America’s Apollo 11 moon landing gets all the attention, so in keeping with Balladeer’s Blog’s overall theme here’s a look at the six missions that followed that very first manned moon landing.
Command Module Yankee Clipper Pilot: Richard F Gordon, Jr
Lunar Module Intrepid Pilot: Alan L Bean
Less than four full months after Apollo 11’s successful mission the Apollo 12 crew provided a SECOND fulfillment of President John F Kennedy’s goal of landing men on the moon and returning them safely to the Earth.
The Lunar Module Intrepid touched down on the moon’s surface on November 19th, 1969 at 1:54am EST and lifted off to rendezvous with the orbiting Command Module Yankee Clipper on November 20th at 9:25am. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean was on November 24th at 3:58pm.
The Mission: The Yankee Clipper was struck by lightning during its ascent from the Earth, knocking out all power but the back-up systems successfully restored all operations to normal. Apollo 12 made a perfect touchdown at its predesignated landing area, already improving on the previous mission, which had been very slightly off-course.
After landing at the Ocean of Storms Astronauts Conrad and Bean had to contend with a much more powdery surface than the Apollo 11 crew had encountered. The lunar dust and powder clung to the Astonauts’ suits and nearly clogged vital portions of the high-tech outfits. The crew deployed a battery of scientific equipment, gathered 75 pounds of moon rocks – many green and tan – and retrieved portions of the nearby Surveyor craft, an umanned module that had landed on the moon in 1967.
Command Module Odyssey Pilot: John L Swigert (replacement for Ken Mattingly, who was grounded after exposure to German Measles)
Lunar Module Aquarius Pilot: Fred Haise
The Apollo 13 mission was launched on April 11th, 1970 at 2:13pm EST and for over two full days was pronounced “the smoothest flight of the program” with CapCom’s Joe Kerwin radioing James Lovell “We’re bored to tears down here.” Unfortunately on April 13th at 10:07pm, with the Odyssey still enroute to the moon, a still-unexplained explosion in the liquid oxygen tanks unleashed a disaster that added the expression “Houston, we have a problem” to our repertoir.
The Mission: For all intents and purposes the mission was scrapped after the explosion and getting the Astronauts home safely became the only objective. The explosion had caused the formation of a trail of debris and a cloud of escaping gases so large they were visible to astronomers throughout the world.
The long series of events that followed have been exhaustively covered in books, articles, films and documentaries so there is no need to rehash them in this article. Suffice it to say multiple jury-rigged devices and technical juggling ultimately resulted in a successful splashdown in the Pacific Ocean on April 17th at 1:07pm. Ken Mattingly, who never actually fell ill with the measles despite his exposure, worked in simulators at Mission Control to help devise many of the temporary fixes that saved the lives of the Apollo 13 crew.
Command Module Kitty Hawk Pilot: Stuart A Roosa
Lunar Module Antares Pilot: Edgar D Mitchell
The Apollo 14 mission was carried out under the burden of increased scrutiny from the failed Apollo 13 escapade. Apollo missions 18, 19 and 20, which were originally going to undertake prolonged and extensive exploration of the moon, had already been scrapped and word was in the political winds that any difficulties with Apollo 14 might well result in the cancellation of Apollo missions 15, 16 and 17 as well.
On January 21st, 1971 at 4:03pm EST the Apollo 14 mission was launched after a storm delay of 40 minutes. Once in space the Command Module Kitty Hawk experienced technical difficulties linking up with the orbiting Lunar Module Antares. Back on Earth the backup crew worked in the simulators and helped devise a solution involving a hard ram of the Lunar Module to ensure the necessary latches took hold.
The Mission: Once in lunar orbit the Antares‘ descent to the surface was held up because of an electrical short in the abort switch. A new computer program that bypassed the faulty abort switch was devised at Mission Control and transmitted to Edgar Mitchell, who reprogrammed the Lunar Module’s computer on the fly. The problems were not over yet, however, and as the Antares approached the lunar surface the craft’s landing radar failed to engage, almost necessitating a scrub until the now-universal tech support remedy of shutting the on-board computer off and back on resolved the glitch. Touchdown at Fra Mauro came at 4:18am on February 5th.
Shepard and Mitchell reported that the soil at Fra Mauro was so soft it now covered the landing pads of the Antares. Apollo 14 was equipped with a “rickshaw” of sorts to facilitate the gathering of rock and soil samples so the Astronauts were no longer limited by what they could carry in their own arms. The crew also set up various scientific sensors and detonated small explosive charges to feed the sensors data while, in orbit overhead Roosa extensively photographed lunar anomalies including the crater caused by a meteor impact that was mere weeks old.
On the second day of their lunar excursions Shepard and Mitchell attempted to reach the top of Cone Crater, which was formed billions of years earlier by massive meteoric impact. The sandy soil leading to the top of the crater prevented this but the Astronauts were still able to retrieve rock samples from near the time of the impact. As a light-hearted end to the Apollo 14 mission Alan Shepard drove a golf ball for an incredible (still-debated) length in the lighter lunar gravity.
Lunar liftoff was on February 6th at 1:48pm and splashdown came on February 9th at 4:05pm. Apollo 14 was successful enough to preserve missions 15, 16 and 17.
Command Module Endeavor Pilot: Alfred M Worden
Lunar Module Falcon Pilot: James B Irwin
The Apollo 15 mission was launched on July 26th, 1971 at 9:34am EST. The Falcon touched down at the foot of the moon’s Appenine Mountains on July 30th at 6:16pm. Endeavor orbited overhead while Worden scouted potential sites for future manned and unmanned missions to the moon.
The Mission: Apollo 15 had the lengthiest lunar visit of any mission to this point. Scott and Irwin were also the first Astronauts to drive around on an electric Moon Buggy aka a Lunar Roving Vehicle. The LRV traveled at 7 mph on flat surfaces, 11 mph going downhill. The Moon Buggy was a visual hit with the global audience but more importantly it extended the range the Astronauts could cover. Scott and Irwin were limited to a 6 mile radius from the Falcon, a limit imposed to ensure that they would still have sufficient power and air in their space suits to walk back to the Lunar Module if the Moon Buggy broke down.
Scott and Irwin deployed the usual scientific equipment and ran their own battery of tests over a much larger area than the previous missions could accomplish. In addition to excursions into the Appenine Mountains the Apollo 15 crew probed the Hadley Rille, a mile-wide gorge. Overhead Worden launched a satellite that would orbit the moon, another first for the Apollo project. The final actions of Scott and Irwin on the surface involved a ceremony commemorating the deaths of 3 Soviet Cosmonauts. The crew of Soyuz 11 died in a reentry accident in late June after orbitting the Earth for 24 days straight.
Apollo 15 lifted off the moon on August 3rd at 1:11pm and splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on August 7th at 4:45pm.
Command Module Casper Pilot: Ken Mattingly, who got the chance with Apollo 16 that he missed out on when he was replaced on the Apollo 13 mission.
Lunar Module Orion Pilot: Charles M Duke, Jr
Apollo 16 took to the skies on April 16th, 1972 at 12:54pm EST. The Orion set down on the moon at 9:23pm on April 20th, landing near the DesCartes Mountains in the area called the Lunar Highlands. No significant difficulties arose.
The Mission: Young and Duke were the second crew of astronauts to drive around the moon’s surface in a Lunar Roving Vehicle. Since the previous Moon Buggy had performed so well the Apollo 16 crew were permitted to drive as far away as 16 1/2 miles from their Lunar Module. More batteries of experiments were performed. The 213 pounds of rock and soil samples that the Astronauts collected enabled scientists to disprove many old and outdated notions about the moon and minimized the influence attributed to volcanic activity in the formation of features on the lunar surface.
The Orion lifted off the moon on April 23rd at 8:25pm. Like Apollo 15 before it this crew deployed a satellite to orbit the moon and as a new wrinkle Ken Mattingly did a spacewalk on the journey back to Earth. The objective of the spacewalk was to retrieve film from additional cameras that had been planted around the exterior of the Casper. Splashdown in the Pacific Ocean came at 2:45pm on April 27th.
Command Module America Pilot: Ronald E Evans
Lunar Module Challenger Pilot: Harrison H Schmitt
This final manned expedition to the moon was launched on December 7th, 1972 at 12:33am. This was the only after-dark launch of the Apollo Program. On December 11th at 12:20pm the Challenger set down in the Littrow Valley of the Taurus Mountain region of the moon.
The Mission: Apollo 17 broke several records set by previous Apollo missions. Those records included the longest manned lunar landing flight, the most and longest extra-vehicular activities on the moon and the largest haul of lunar materials – 243 pounds. Cernan and Schmitt deployed scientific instruments and explored the terrain on the third and final Moon Buggy, taking in enormous boulders, deep rifts and steep hills.
Liftoff from the moon took place on December 14th at 5:54pm and with the splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at 2:24pm on December 19th the Apollo Program came to an end. No other manned ventures have taken place to the moon or to other planets. Leftover equipment from what would have been the Apollo 18, 19 and 20 projects was converted to be used in Skylab and the later joint orbital missions by the U.S. and Soviet Union.
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