Muchea

A small farming community north of Perth. In the 1960s the town played hoast to a NASA Space Tracking Station.

Muchea Tracking Station

Established in 1960 and built specifically for NASA's Project Mercury, Muchea Tracking Station was Station No. 8 of 14 sites around the world used throughout the project.

Because of its position, close to the antipodes of Cape Canaveral, it was also selected to have a command facility. Information about the range, bearing and elevation of the spacecraft was automatically relayed to the Goddard Space Flight Center by teleprinter.

During each mission a NASA team consisting of two flight controllers and a flight surgeon were sent to Muchea. The Senior Flight Controller, usually another astronaut, acted as capsule communicator (CAPCOM).

John Glenn and Friendship 7

Muchea Communications Technician Gerry O'Connor became the first Australian to speak with an astronaut on 20 February 1962, when he contacted Col. John Glenn aboard Friendship 7 on his first pass over the West Australian coast. A small plaque has been installed on the spot occupied by the Communications Technician's console which reads: "This plaque is to mark the spot where an Australian first spoke to a space traveller".

After three years of training, John Glenn rocketed into space aboard the Mercury capsule Friendship 7 to become the third American in space and the first to orbit Earth. The historical flight was no easy feat. At the end of his first orbit, a yaw attitude jet clogged, forcing Glenn to abandon the automatic control system and use the manual electrical fly-by-wire system. It was a significant coup for the United States of America. With this first orbital flight, America had finally caught up to the Soviet Union's Yuri Gagarin.

In 4 hours and 56 minutes, John Glenn circled the globe three times, reaching speeds of more than 17,000 miles per hour. The successful mission concluded with a splashdown and recovery in the Atlantic Ocean, 800 miles southeast of Bermuda. Glenn instantly became a hero. President John Kennedy awarded him the Space Congressional Medal of Honor. Schools and streets across the country were named after him. And a ticker tape parade in New York City celebrated his mission.

A total of six missions were supported by the Muchea Station. Muchea was closed in February 1964, after the end of the Mercury Project. It was replaced by the Carnarvon Tracking Station for the Gemini and Apollo projects. Although the Muchea Tracking Station no longer exists, the Shire of Chittering has erected a display about its history. The display is located next to a rotunda in John Glenn Park (bounded by Brand Highway and Steer, McKenzie and Archibald Streets) adjacent to the railway crossing.

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Historic photos of the Muchea facility: Hamish Lindsay


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Where is it?

57 km north of Perth and 13 km from Bullsbrook, the nearest town


Air Crash Tragedy

On the evening of Monday 31 July 1961, four Australians died in a tragic accident relating to the station. They were part of a simulation team calibrating the Mercury Tracking Stations at Muchea and Woomera and had spent the day flying their C47 Dakota in a pattern around the Muchea station.

The aircraft had been fitted out with Mercury capsule equipment supplied by NASA. The purpose was to simulate a Mercury spacecraft crossing the sky, so that tracking station equipment and procedures could be tested prior to an actual space mission.

Shortly after leaving RAAF Pearce en route to base at Edinburgh, South Australia, they clipped trees in the nearby Darling Ranges, and crashed.

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Brief history

The town's name is derived from the Aboriginal word "Muchela", a name first recorded by a surveyor in 1845 when surveying a property for George Fletcher Moore. He did not record the word or its meaning in his published vocabulary. When a railway siding was opened between 1892 and 1898, the "L" was accidentally dropped when the Midland Railway authorities were preparing the timetable. The sign writer copied the timetable error onto the railway station name board, thus unwittingly changing the name a district.

The origins of Muchea lay in the establishment of market gardens producing fresh vegetables for the metropolitan area. The main attraction at the time was the easily tillable flatter and sandy landform with an abundance of underground water supplies. This also applied to the existence of a dairy in the area.

Muchea also had a timber industry and although the mill location is vague, there are still some of the old timber workers’ cottages in the town as a reminder of the past activities associated with this industry.

In 1903 the government surveyed some small farm lots at the siding, and the townsite of Muchea was gazetted in 1904.

Muchea's most recent claim to fame is its Space Tracking Station, established in 1960 as part of NASA's Project Mercury.

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