Bob Leslie

Bob Leslie was the first Station Director of Tidbinbilla – and later Assistant Secretary, American Projects Branch.


PM Menzies with Bob Leslie

At the opening ceremony for Tidbinbilla.

Australian Minister for Supply, Mr (later Sir) Allen Fairhall (left); Australian Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies (centre) with Station Director Bob Leslie (right).
19th March 1965.

Photo kept by Clive Jones, passed on by John Heath,
scanned by Mike Dinn.

Bob Leslie

On a sunny summer day, 7 February 1969, Ozro M. Covington and Dale W. Call from the Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland paid Honeysuckle Creek a visit.

From left: Willson Hunter (NASA Senior Science Rep in Canberra), Tom Reid (Station Director), Ozro Covington, Dale Call, and Bob Leslie (previously Station Director at Tidbinbilla).

Photo: Hamish Lindsay.

Bob Leslie was frequently called on to provide expert commentary for the electronic media. He was a commentator on ABC-TV (Australia) for the launch of Apollo 11, as well as on ABC Radio for the Apollo 11 lunar landing.

Listen to a 38 second (160kb) mp3 recording

– from ABC Radio at about 7:30am Australian Eastern Time, on Monday 21st July 1969. Bob discusses the timing of the start of the Apollo 11 EVA – and the likelihood that Australian tracking stations would provide the TV coverage. (with thanks to Dwight Steven-Boniecki.)

And here’s a link to a 90 minute audio recording made by Ray Lloyd, in which Bob Leslie speaks about the background to Australian / US space co-operation and the setting up of Tidbinbilla – (link to Mike Dinn’s pages).


See also this extract from “Uplink-Downlink” by Doug Mudgway


The Need for a Second Network

To support the more sophisticated missions of the 1965 to 1968 period, the DSN recognized the need to expand and improve its communications, mission, and network control capabilities. The two major lunar missions nearing launch readiness, Lunar Orbiter and Surveyor, would pave the way for the start of the Apollo program and would transmit data streams at thousands of data bits per second rather than the tens or hundreds of bits per second received from the Mariners and Rangers. The increased complexity of the spacecraft would require expanded and faster monitor, control, and display facilities.

For the first time, the DSN began to find that the simultaneous presence of several spacecraft on missions to different destinations created new problems in network and mission control. The vexing problem of DSN “antenna scheduling” began to arise as several spacecraft began to demand tracking coverage from the single DSN antenna available at each longitude. The difficulty of assigning priority among competing spacecraft whose view periods overlapped at a particular antenna site was to prove intractable for many years. The problem was exacerbated by competition between flight projects from NASA Centers other than JPL, each of which felt entitled to equal consideration, for the limited DSN resources. The DSN was placed in the impossible situation of arbitrating the claims for priority consideration. The regular “Network Scheduling” meetings conducted by the DSN often resulted in the establishment of priorities that were determined more by the dominant personalities in the group than by the real needs of the projects.

With all of these imminent new requirements in mind, NASA decided to embark on a program to construct a second network of DSN stations. Arguments as to where the stations were to be located were complicated not only by technical considerations, but by political and international considerations. There were already two stations at Goldstone, one at the Pioneer site and a second at the Echo site. Eventually, NASA decided to build two new stations, one at Robledo, about 65 kilometers west of Madrid, Spain, and the other at Tidbinbilla, about 16 kilometers from Canberra, Australia.

NASA looked to the Spanish Navy’s Bureau of Yards and Docks to design and construct the Robledo station. For its new facilities in Australia, NASA dealt with the Australian Government Department of Supply through its representative, Robert A. Leslie.

As an Australian foreign national, Robert A. Leslie played a major role in shaping the relationship between NASA-JPL and the Australian government, on whose good offices NASA depended for support of its several tracking stations in that country. With family origins in the state of Victoria, Australia, and an honors degree in electrical engineering from the University of Melbourne (1947), Leslie had worked on radio controlled pilotless aircraft for the military in both England and Australia for fifteen years before he encountered NASA. He was a high-ranking officer with the Australian Public (Civil) Service (an affiliation that he retained throughout his career) when, in 1963, he became the Australian government’s representative for NASA’s new deep space tracking facility being built at Tidbinbilla, near Canberra in southeastern Australia.

Bob Leslie

Bob Leslie (centre) around the time of his appointment
as Tidbinbilla Station Director.

Large, Larger.

This WRE photo MF63/23/26 is dated 20th August 1963.
From the Tidbinbilla archives, scan by Colin Mackellar.

Can anyone identify the others in this photo or where it was taken? Contact.


As might be expected, the success of a NASA venture in a foreign country depended to a large extent on the personalities of the people who were directly involved on each side of the international interface. The foundation for the success of what later became the Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex (CDSCC) was, in no small part, due to Bob Leslie’s personal ability to “get along” with people at all levels. In representing the Australian side of negotiations between NASA and JPL, Bob Leslie was firm but gracious, capable, and friendly. His unassuming “paternal” manner endeared him alike to counterparts at NASA, his colleagues at JPL, and his staff in Australia.

Along with a few key Australian technical staff members, Leslie spent a year at Goldstone assembling and testing the electronic equipment that would subsequently be reassembled at Tidbinbilla to complete the first 26-meter tracking station (DSS 42) at the new site. He was the first director of the new Complex when it began service in the Network in 1965. It was there that he established the procedures and protocols on which all future DSN operational interactions between JPL and the Australian stations would be based.

A few years later, in 1969, Leslie left the “hands-on” environment of the deep space tracking station to head the Australian Space Office, a branch of the Australian Government that, under various names and government administrations, would guide future expansion and consolidation of all NASA facilities in Australia. In that capacity, his charm, experience, and wisdom served the DSN well.


The Mars antenna 1969

Bob Leslie, at right, in front of the 64 metre DSS-14 at Goldstone.

From left: 1. unidentified, 2. unidentified, 3. Alan Sinclair (Aust. Dept. of Supply), 4. Dick Fahnestock (Canberra JPL Rep), 5. Tom Potter (JPL Station Director), 6. Bob Leslie (first Tidbinbilla Station Director).

Photo preserved and scanned by Michelle Sinclair.

Leslie’s build was stocky and solid, his appearance craggy, his attitude “laid back.” Cheerful, sociable, easy to talk to, and blessed with a good sense of humor, he was held in high regard by everyone he met, Australian or American. Tennis was his sport, fishing his hobby, and “do-it-yourself” home building his passion. In his younger days, he actually excavated the ground with shovel and wheelbarrow and single-handedly built the family swimming pool at his home in Canberra. Many a JPL engineer enjoyed a poolside barbecue at the Leslie home in the course of a technical visit to the station.

Robert Leslie retired in 1983 and died in Canberra, Australia, in 1996.

By mid-1965, the two new stations were completed and declared operational. The DSN then had two stations in Australia, (Woomera and Tidbinbilla), one in Spain, and one in South Africa. In addition, a permanent spacecraft monitoring station had been built at Cape Canaveral to replace the temporary facility with its hand-steered tracking antenna. Impressive as this growth was, still greater changes were in progress.

Uplink-DownlinkReproduced from pages 64–66 of the book Uplink–Downlink: A History of the Deep Space Network 1957-1997 (Washington, D.C.: NASA SP-2001-4227, 2002), by Douglas J. Mudgway.

With grateful thanks to Doug Mudgway for his permission to use this material.

Details of the book are available from the NASA History Office. It can be purchased, or freely downloaded as PDF files. The index PDF is here. (Note that to navigate to other parts of the book, you may need to have the Acrobat Reader plugin enabled for your browser.

The section containing the text quoted above is here.

A scanned version of the entire book is available at Google Books.

See also Doug Mudgway’s book, “Big Dish: Building America's Deep Space Connection To The Planets”