On this day in history, Apollo 12 touched down on the lunar surface, allowing Astronauts Alan Bean and Pete Conrad to become the third and fourth men to step onto our nearest neighbor in space. Command Module pilot Richard Gordon remained in orbit during the EVA operations.
Where Apollo 11 saw the first steps in lunar exploration, quite literally, Apollo 12’s mandate was far more important in the greater scheme of things. While there were some shaky beginnings to the mission, caused by an electrical strike upon liftoff, but the mission was salvaged by the quick actions of the astronauts on. On November 19th, the lunar lander touched down in the Ocean of Storms, and saw the first success of the mission, a more accurate landing that what had been required of Apollo 11, where Neil Armstrong had manually flown the craft to its eventual location. In this instance, the craft was within 200 meters of their intended target.
Apollo 12’s landing zone was chosen because of its proximatey to Surveyor 3, a probe that had landed two years earlier, in 1967. Samples were taken from the probe to be brought back to Earth, and the Astronauts collected rock samples, in addition to sensors that were put into place to better determine some of the characteristics of the moon’s surface and environment – sensors that determines seismic events, magnetic fields and solar wind were put into place, which were designed to operate long-term.
NASA also sought to improve the quality of the footage that they shot on the moon by bringing along a color video camera – however, this was something that they weren’t able to carry out as the camera was pointed directly at the sun, disabling the camera and putting it out of commission.
After taking off from the lunar surface, the newly reunited crew remained in lunar orbit, taking pictures, and returned to Earth on November 24th, 1969, thus completing the 6th manned Apollo mission. The next mission, Apollo 13, took off in April of 1970, and was aborted due to an onboard explosion that terminated the mission, although the crew was returned safely.
One of the things that has been bothering me a little is the relative lack of interest in the missions that took place after Apollo 11 – aside from Apollo 13, the other missions were successes in that they reached, explored and returned to Earth safely, but not nearly as dramatically as the first steps on the moon, or a major accident. This is a trend that has largely continued through to the present-day – when naming space shuttles, Columbia and Challenger come readily to mind, and attract the most attention for their destruction, but how many people could name the remaining shuttles in the fleet, or tell me right now which one is in space at this very moment? (It’s Atlantis).
This is even more of a shame, because this mission contained some of the more interesting astronauts, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean. Bean is by far one of my favorite astronauts – he left the service after becoming an instrumental member (and Astronaut) for the Skylab program – another incredible mission on NASA’s part – and has since become a painter. His artwork is stunning, and well worth checking out.
To me, a moon landing is an incredible spectacle, where humanity has demonstrated a proficiency in technology that allows us to reach another body, and to tell us so much about our world and the next. Apollo 12 showed us that humanity’s first steps on the moon were not its last, and in true scientific method, repeated an experiment with the same results. It showed that we can return to the moon.