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Dishing up a moon landing from Down Under

Near a small town in eastern Australia, a huge radio telescope explores space and the travels of spacecraft. During a recent trip down under, CNET stopped by.

As the four stamps in my passport can attest, Australia is my travel destination of choice.

The only problem is that with such an immense place, even a two-week trip will show you only a corner of the country. So when an Aussie friend suggested that during a recent visit, I take a road trip to the small town where he was born, I jumped at the chance. And when I learned that the town was Parkes, I got even more excited.

Located 358 kilometers (222 miles) west of Sydney, Parkes is famous in astronomical (and some limited cinematic) circles for its enormous radio telescope. Completed in 1961, "the dish" has made huge discoveries in the exploration of space and served a very vital role in bringing images of the Apollo 11 moon landing to Earth.

Astronomy hardly is a hobby of mine, but I learned about the Parkes Radio Telescope after seeing the 2000 film "The Dish" (you love a country, you also love its films). Although the movie fictionalized the events to a degree, it was a compelling tale, so I had to see the facility for myself.

Unfortunately, my timing was a bit off, as I missed the dish's official 50th-birthday event by a week. Also, since I visited on a weekend, I couldn't get an official tour. Yet even when you gape at it just from the visitor's park, the enormous dish towering over the countryside is an impressive sight.