversation moved on to the ideal composition of a crew going to Mars. How many people would you take, what backgrounds and qualifications would be optimum, and should people be chosen as individuals or as a team? One member of the party suggested self-selection i.e. a group of commanders could be chosen and then each would select a team around them. Fascinating conversation, followed by Jon Clarke discussing the next day's activities and schedule. We plan to spend some time in Woomera analysing an analogue site, and then head up to Coober Pedy, home of the famous 'Breakaways' - where the movie 'Red Planet was filmed!

We then received a briefing on the space history of Woomera, past, present and future, by local expert and identity Bruce Henderson, Range Safety Officer.

Woomera has a rich space and technology heritage, having been established in the 1940's as a missile range. The Nurrungar Deep Space Tracking Station (DSTS) or the 'golfball' as it was nicknamed by the group during their visit the next day, was used to track unmanned spacecraft such as Mariner IV in 1963/64, Mariner V1 & VII in 1969 and Mariner IX in 1971 - all missions to Mars. The DSTS was closed in 1999, and allied to the European Launch Development Organisation (ALDO) leaving town, has resulted in Woomera decreasing in size since its heyday in the 1960's.

Over port, Bruce regaled the group with stories of rocketry, including information about the forthcoming scramjet test by the University of Queensland and ASRI on 30 October, who have developed, manufactured and tested a free-flight scramjet prototype to gain and extend the knowledge of supersonic combustion technology. Scramjet powered vehicles promise a low cost alternative to conventional rocket technology to propel hypersonic flight vehicles. He also spoke of Woomera hosting the Japanese answer to the 'Concorde' - a supersonic transport vehicle, and the possibility that NASA will use Woomera as an emergency landing site for a crew return vehicle from the International Space Station.

Don't write Woomera off yet - it still has a space future.