Tuesday, 22 June 2010


On Monday morning Mike discovered that his CPAP machine had stopped working.  An internet search revealed that ChemMart in Port Augusta carried the machines and after packing up we headed over to see if they could help. The staff was incredibly nice and accommodating and we were able to replace the CPAP and successfully avoid disaster (other than a substantial dent in the wallet). We're lucky that it happened before we had moved onto more remote areas where replacement would have been far more difficult.

Throughout Port Augusta I kept seeing references to it as the "gateway to the outback". As we drove along our surroundings started to look like what I'd imagined the outback would be like. No sooner did I ask Mike if we were "officially in the outback", that the car jostled as we rode over a cattle grid - on the highway! Moments later a huge road train appeared in front of us complete with a horrible stench and animals crapping over the sides of it. Yep, we were in the outback!

A couple of hours drive through beautiful country and we arrived in Woomera with plenty of time to have a good look around. We visited the Heritage Centre, the Rocket Museum, as well as the Outdoor Museum. Where else but in Woomera would you see disused Rockets displayed along the main streets?

Woomera is small town in the middle of arid nowhere with a big history. After the Germans bombed England during WW2 Australia went to great lengths to set up Woomera to be used as a launching site for Britain's Rocket, the Blue Streak. Workers would have went through hell working in horrible conditions. Woomera commonly reaches 50 degree temperatures (122 Fahrenheit) in the warmer months, not to mention the flies! You can imagine the disappointment when the British realized that the rocket program wasn't financially viable and canceled it. Luckily they saved the day by converting it to a satellite launcher and the testing at Woomera went ahead.

Woomera soon became a launching site for various other countries as well. There was a European joint effort at a satellite launch which involved Britain, Germany, France and Italy. The British, French and Germans each built a stage, and the Italians built the satellite. They attempted to launch three times, but unfortunately it was a complete failure due, in part, to considerable cultural and language differences.

The United States has a substantial presence in Woomera as well even when I'm not visiting :). The US Army had a surplus Redstone Rocket which they agreed that Australia could use. Thus, in 1967 Australia successfully launched the Australian sattelite WRESAT, making Australia the fourth country in the world to launch a sattelite behind the USSR, France and the USA.

NASA operated a Deep Space tracking station between 1960 and 1972, and the Defense Department operated a communication facility and testing facility at Nurrungar. An American military facility remains there today.

Woomera is still used for missile, blast and ballistic testing by Australian and other authorities. The range was once over 1700 kilometers long, but has now been reduced to an area about the size of England.

As I write this we are in Cooper Pedy, where we arrived this afternoon. More on that once we've had a chance to do some exploring.

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