All Rights Reserved, 2000 - 2017
Created by: Torrence Royer Comments are welcome. Please leave a note in the public GUEST BOOK  or send a private Email to:  
Project Mercury, Zanzibar
About   15km   east   of   Stone   Town,   near   the   village   of   Tunguu,   lie   the   rusting   remains   of   an American   Space-Satellite   Tracking   Station.   This   Station   operated   in   Zanzibar   in   the   early   1960’s.   It was   able   to   track   and   communicate   with   all   the   Project   Mercury   space   missions.   It   functioned   first during   the   early   sub-orbital   launches,   when   American   astronauts   were   just   shot   into   space   in   a parabolic   arc   from   Florida.   But   it’s   real   function   started   with   the   later   orbital-missions;   because Zanzibar   lies   along   the   "Earth   Track"   of   those   satellites,   and   thus   Zanzibar   became   a   vital   link   in the   world-wide   tracking   and   telemetry   network   that   communicated   and   controlled   these   space craft. Today   the   site   is   hard   to   find   but   if   one   turns   south,   off   the   road   from   Stone   Town   to   the   East Coast,   just   before   it   reaches   Tunguu,   one   will   suddenly   come   upon   an   unusually   straight   road   that leads   to   what   older   locals   still   call   "the   Americani   Buildings".   Best   preserved   of   these   is   the   Butler- Aluminum   "Maintenance   Building",   that   once   contained   the   large   diesel   generator   used   to   power the   Station.   Also,   nearby   is   the   "Dormitory   Building".   The   technicians   used   that   building   only   when an   actual   mission   was   in   progress.   The   rest   of   the   time   the   Americans   lived   in   or   near   Stone   Town with   their   families   and   blended   in   as just   one   more   minority   in   cosmopolitan Zanzibar. The    high-tech    equipment,    and    the ‘reach   for   the   stars’   attitude’   intrigued many     young     Zanzibaris.     I     recall students    in    my    school    learning    the schedules   of   the   satellite   launches   and I   remember   young   people   would   lay   on the     beach     at     night,     on     schedule, looking   up,   waiting   for   the   spacecraft to   pass   overhead.   One   friend   who   had just    heard    about    this    phenomenon    joined    the    beach-watchers....    only    to    be    somewhat disappointed   by   the   small   slow-moving   star-like   object   that   he   witnessed.   He   expected   a   close   fly- by of a ‘flying saucer’ perhaps. Another   person   who   was   moved   by   the   future-looking   nature   of   the   tracking   station   was   the   soon to   be   famous   Farrokh   Bulsara.   After   the   revolution   he   moved   from   Zanzibar   to   Britain   and   became the rock star Freddy Mercury . Who knows if Mr. Bulsara was inspired to become Mr. Mercury due to this connection?
The   Zanzibar   tracking   station   was   part   of   the   first   real-time   global   communication   system   ever built.   Prior   to   1960   such   long-distance   communication   was   done   via   a   network   of   land   based   and undersea   telegraph   cables.   That   system   did   not   offer   the   reliability   or   real-time   capacity   that   was needed   to   track   fast   moving   orbital   spacecraft.   When   the   United   States   decided   to   launch manned   spaces   flights   it   soon   became   apparent   that   a   massive   project   was   needed   to   survey, equip,   and   build   a   network   of   tracking   stations   around   the   world.   Despite   the   need   to   obtain approval   from   seven   different   countries   to   build   these   sites,   all   the   tracking   stations   were   all constructed in only two years. Concerns   regarding   the   safety   of   the   astronauts   and   the   possible   need   to   control   the   spacecraft from   the   ground,   if   the   Astronauts   became   incapacitated,   established   the   number   of   sites   needed. It   was   decided   that   there   should   never   be   more   than   ten   minutes   ‘flying   time’   between   the control   capacity   of   one   ground   tracking   station   to   the   next.   That   decision   meant   that   a   total   of   16 tracking   stations   were   needed.   Two   were   to   be   on   ships   at   sea,   14   were   on   land,   half   of   them   in foreign countries. These sites were: 1. Cape Canaveral 2. Bermuda 3. Gran Canaria (one of the Canary Islands) 4. An Atlantic ship 5. Kano (Nigeria) 6. Zanzibar 7. An Indian Ocean ship 8. Muchea (in Western Australia) 9. Woomera (in Southern Australia) 10. Kanton (an island in Polynesia) 11. Hawaii 12. California 13. Guayamas (Mexico) 14. White Sands (New Mexico) 15. Corpus Christi (Texas) 16. Eglin AFB (Florida)
In   Zanzibar,   the   Sultan   was   one   of   the   first   world   leaders   to   declare   his   support   for   Project Mercury   and   he   dedicated   land   for   the   site   near   the   center   of   the   main   island   near   the   village named Tunguu. There   were   actually   two   Project   Mercury   sites   on   Zanzibar.   The   manned   site   at   Tunguu   was   the     ‘Receiver’    station    and    an    unmanned    site    near    the    east    coast    town    of    Chwaka,    was    the ‘Transmitter’ station. These   tracking   stations   were   operated   and   maintained   year-round   by   technicians   working   for   the Bendix   Radio   corporation,   an   American   company   that   had   a   contract   with   the   US   government. Bendix   operated   other   similar   sites   around   the   world   with   their   employees   rotating   between   these sites   occasionally.   NASA   employees   and   sometimes   an   astronaut   in   training   would   visit   these   sites, usually when there was a mission in progress. For   the   American   technicians,   Zanzibar   was   a   favored   assignment,   it   was   one   of   the   few   foreign sites   where   families   could   accompany   the   workers.   It   was   considered   a   safe   environment   and there had an American diplomatic Counsel on Zanzibar for over one hundred years. The   resident   Americans   and   their   family   members   numbered   between   50   and   60   individuals   at any   one   time.   They   lived   in   or   close   to   Zanzibar   City   and   commuted   from   there   to   the   Tunguu   site on   what   were   then   excellent   roads.   Some   of   the   workers   were   radio   aficionados,   they   made     shortwave   broadcasts   from   Zanzibar   and   even   donated   and   installed   radio   equipment   in   the   wards of the main hospital so that recuperating patients could listen to local news and music.
In   general,   the   Americans   maintained   good   relations   with   the   people   on   Zanzibar.   However,   in   the political   campaigning   that   led-up   to   the   1961   Zanzibar   elections   the   tracking   station   became   a political   issue.   The   ASP   party,   whose   symbol   was   the   Rooster,   argued   that   the   station   made   tiny Zanzibar   a   target   in   any   nuclear   war   between   the   western   and   eastern   blocs.   Graffiti   appeared   on buildings   showing   a   Zanzibar   rooster   pushing   an   American   cowboy   off   the   island.   Wild   claims were made that the Telemetry Towers could be used to direct missiles towards Zanzibar.. [History    has    documented    the    peaceful    non-military nature   of   Project   Mercury   but   at   the   height   of   the   ‘Cold War’   even   unfounded   fears   could   lead   to   real   anxiety   and stress   on   Zanzibar.   The   situation   was   not   helped   by   the fact    that    the    American    military    did    have    a    totally unrelated   operation   named   Project   Condor,   part   of   which involved    installing    ‘Space    Targets’    on    the    ground    in southwestern   United   States.   These   targets   were   used   for calibrating   cameras   carried   in   military   satellites.   No   such targets were ever built on Zanzibar.] There   were   some   deadly   riots   and   British   troops   were   brought   in   to   keep   order.   Overt   violence then ceased but political tensions simmered until the revolution occurred in early 1964. When   the   Zanzibar   revolution   erupted   there   was   fighting   throughout   the   Island.   Some   witnessed horrible   sights   but   no   American   was   harmed   on   the   day   of   the   rebellion.   However,   there   was   great uncertainty   about   what   would   happen   next.   It   was   decided   that   there   might   be   safety   in   numbers, the   Americans   therefore   organized   a   secret   convoy   of   vehicles   to   pick   up   all   the   technicians   from their   scattered   homes   and   bring   them   to   a   central   location,   that   location   was   the   Africa   House Hotel , near the city harbor. On   the   day   after   the   revolution   the   revolutionaries   agreed   to   allow   the   American   warship,   that had   just   arrived   in   the   harbor,   the   Destroyer   USS   Manley   (DD-940) ,   to   send   a   small   boat ashore   to   evacuate   the   American   citizens   and   some   others   who   also   worked   at   Project   Mercury.   A total   of   91   people   were   swiftly   and   safely   evacuated,   54   were   Americans   and   37   were   “allied nationals”.   (Some   say   a   Zanzibari   woman,   who   perhaps   had   dual   citizenship,   was   among   this   last group.   She   was   said   to   be   the   mistress   of   a   senior   American.   A   very   awkward   moment   occurred when she was put into the same evacuation lifeboat as that man and his wife.)
Not   all   Americans   left   on   the   USS   Manley.   Two   American   diplomats   remained,   and   they   helped organize   a   local   crew   to   seal   the   Project   Mercury   buildings.   Over   the   next   weeks   relations between    the    new    revolutionary    government    and    the    USA    continued    to    deteriorate.    Public demonstrations against the Mercury Station were allowed in the streets of Stone Town. The new Zanzibar Revolutionary government, under President Karume, then announced that the site must be permanently closed by end of April 1964. The Americans were allowed to dismantle the high-tech towers and remove most of the electronic equipment. The Tunguu site now stands abandoned, the rusted diesel generator engines hauled away, the main buildings slowly dismembered for their aluminum skin. Today   only   parts   of   two   concrete   pillars,   that   held   a   large   elevated   fuel   tank,   remain   to   mark   this location, where tiny Zanzibar once joined in the exploration of limitless confines of outer-space.
Photo taken as they off-load safely in Dar es Salaam.