The Apollo 12 crew’s excursions on the Moon, 51 years ago

In celebration of the anniversary this week of the Apollo 12 mission to the Moon in November 1969, the science team for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) have created a wonderful animation showing step-by-step where and when Pete Conrad and Alan Bean walked during their two EVAs on the lunar surface.

That video is below. It highlights strongly the need of any future short-term mission to any planetary landing to have a vehicle on board. Conrad and Bean accomplished a lot during their two four-hour walks, but nowhere near as much as they could have accomplished if they could have driven about on their EVAs. In fact, in the 1960s NASA had already recognized this, and was to put a rover on the last three Apollo lunar landings.

Celebrating Apollo 12

The Apollo 12 landing site on the Moon
Click for the full resolution image.

Fifty years ago today Apollo 12 was launched, landing on the Moon several days later to become the second manned mission to land on another world.

To celebrate that achievement, let’s review a few of the mission’s high points. The image to the right, cropped and reduced to post here, shows that landing site, the lunar module Intrepid, the various tracks for the two moon-walks Pete Conrad and Alan Bean took, and the unmanned Surveyor-3 probe. The image was taken by Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter late in 2011 and released to the public in 2012. To really see some detail you will look at the full resolution version by clicking on the image. Or you can explore the landing even more thoroughly at the original release site.

First, there was Pete Conrad’s point blank landing. They wanted to land close enough to Surveyor 3 so that the two astronauts would be able to walk over to it during a spacewalk. He did this perfectly, bringing Intrepid down only 600 feet away. They were thus able to recover the probe’s scoop, camera, television cable, and other assorted parts. Once back on Earth the big discovery was that a single bacterium, Streptococcus mitis, had survived the journey from Earth and was still alive upon its return. Scientists theorized its survival occurred because prior to launch it had been freeze-dried during prelaunch vacuum tests.

Second, there were Pete Conrads’s first words upon stepping off the lunar module. As the third man to walk on the Moon and also one of the shortest Apollo astronauts, he won a bet with a French reporter, who did not believe he had the freedom to say whatever he wanted as his first words, by saying, “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small step for Neal, but it’s a long one for me!”

Third, the astronauts installed the second seismometer on the Moon, which functioned for eight years.

Fourth, they brought back 75 pounds of material, which showed that while the Ocean of Storms was a mare lava field like the Sea of Tranquility, it had formed 500 million years more recently.

Fifth and most important, Apollo 12 proved that the Apollo 11 landing was not a fluke, that the engineering behind the Saturn 5 rocket, the Apollo capsule, and the lunar module, was sound. With courage and determination and a little clever re-engineering, those vehicles had been capable of taking humans anyway in the solar system. It is a shame we never took advantage of that possibility.

Hat tip to Mike Nelson for reminding me to post this.

Astronaut Richard Gordon, 88, has died

R.I.P. Astronaut Richard Gordon, who piloted both a Gemini and an Apollo mission in the 1960s, has passed away at 88.

I described one of Gordon’s spacewalks during his Gemini 11 mission in 1966 as follows:

When he opened the hatch, both he and everything unfastened in the capsule was sucked toward space. Pete Conrad had to grab a leg strap on Gordon’s spacesuit to prevent him from drifting away. Later, Conrad had to pull him back using his umbilical cord. The arduous nature of the work caused both Gordon and his spacesuit to overheat, leading him to terminate the firs spacewalk after only 33 minutes.

On Gordon’s second and last flight on Apollo 12 he remained in orbit while Pete Conrad and Alan Bean went down to the surface, the third and fourth humans to walk on another world.

Bezos gives museum recovered Saturn V engines

Jeff Bezos today personally delivered to the Seattle Musuem of Flight the restored remains of two Apollo Saturn V engines that his company recovered from the ocean floor in 2013.

Over the course of two and a half years, the experts at the museum worked to stabilize the F-1 engine parts, halting the corrosion caused by the salt water. The engines were not restored, however. Rather they were conserved in their “as found” condition to preserve their full history, from the sky to the sea.

In the process, the Cosmosphere was able to reveal and research the parts’ serial numbers and identify the flight history for most of the large parts. The conservators were able to tie the components to the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 missions in 1969 and to Apollo 16 in 1972.

The Apollo 11 components will be donated to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington.

New images of Apollo landing sites on the Moon

The Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter team have released new images of the Apollo 12, 14, and 17 landing sites on the Moon. Below is a cropped image of the Apollo 12 site, showing the trails left by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean when they walked from their lunar module to Surveyor 3, an unmanned lunar lander that had soft landed there two years earlier. The full image shows some incredible detail.

Apollo 12 landing site