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[The New Yorker] Alan Bean Plus Four
« dnia: Maj 26, 2018, 23:21 »
Alan Bean Plus Four
By Tom Hanks October 27, 2014

Travelling to the moon was way less complicated this year than it was back in 1969, as the four of us proved, not that anyone gives a whoop. You see, over cold beers on my patio, with the crescent moon a delicate princess fingernail low in the west, I told Steve Wong that if he threw, say, a hammer with enough muscle, said tool would make a five-hundred-thousand-mile figure eight, sail around that very moon, and return to Earth like a boomerang, and wasn’t that fascinating?

Steve Wong works at Home Depot, so has access to many hammers. He offered to chuck a few. His co-worker MDash, who’d shortened his long tribal name to rap-star length, wondered how one would catch a red-hot hammer falling at a thousand miles an hour. Anna, who does something in Web design, said that there’d be nothing to catch, as the hammer would burn up like a meteor, and she was right. Plus, she didn’t buy the simplicity of my cosmic throw-wait-return. She is ever doubtful of my space-program bona fides. She says I’m always “Apollo 13 this” and “Lunokhod that,” and have begun to falsify details in order to sound like an expert, and she is right about that, too.

I keep all my nonfiction on a pocket-size Kobo digital reader, so I whipped out a chapter from “No Way, Ivan: Why the CCCP Lost the Race to the Moon,” written by an émigré professor with an axe to grind. According to him, in the mid-sixties the Soviets hoped to trump the Apollo program with just such a figure-eight mission: no orbit, no landing, just photos and crowing rights. The Reds sent off an unmanned Soyuz with, supposedly, a mannequin in a spacesuit, but so many things went south that they didn’t dare try again, not even with a dog. Kaputnik.

Anna is as thin and smart as a whip, and driven like no one else I have ever dated (for three exhausting weeks). She saw a challenge here. She wanted to succeed where the Russians had failed. It would be fun. We’d all go, she said, and that was that, but when? I suggested that we schedule liftoff in conjunction with the forty-fifth anniversary of Apollo 11, the most famous space flight in history, but that was a no-go, as Steve Wong had dental work scheduled for the third week of July. How about November, when Apollo 12 landed in the Ocean of Storms, also forty-five years ago but forgotten by 99.999 per cent of the people on Earth? Anna had to be a bridesmaid at her sister’s wedding the week after Halloween, so the best date for the mission turned out to be September 27th, a Saturday.

Astronauts in the Apollo era had spent thousands of hours piloting jet planes and earning engineering degrees. They had to practice escaping from launchpad disasters by sliding down long cables to the safety of thickly padded bunkers. They had to know how slide rules worked. We did none of that, though we did test-fly our booster on the Fourth of July, out of Steve Wong’s huge driveway in Oxnard, hoping that, with all the fireworks, our unmanned first stage would blow through the night sky unnoticed. Mission accomplished. That rocket cleared Baja and is right now zipping around the Earth every ninety minutes and, let me state clearly, for the sake of multiple government agencies, will probably burn up harmlessly on reëntry in twelve to fourteen months.

MDash, who was born in a sub-Saharan village, has a super brain. In junior high, with minimal English skills, he won a science-fair Award of Merit with an experiment on ablative materials, which caught fire, to the delight of everyone. Since having a working heat shield is implied in the phrase “returning safely to Earth,” MDash was in charge of that and all things pyrotechnic, including the explosive bolts for stage separation. Anna did the math, all the load-lift ratios, orbital mechanics, fuel mixtures, and formulas—the stuff I pretend to know, but which actually leaves me in a fog.

My contribution was the Command Module—a cramped, headlight-shaped spheroid that was cobbled together by a very rich pool-supply magnate, who was hell-bent on getting into the private aerospace business to make him some big-time nasa cash. He died in his sleep just before his ninety-fourth birthday, and his (fourth) wife/widow agreed to sell me the capsule for a hundred bucks, provided I got it out of the garage by the weekend. I named the capsule the Alan Bean, in honor of the lunar-module pilot of Apollo 12, the fourth man to walk on the moon and the only one I ever met, in a Houston-area Mexican restaurant, in 1986. He was paying the cashier, as anonymous as a balding orthopedist, when I yelled out, “Holy cow! You’re Al Bean!” He gave me his autograph and drew a tiny astronaut above his name.

Since four of us would be a-comin’ round the moon, I needed to make room inside the Alan Bean and eliminate pounds. We’d have no Mission Control to boss us around, so I ripped out all the Comm. I replaced every bolt, screw, hinge, clip, and connector with duct tape (three bucks a roll at Home Depot). Our privy was a shower curtain, for privacy. I’ve heard from an experienced source that a trip to the john in zero gravity requires that you strip naked and give yourself half an hour, so, yeah, privacy was key. I replaced the outer-opening hatch and its bulky lock-evac apparatus with a steel-alloy plug that had a big window and a self-sealing bib. In the vacuum of space, the air pressure inside the Alan Bean would force the hatch closed and airtight. Simple physics.

Announce that you are flying to the moon and everyone assumes you mean to land on it—to plant the flag, kangaroo-hop in one-sixth gravity, and collect rocks to bring home, none of which we were going to do. We were flying around the moon. Landing is a whole different ballgame, and as for stepping out onto the surface? Hell, choosing which of the four of us would get out first and become the thirteenth person to leave boot-prints up there would have led to so much bad blood that our crew would have broken up long before T minus ten seconds and counting.

Assembling the three stages of the good ship Alan Bean took two days. We packed granola bars and water in squeeze-top bottles, then pumped in the liquid oxygen for the two booster stages and the hypergolic chemicals for the one-shot firing of the translunar motor, the mini-rocket that would fling us to our lunar rendezvous. Most of Oxnard came around to Steve Wong’s driveway to ogle the Alan Bean, not a one of them knowing who Alan Bean was or why we’d named the rocket ship after him. The kids begged for peeks inside the spacecraft, but we didn’t have the insurance. What are you waiting for? You gonna blast off soon? To every knothead who would listen, I explained launch windows and trajectories, showing them on my MoonFaze app (free) how we had to intersect the moon’s orbit at exactly the right moment or lunar gravity would . . . Ah, hell! There’s the moon! Point your rocket at it and put on a show!

Twenty-four seconds after clearing the tower, our first stage was burning all stops, and the Max-Q app ($0.99) showed us pulling 11.8 times our weight at sea level, not that we needed iPhones to tell us this. We . . . were . . . fighting . . . for breath . . . with Anna . . . screaming . . . “Get off . . . my chest!” But no one was on her chest. She was, in fact, sitting on me, crushing me like a lap dance from an offensive lineman. Kaboom went MDash’s dynamite bolts, and the second stage fired, as programmed. A minute later, dust, loose change, and a couple of ballpoint pens floated up from behind our seats, signalling, Hey! We’d achieved orbit!

Weightlessness is as much fun as you can imagine, but troublesome for some spacegoers, who for no apparent reason spend their first hours up there upchucking, as if they’d overdone it at the pre-launch reception. It’s one of those facts never made public by nasa P.R. or in astronaut memoirs. After three revolutions of the Earth, as we finished running the checklist for our translunar injection Steve Wong’s tummy finally settled down. Somewhere over Africa, we opened the valves in the translunar motor, the hypergolics worked their chemical magic, and—_voosh—_we were hauling the mail to Moonberry R.F.D., our escape velocity a crisp seven miles per second, Earth getting smaller and smaller in the window.

The Americans who went to the moon before us had computers so primitive that they couldn’t get e-mail or use Google to settle arguments. The iPads we took had something like seventy billion times the capacity of those Apollo-era dial-ups and were mucho handy, especially during all the downtime on our long haul. MDash used his to watch Season Four of “Breaking Bad.” We took hundreds of selfies with the Earth in the window and, plinking a Ping-Pong ball off the center seat, played a tableless table-tennis tournament, which was won by Anna. I worked the attitude jets in pulse mode, yawing and pitching the Alan Bean for views of some of the few stars that were visible in the naked sunlight: Antares, Nunki, the globular cluster NGC 6333—none of which twinkle when you’re up there among ’em.

The big event of translunar space is crossing the equigravisphere, a boundary as invisible as the International Date Line but, for the Alan Bean, the Rubicon. On this side of the EQS, Earth’s gravity was tugging us back, slowing our progress, bidding us to return home to the life-affirming benefits of water, atmosphere, and a magnetic field. Once we crossed, the moon grabbed hold, wrapping us in her ancient silvery embrace, whispering to us to hurry hurry hurry to wink in wonder at her magnificent desolation.

At the exact moment that we reached the threshold, Anna awarded us origami cranes, made out of aluminum foil, which we taped onto our shirts like pilot’s wings. I put the Alan Bean into a Passive Thermal Control BBQ roll, our moon-bound ship rotating on an invisible spit so as to distribute the solar heat. Then we dimmed the lights, taped a sweatshirt over the window to keep the sunlight from sweeping across the cabin, and slept, each of us curled up in a comfortable nook of our little rocket ship.

When I tell people that I’ve seen the far side of the moon, they often say, “You mean the dark side,” as though I’d fallen under the spell of Darth Vader or Pink Floyd. In fact, both sides of the moon get the same amount of sunshine, just on different shifts.

Because the moon was waxing gibbous to the folks back home, we had to wait out the shadowed portion on the other side. In that darkness, with no sunlight and the moon blocking the Earth’s reflection, I pulsed the Alan Bean around so that our window faced outbound for a view of the Infinite Time-Space Continuum that was worthy of imax: unblinking stars in subtle hues of red-orange-yellow-green-blue-indigo-violet, our galaxy stretching as far as our eyes were wide, a diamond-blue carpet against a black that would have been terrifying had it not been so mesmerizing.

Then there was light, snapping on as if MDash had flipped a switch. I tweaked the controls, and there below us was the surface of the moon. Wow. Gorgeous in a way that strained any use of the word, a rugged place that produced oohs and awe. The LunaTicket app ($.99) showed us traversing south to north, but we were mentally lost in space, the surface as chaotic as a windblown, gray-capped bay, until I matched the Poincaré impact basin with the “This Is Our Moon” guide on my Kobo. The Alan Bean was soaring a hundred and fifty-three kilometres high (95.06 miles Americanus), at a speed faster than that of a bullet from a gun, and the moon was slipping by so fast that we were running out of far side. Oresme crater had white, finger-painted streaks. Heaviside showed rills and depressions, like river washouts. We split Dufay right in half, a flyover from its six to its twelve, the rim a steep, sharp razor. Mare Moscoviense was far to port, a mini-version of the Ocean of Storms, where four and a half decades ago the real Alan Bean spent two days, hiking, collecting rocks, taking photos. Lucky man.

Our brains could take in only so much, so our iPhones did the recording, and I stopped calling out the sights, though I did recognize Campbell and D’Alembert, large craters linked by the smaller Slipher, just as we were about to head home over the moon’s north pole. Steve Wong had cued up a certain musical track for what would be Earthrise but had to reboot the Bluetooth on Anna’s Jambox and was nearly late for his cue. MDash yelled, “Hit Play, hit Play!” just as a blue-and-white patch of life—a slice of all that we have made of ourselves, all that we have ever been—pierced the black cosmos above the sawtooth horizon. I was expecting something classical, Franz Joseph Haydn or George Harrison, but “The Circle of Life,” from “The Lion King,” scored our home planet’s rise over the plaster-of-Paris moon. Really? A Disney show tune? But, you know, that rhythm and that chorus and the double meaning of the lyrics caught me right in the throat, and I choked up. Tears popped off my face and joined the others’ tears, which were floating around the Alan Bean. Anna gave me a hug like I was still her boyfriend. We cried. We all cried. You’d have done the same.

Coasting home was one fat anticlimax, despite the (never spoken) possibility of our burning up on reëntry like an obsolete spy satellite circa 1962. Of course, we were all chuffed, as the English say, that we’d made the trek and maxed out the memory on our iPhones with iPhotos. But questions arose about what we were going to do upon our return, apart from making some bitchin’ posts on Instagram. If I ever run into Al Bean again, I’ll ask him what life has been like for him since he twice crossed the equigravisphere. Does he suffer melancholia on a quiet afternoon, as the world spins on automatic? Will I occasionally get the blues, because nothing holds a wonder equal to splitting Dufay down the middle? T.B.D., I suppose.

“Whoa! Kamchatka!” Anna called out as our heat shield expired into millions of grain-size comets. We were arcing down over the Arctic Circle, gravity once again commanding that we who went up must come down. When the chute pyros shot off, the Alan Bean jolted our bones, causing the Jambox to lose its duct-tape purchase and conk MDash in the forehead. By the time we splashed down off Oahu, a trail of blood was running from the ugly gash between his eyebrows. Anna tossed him her bandanna, because guess what no one had thought to take around the moon? To anyone reading this with plans to imitate us: Band-Aids.

At Stable One—that is, bobbing in the ocean, rather than having disintegrated into plasma—MDash tripped the “Rescue us!” flares that he’d rigged under the Parachute Jettison System. I opened the pressure-equalizing valve a tad early, and—oops—noxious fumes from the excess-fuel burnoff were sucked into the capsule, making us even queasier, what with the mal de mer.

Once the cabin pressure was at the same p.s.i. as outside, Steve Wong was able to uncork the main hatch, and the Pacific Ocean breeze whooshed in, as soft as a kiss from Mother Earth, but, owing to what turned out to be a huge design flaw, that same Pacific Ocean began to join us in our spent little craft. The Alan Bean’s second historic voyage was going to be to Davy Jones’s locker. Anna, thinking fast, held aloft our Apple products, but Steve Wong lost his Samsung (the Galaxy! Ha!), which disappeared into the lower equipment bay as the rising seawater bade us exit.

The day boat from the Kahala Hilton, filled with curious snorkelers, pulled us out of the water, the English speakers on board telling us that we smelled horrid, the foreigners giving us a wide berth.

After a shower and a change of clothes, I was ladling fruit salad from a decorative dugout canoe at the hotel buffet table when a lady asked me if I had been in that thing that came down out of the sky. Yes, I told her, I had gone all the way to the moon and returned safely to the surly bonds of Earth. Just like Alan Bean.

“Who?” she said. ♦

Source: Alan Bean Plus Four

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Odp: [The New Yorker] Alan Bean Plus Four
« Odpowiedź #1 dnia: Lipiec 08, 2019, 02:09 »
The artist who walked on the Moon: Alan Bean
Richard Taylor 11 JUNE 2018 [Nature]

Richard Taylor pays tribute to the Apollo astronaut who beautifully meshed science and art.

Apollo 12 astronaut Alan Bean’s 1994 painting Kissing the Earth was inspired by the view as he and his team began their descent to the Moon in 1969.

In November 1969, when I was six years old, my father pointed to the Moon and told me that a man was walking on it. I looked up at the silver sphere and wondered what he was doing up there in that remote, crater-riddled land. I later learned that his name was Alan Bean, and that he was the fourth of only 12 humans so far to walk on another world. Even in that select group, he was unique: he was the only one to record what he saw on canvas and in paint. In May, he died at the age of 86.

As my interest in space travel grew, I read about the trajectory that led Bean to his Apollo 12 Moon landing. Earning an aeronautical-engineering degree from the University of Texas at Austin in 1955, he soon achieved his childhood dream of becoming a Navy test pilot. His instructor was Pete Conrad, later a fellow member of the Apollo 12 mission and Moon-walker, who became his closest friend. Inspired by the “sights, sounds and smells of high performance flying machines”, as Bean put it, they hatched their plan to ride the biggest flying machine of them all.

Astronauta Optimus Maximus (2006) depicts Bean’s friend and Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad. There is Moon dust mixed into the paint.Credit: Courtesy of the Alan Bean Gallery

Standing 110 metres tall, the Saturn V remains the most powerful rocket ever flown. Four months before the Apollo 12 launch, one of these behemoths had carried Neil Armstrong and his crew to the first Moon landing. But whereas Armstrong took off on a sweltering summer’s day, Bean, Conrad and fellow astronaut Richard Gordon sat on their rocket engulfed by a winter thunderstorm. Thirty-six seconds into their launch, the unthinkable happened. The Saturn V was struck by lightning — twice. “I looked up at the display that had all of the caution lights and there were more on than I’d ever seen in my life,” Bean recalled. Seconds away from aborting the mission, he managed to reboot the affected systems. The astronauts’ nervous laughter could be heard all the way to orbit.

Previous astronauts behaved with reserve. Bean gave the public a glimpse of the more human side of being a space explorer. Armstrong commenced his historic landing with a deadpan “See you later”, descending to the Moon’s surface in tension-building silence. Bean sounded like an excited tourist. His commentary seemed to touch on whatever popped into his mind: from the view outside his window (“Looks good out there, babe, looks good”) to the relief of seeing his landing spot in the Ocean of Storms (“There’s that crater right where it’s supposed to be”), to complementing Conrad on his flying skills (“You’re beautiful”).

Please Take Me Back Home, Guys (1995) imagines the point of view of lunar lander Surveyor III.Credit: Courtesy of the Alan Bean Gallery

Once Bean had ignited my six-year-old imagination, I was on my way into the life scientific. I drew make-believe planets, the real Solar System, spaceships and alien cityscapes — even how aliens might play cricket without gravity. By 1984, close to finishing my physics undergraduate degree, I was — like him — grappling with competing desires to pursue science and art.

Meanwhile, the world was busy celebrating the 15th anniversary of the first Moon landing. Television screens were flooded with Apollo astronauts reminiscing about their epic journeys. Seeing the blue Earth hanging like an oasis in the inky darkness filled many of them with a deep spiritual connection to the Universe. Bean, more down-to-Earth, appreciated all that the Moon lacked. “Since that time I have not complained about the weather a single time ... I’ve not complained about traffic,” he said. “When I got back home, I’d go down to shopping centres and ... just watch the people go by and think, ‘Boy, we’re lucky to be here.’”

The Apollo 8 craft begins its return to Earth in Homeward Bound (1994).Credit: Courtesy of the Alan Bean Gallery

Bean’s scientific legacy is fascinating. He brought back a Moon rock known as KREEP (potassium, rare-earth elements, phosphorus). Its composition led to a new model of lunar formation: the giant-impact hypothesis. Still being refined by current research, this pictures the Moon forming during violent collisions between Earth and one or more planet-sized objects.

Bean flew once more for NASA, in 1973: he spent a record-breaking 59 days orbiting Earth as commander of the space-station mission Skylab 3. In 1981, he left the agency to work out how best to tell his story to the world. How could he describe what it was like to hurtle home at 40,000 kilometres per hour, or to place his thumb in front of Earth and block from view everything he knew? He found his answer in painting. He even mixed Moon dust into his acrylics, and used his Apollo hammer and boots to, in his words, “sculpt a textured surface unique in all of art history”. (Many of Bean’s works are reproduced in his 2009 book Painting Apollo: First Artist on Another World.)

Apollo 15 astronauts Dave Scott and Jim Irwin wrangle their Lunar Rover in Slip Slidin’ Away (2015). The paint was textured using Bean’s Apollo boots.Credit: Courtesy of the Alan Bean Gallery

Bean’s art is important in other ways. Apollo 8 astronaut Bill Anders’s stunning photograph Earthrise, taken from lunar orbit, is rightly viewed as iconic. But Bean’s art goes further: it adds emotion to the extraordinary scenes he witnessed. Self-described as one of the more fearful astronauts, he was well aware that death was always near. That comes through in his paintings. Whether we see astronauts deploying equipment, the Service Module flying across the lunar surface, or Earth peeking above the horizon, there’s a feeling of being far from home — in terms of both distance and difficulty. The loneliness in these works reminds me of Frank Hurley’s photographs of Ernest Shackleton’s epic 1914–17 journey to the Antarctic.

Above all, Bean’s paintings serve as an antidote to that foolish idea that emerged in the 1980s: that our brains are wired to be either artistic or scientific. Inspired by his example, I went on to be a professor of both art and science. He showed that it was a simple matter. You just follow your dreams.

Alan Bean at an exhibition of his work at the National Air and Space Museum in 2009.Credit: Michael Temchine/TWP/Getty

Nature 558, 518 (2018)


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« Odpowiedź #2 dnia: Lipiec 09, 2019, 13:25 »
Astronaut who walked on moon says he knows the truth about aliens
By Megan Palin, March 24, 2017 | 1:35pm | Updated []

Apollo 12 astronaut Charles "Pete" Conrad stands by the US flag on the moon in 1969. Getty Images

He was an astronaut on the second manned mission to the moon and the fourth man to walk on its surface.

Alan Bean, 85, is one of only 12 people to have taken “one small step for man and one giant leap for mankind” on the moon.

The lunar module pilot was one of three crew members onboard Apollo 12 who walked on the moon 10 days after it launched on Nov. 14, 1969.

Apollo 12 astronauts (from left) Charles “Pete” Conrad, Richard Gordon and Alan BeanGetty Images

The crew’s primary mission objectives included an extensive series of lunar exploration tasks by the lunar module and the deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package to be left on the moon’s surface to gather seismic, scientific and engineering data.

Bean has logged 1,671 hours and 45 minutes in space — 10 hours and 26 minutes of that were spent on the moon and in Earth’s orbit.

His experiences in space have led Bean to develop some interesting theories about the possibility of alien life.

“I do not believe that anyone from outer space has ever visited the Earth,” Bean told from his home in Houston, Texas.

“One of the reasons I don’t believe they have been here is that civilizations that are more advanced are more altruistic and friendly — like Earth, which is better than it used to be — so they would have landed and said, ‘We come in peace and we know from our studies you have cancer that kills people, we solved that problem 50 years ago, here’s the gadget we put on a person’s chest that will cure it, we will show you how to make it.'”

“Just like some day, say 1,000 years from now, when we can go to another star and see a planet, that’s what we would do because we will know how to cure cancer, cure birth defects, so we would teach them.”

One of the Apollo 12 astronauts lowers himself onto the moon.Getty Images

Bean doesn’t doubt for a second that we are not alone.

“There’s so many billions of stars and these stars have planets around them, so there must be statistically many planets around many stars that have formed life,” he said.

“Maybe some of them are like our life was 100,000 years ago, and some of them are like we are now, and there are probably some out there that are 10,000 years in the future from where we are now.”

Bean resigned from NASA in 1981 to become an artist. In his paintings, he depicts the experiences of astronauts, including himself, who have walked on the moon. It’s a small club, but it’s also one from which he draws never-ending inspiration.

“Even if I lived to 185 years old, I wouldn’t run out of ideas of things to paint on this topic,” he said.

He uses textured and lunar tools, “sprinkled with bits of Apollo spacecraft and a touch of moon dust” to create his masterpieces, which sell for tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars each via his website.

“I’m the only person on Earth who can do these paintings (from a firsthand perspective),” he said.

“I work seven days a week painting to this day.”


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« Odpowiedź #3 dnia: Listopad 03, 2019, 00:10 »
Antares launches Cygnus cargo spacecraft on first CRS-2 mission
by Jeff Foust — November 2, 2019 [SN]

A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket lifts off Nov. 2, placing a Cygnus cargo spacecraft into orbit bound for the International Space Station. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

WALLOPS ISLAND, Va. — A Northrop Grumman Antares rocket successfully launched a Cygnus cargo spacecraft on a mission to the International Space Station Nov. 2, kicking off a new era in cargo delivery for the station.

The Antares 230+ rocket lifted off from Pad 0-A at the Mid Atlantic Regional Spaceport here at 9:59 a.m. Eastern. The Cygnus spacecraft, named by Northrop Grumman the S.S. Alan Bean after the late Apollo-era astronaut, separated from the rocket’s upper stage about eight and a half minutes later.

The Cygnus is scheduled to arrive at the ISS Nov. 4, grappled by the station’s robotic arm at around 4:10 a.m. Eastern and berthed to the station later that morning. It will remain on the station until January.

The mission, designated NG-12, is the first mission under the new Commercial Resupply Services (CRS) 2 contract, a follow-on to the original CRS contracts awarded in 2008 to Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Northrop Grumman) and SpaceX to transport cargo to and from the station. Northrop is introducing new capabilities to both Antares and Cygnus to meet the requirements of the CRS-2 contract.

“CRS-2 I would describe as more of a step-function change in the capability” of the system, said Frank DeMauro, vice president and general manager of Space Systems at Northrop Grumman, during a prelaunch briefing at NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility here Nov. 1.

One change is the ability to carry more cargo. The Cygnus is loaded with 3,705 kilograms of cargo, more than any previous mission. The spacecraft can now carry 10 middeck lockers filled with payloads, compared to six on the previous Cygnus mission in April. The spacecraft also has improved power and telemetry capabilities for those payloads, allowing researchers to maintain contact with them during the two-day journey to the station.

On the previous Cygnus mission, Northrop introduced a “late load” cargo capability, allowing time-sensitive cargo, such as biological experiments, to be loaded onto the spacecraft within 24 hours of launch. A similar late-load capability was already available on SpaceX’s Dragon spacecraft.

The NG-12 mission means that, for the first time, two Cygnus spacecraft are in orbit at the same time. The Cygnus from the NG-11 mission, which departed the station in early August, remains in orbit to demonstrate the ability of the spacecraft to perform a long-duration free-flying mission. “That is continuing extremely successfully,” DeMauro said.

With the launch of the NG-12 Cygnus controllers will test their ability to operate two spacecraft simultaneously. “We think that is a key capability for NASA or other government agencies or commercial industries,” he said.

DeMauro said Northrop will start planning the end of the NG-11 mission after the NG-12 Cygnus arrives at the ISS. “We haven’t set a deadline for when we’ll bring it back,” he said of the NG-11 Cygnus. “I don’t expect it to be that much after NG-12 on orbit.”

Increased cargo, and increased mass of the Cygnus itself, required improvements to the Antares launch vehicle. This launch marked the debut of the Antares 230+, a version of the Antares with changes such as increased structural strength of the first stage. That eliminates what Kurt Eberly, Antares vice president at Northrop Grumman, called the “throttle notch” where the rocket’s RD-181 first stage engines throttled down during maximum dynamic pressure. Instead, the engines remain at 100% thrust throughout their nearly 200-second burn. That change, along with others to reduce the mass of the vehicle and to deploy the Cygnus in a slightly lower orbit, increase the vehicle’s payload capacity by about 800 kilograms.

Eberly said that this version of the Antares is being “on-ramped” to the NASA Launch Services 2 contract, making it eligible for launching NASA science missions as well. “It allows us to be more competitive and lift heavier payloads and address more market going forward,” he said. The CRS contracts have been, to date, the only customers for the medium-lift rocket.

Crowds watch the launch of the Antares rocket on the NG-12 cargo mission to the ISS at Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia Nov. 2. Credit: SpaceNews/Jeff Foust

Cygnus payload: cubesats, cookies and cosmic rays

The payload on the NG-12 Cygnus mission includes nearly 2,000 kilograms of science investigations. They span the usual gamut of science and technology demonstration payloads, from biological research to materials science.

Included on the Cygnus is the AstroRad Vest, developed by Israeli company StemRad and Lockheed Martin. Astronauts will wear the vest to test its performance in shielding them from radiation from solar storms. The suit is customized to provide “selective shielding” for key organs, said Oren Milstein, co-founder and chief scientific officer of StemRad, and its high-density polyethylene material can provide the same level of shielding as a much heavier storm shelter inside a spacecraft.

Another payload is an oven developed by Nanoracks and Zero Gravity Kitchen to test the ability to bake foods in space. The first use of the small oven will be to bake cookies in a partnership with hotel chain Doubletree.

While the experiment may sound trivial, the companies see it as a pathfinder for future human activities in space, such as commercial space stations or long-duration missions beyond Earth. “What are we going to need for those people to have a good experience?” said Mary Murphy, senior internal payloads manager at Nanoracks. Something as simple as baking in space, she said, “can make people have a comfortable experience for a long-duration spaceflight opportunity.”

Several cubesats are on the Cygnus for later deployment. Two of them are for the National Reconnaissance Office as part of a program called IMPACT to perform in-space validation of 14 technologies for potential later use on operational NRO missions.

The cubesats use a standardized interface as part of an unclassified initiative called the Greenlighting program to allow experiments to easily be added to the cubesats, said Maj. Michael Felten of the NRO in a Nov. 2 interview. One example is testing of a microprocessor originally designed for the oil and gas industry to see if it can also be used in space applications.

“We use the results from the R&D as far as the performance in space and the survivability and the degradation of those components to influence the selection of new technologies into our future operational systems,” he said. “It allows us to pick the newest and the most capable components for our future collection capabilities.”

Also on the Cygnus is hardware to perform repairs of the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS) instrument outside the station. That experiment, mounted on the station in 2011 for an initial three-year mission to measure high-energy cosmic rays, continues to operate today but its cooling system is failing.

The Cygnus is bringing a new cooling system and special tools that astronauts Andrew Morgan and Luca Parmitano will use in a series of five spacewalks to repair the AMS. Kirk Shireman, NASA ISS program manager, said at the prelaunch briefing that those spacewalks would likely begin in mid-November. A separate set of spacewalks to replace batteries in the station’s power system, interrupted by a failed battery charging unit last month, will resume after the AMS spacewalks.

A repaired AMS could operate through the 2020s, pending decisions by the ISS partners to extend station operations past its current deadline of 2024. Sam Ting, the Nobel laureate physicist who is the principal investigator for AMS, says the extended mission will allow it to address issues ranging from the abundance of antimatter to confirming one model for dark matter.

“AMS will continue to collect and analyze data for the lifetime of the space station, because whenever precision instruments such as AMS are used to explore the unknown, new and exciting discoveries can be expected,” he said.

The NG-12 launch is part of a busy period of activity on the station. A Japanese HTV-8 cargo vehicle, launched in September, departed the station Nov. 1. Both a Russian Progress cargo spacecraft and a SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft are scheduled to fly to the ISS in early December.

Two other companies have CRS-2 cargo contracts with NASA. SpaceX will transition to its CRS-2 contract, using a cargo version of its Crew Dragon spacecraft, in 2020. Sierra Nevada Corporation will start flying its Dream Chaser cargo spacecraft under development to the ISS in late 2021. All three CRS-2 contracts include a minimum of six missions per company through 2024.


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Apollo 12: the story of the second manned mission to the Moon
By Elizabeth Pearson November 1, 2019 at 7:38 pm []

Freak lightning strikes meant Apollo 12, humanity’s second trip to the Moon, almost ended before it began.

On 14 November 1969, the skies were grey over Florida as the crew of Apollo 12 readied to launch to the Moon. It was raining, it was windy, and the weather was getting worse.

Though the crowd that had gathered on the coast was far smaller than the one for Apollo 11, there was one vital person in the audience – President Richard Nixon.

Whether his presence or the threat of a month-long delay until the next launch window pushed them on, the mission controllers decided to launch despite the bad weather.

At 11:22am local time, the Saturn V bearing Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad, Alan Bean and Richard Gordon launched and began to climb into the overcast sky.

36 seconds later, a flash of white light surrounded the rocket. Inside the cockpit, dozens of warning lights lit up at once.

Though the crew had run through every imaginable failure scenario during training, none of them had ever seen so many fault alerts activated at once.

Lightning struck both the Apollo 12 rocket and the launch tower just after lift off. Credit: NASA

16 seconds after the first flash, a second one hit. The lights on the instrument panel went dead.

“I don’t know what happened here,” Commander Conrad called into Mission Control. “We had everything in the world drop out!”

Conrad had just a few minutes to decide whether to abort the mission. Despite everything, Apollo 12 was still flying in the right direction, and so he waited, his hand hovering over the abort control.

The rocket’s data was a garbled mess, but it was a garbled mess that – back at Mission Control – John Aaron, the environmental control engineer responsible for the ship’s electrical systems, recognised.

A year before, he’d seen the same error during a training exercise. He’d taken the time to track down the problem and, more importantly, worked out how to fix it.

“Try SCE to AUX,” he said, directing them to switch the Signal Conditioning Equipment, which translated between the spacecraft’s instruments and its displays, to the auxiliary back-up.

The crew had just a few moments to track down the obscure switch among the hundreds on the control panel.

Fortunately, lunar module pilot Alan Bean knew exactly where it was. He flicked the
switch and the panel lit back up. The mission was saved.

Commander Conrad sets up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) during the first EVA. Credit: NASA

Realising that the spacecraft had been struck by lightning, Conrad jokingly requested that NASA “do a little more all-weather testing” before the next mission.

His jovial reaction to near disaster was typical of the Apollo 12 crew.

The trio were well known around NASA for being the tightest knit of all the Apollo crews, acting more like brothers than colleagues.

For the next three days, the crew laughed and joked their way through their tasks as they journeyed onwards to the Moon.

On 18 November, the crew arrived in lunar orbit. Conrad and Bean prepared to make their landing, leaving Richard Gordon to orbit in the command module, named Yankee Clipper.

Although Apollo 11 had come down just 4km from its target landing site, the flight planners were certain they’d learned enough to now make a landing with pinpoint accuracy.

      Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.
                        Apollo 12 Commander Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad Jr

They were so confident that they decided to visit an old friend – the Surveyor 3 robotic lander, which had scouted the site in 1967.

Confidence paid off and the pilots managed to bring down the lunar module, Intrepid, just 182m away from Surveyor 3.

After a short rest, it was time to exit onto the surface, though the occasion was slightly more irreverent than Apollo 11’s had been.

“Whoopee!” Conrad shouted as he reached the lunar surface. “Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”

Conrad’s boisterousness, however, extended into how he walked across the lunar surface, and he soon earned the dubious honour of becoming the first person to fall over on the Moon.

Fortunately for him, the incident wasn’t captured on film. Unfortunately for the rest of the world, this was because the pair had destroyed the colour TV camera that was supposed to broadcast their moonwalk.

The paths of Conrad and Bean’s two moonwalks, which totalled almost eight hours and yielded 34kg of samples. Credit: NASA

During set up, the camera had accidentally been pointed at the Sun, destroying its sensor.

The pair did manage to successfully set up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), a set of experiments that would keep running after they’d left the Moon behind.

After four hours on the surface, the duo returned to the module to sleep.

They had to do so in their space suits, as removing them risked letting the highly abrasive (not to mention chafing) lunar dust into the suits’ delicate joints.

Once recovered, they ventured out on a second lengthy excursion, taking numerous samples before walking over to where Surveyor 3 was perched on the edge of a crater.

This was the first, and so far only, time humanity has revisited a robotic probe after it’s landed.

Wanting to test the long-term effects of solar radiation and exposure to space on the probe, the astronauts unbolted several pieces of the spacecraft to take home for analysis.

The mission now done, the pair returned to the lunar module before launching off the surface to reunite with Gordon.

4 days later they were preparing to re-enter Earth’s atmosphere. While the crew themselves were calm, back in Mission Control things were a lot more tense.

There was a chance the lightning strikes during take-off had prematurely released the landing parachutes.

If so, they wouldn’t work properly, and the crew would plunge to Earth and certain death.

Knowing there was no way to fix such a fault, NASA had kept the information from the crew.

The ground crew could only watch and hope as Yankee Clipper fell towards Earth. Fortunately, nine minutes into its descent, right on cue, the parachutes deployed.

There was relief when Apollo 12’s parachutes proved to be undamaged by the lightning strikes. Credit: NASA

The capsule splashed down in the choppy Pacific Ocean, and the crew were recovered by USS Hornet shortly afterwards.

The mission had been a success, but it had been one tinged with failure.

Several magazines of photographic film had been lost or damaged, not to mention the accidental destruction of the colour camera.

Both losses were a blow to scientists hoping to study the images, but the latter held far more dangerous consequences for the future of Apollo.

TV networks had cleared their schedules and sold advertising slots to show the first live colour footage of a moonwalk, only to end up with nothing to broadcast.

With public interest beginning to wane, there was already talk of cancelling the later Apollo missions, and the voices of the project’s many opponents were growing louder.

To get things back on track, NASA could only hope things would go better during their next mission – Apollo 13.

Apollo 12: the mission brief

Launch date: 14 November 1969

Launch location: Launch Complex 39 A

Landing location: Ocean of Storms

Time on surface: 1 day, 7 hours, 31 minutes

Duration: 10 days, 4 hours, 36 minutes

Return date: 24 November 1969

Main goals: scientific exploration of the Moon; colour TV broadcast from surface

Firsts: multi-EVA surface mission; return to a space probe; human to fall over on the Moon

Scientific instruments: Seismometer; magnetometer; solar-wind detector; suprathermal ion detector; cold cathode gauge (measures tenuous lunar atmosphere)

Meet the astronauts

Commander: Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad Jr, Command module pilot: Richard F Gordon Jr, Lunar module pilot: Alan L Bean. Credit: NASA

Commander: Charles ‘Pete’ Conrad Jr

Conrad started his aviation career in the US Navy before becoming one of the Mercury Seven astronauts, despite rebelling against invasive medical checks by delivering his stool sample in a box tied with a bow. Before Apollo he flew two Gemini missions, and later took part in Skylab 2. He died on 8 July 1999, following a motorcycle accident.

Command module pilot: Richard F Gordon Jr

Gordon joined the Navy in 1953, becoming a test pilot before joining NASA in 1963. He and Conrad had been friends for many years, having met as roommates on USS Ranger and serving together on Gemini 11. After Apollo he helped to design the Space Shuttle before retiring in 1972. He passed away on 6 November 2017.

Lunar module pilot: Alan L Bean

Bean joined NASA alongside Gordon in the 1963 astronaut class. Apollo 12 was his first space flight, after which he took part in the Skylab 3 mission. He left NASA in 1981 to become a painter, creating scenes from his moonwalk and often working small pieces of his moondust-stained mission patches into the paint. He died on 26 May 2018.

Apollo 12 mission timeline

14 Nov 16:22

Apollo 12 launches and is struck by lightning after 36 seconds and again 16 seconds later

14 Nov 19:15

The capsule leaves Earth orbit

14 Nov 19:40

The command module Yankee Clipper separates from the launch vehicle then extracts the lunar module, Intrepid

18 Nov 03:47

Burn to enter lunar orbit begins

19 Nov 04:16

Lunar module disconnects from command module and descends towards surface

19 Nov 06:54

Intrepid touches down on the lunar surface

19 Nov 11:32

First moonwalk, lasting 3 hours 56 minutes

20 Nov 03:54

Second moonwalk, lasting 3 hours 49 minutes

20 Nov 14:25

Lunar module takes off from the Moon’s surface

24 Nov 20:53

Despite fears of lightning damage, the parachutes open as expected after re-entry

24 Nov 20:58

Crew splashdown 800km east of American Samoa

All times are GMT.


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45 Years Since Apollo 12: The $500 Bet and the Lightning Strike (Part 1)
By Ben Evans, on November 11th, 2014 [AS]

Al Bean begins his descent from the hatch of the lunar module Intrepid toward the surface at the Ocean of Storms. Photo Credit: NASA

One thing that irritated Charles “Pete” Conrad was the public belief that astronauts were told to say certain things during their missions. He knew that when Neil Armstrong became the first man to set foot on the Moon in July 1969, the immortal words he spoke—”That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”—had been his own. However, there remained many naysayers who doubted that a test pilot could have dreamed such appropriately poetic words. One afternoon, Conrad and his first wife, Jane, entertained a fearsome Italian journalist named Oriana Fallaci at their Houston home. Fallaci was convinced that NASA brass had told Armstrong to say what he did … and Fallaci was not the kind of personality to be argued with. Until she met Pete Conrad, that is.

In her later career, Fallaci would lambast Ayatollah Khomeini about the “medieval” regime he had imposed on Iran, and even Henry Kissinger would endure the most “disastrous” interview of his career at her hands. Sitting with Conrad in the summer of 1969, Fallaci’s criticism turned to NASA. There was no way, she scoffed, that Armstrong could possibly have dreamed up his historic words on the spot. For his part, Conrad could not prove that Armstrong had dreamed them up, but he knew that no one had forced the words onto him. “Pity the twit who would try to script a bunch of test pilots and fighter jocks, egos fully intact, riding a rocket to the Moon,” reflected Conrad’s second wife, Nancy, in her 2005 book Rocketman.

For Pete Conrad, there was a simple solution. He was assigned to command Apollo 12 and, if the schedule held, he would be the third man to walk on the lunar surface. He told Fallaci that he would make up his first words—right there and then—and agreed a bet of $500. Fallaci, convinced that he would not get away with it, agreed. A few months later, on the desolate plain of Oceanus Procellarum, the Moon’s Ocean of Storms, Conrad hopped down the ladder of the lunar module Intrepid … and said it. Unfortunately for him, Fallaci never paid up.

Pete Conrad (right) and Al Bean are pictured aboard the lunar module simulator in October 1969, during Apollo 12 pre-flight training. Photo Credit: NASA

In early 1969, many within NASA were convinced that Apollo 12, not Apollo 11, was most likely to accomplish humanity’s most exalted goal of the 20th century. It seemed inconceivable that the Apollo command, service, and lunar modules, and the Saturn V booster, together with such complexities as Lunar Orbit Rendezvous and the descent and landing profile to the Moon, could possibly be accomplished in just a few months. With Pete Conrad named as commander of Apollo 12, many eyes were on him to become the first man on the Moon. In February, NASA published a long-range planning forecast, which listed Apollo 9 as an Earth-orbit dress rehearsal in March, Apollo 10 as a lunar-orbit dress rehearsal in May, and then no fewer than three opportunities to perform a landing: Apollo 11 in July, Apollo 12 in September, and Apollo 13 in November.

So it was that by June 1969, Apollo 12 had two different personalities. If Apollo 11 did not succeed, Conrad and his crewmates—command module pilot Dick Gordon and lunar module pilot Al Bean—would inherit the mission, but if Armstrong’s flight succeeded, Apollo 12 would expand in scope to attempt the first precision landing on the Moon, not far from an old NASA spacecraft called Surveyor 3. During two moonwalks, Conrad and Bean would visit the craft, retrieve a couple of its instruments, and bring them back to Earth. By the end of July, the race to the Moon had been won and Apollo 12’s daring plan to land in the Ocean Storms, about 800 miles (1,300 km) west of the Sea of Tranquility, came into effect.

The need to make pinpoint landings was understandable, for there seemed little point in training crews to achieve specific geological objectives if they had no guarantees where their lunar modules would set down. Through no fault of their own, Armstrong and Aldrin had landed 4 miles (6 km) downrange of the intended position. The trajectory specialists had several explanations, including the “lumpiness” of the Moon’s gravitational field, but mathematician Emil Schiesser made the final breakthrough. The key was the Doppler effect: an apparent “shifting” in frequency of light or sound waves emitted by a moving object when viewed by a stationary observer.

The Surveyor 3 landing craft, backdropped by the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, as viewed by Pete Conrad and Al Bean at the Ocean of Storms in November 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

Radio signals from lunar modules had a predictable pattern of Doppler effect, explained Andrew Chaikin in his landmark book, A Man on the Moon. That effect was most acute when the craft was flying over the limb of the Moon and at its weakest when it was over the geographical centre of the near side. “If planners could predict the pattern of Doppler shifts,” Chaikin wrote, “they could compare that information with the actual shifts they detected. The differences would in turn reveal whether the lunar module was off course and by how much.” This was the mathematical solution, but the problem remained of how to provide it in a form which could be fed into the guidance computer. It was decided essentially to “fool” the computer into thinking that the landing point had moved. It was an elegant ruse because, as Chaikin observed, it “required entering only a single number.”

Touching down with precision and so close to another spacecraft on only the second manned lunar landing was daring in the extreme. In planning the first landing, the site selectors had avoided craters. However, Surveyor 3 had landed amongst a nest of craters and was actually on the inner wall of a crater about 650 feet (200 meters) in diameter. Nevertheless, the geologists were delighted, because they wanted the astronauts to inspect and sample those craters. Assuming that Conrad and Bean managed to land within walking distance of Surveyor 3, they would examine the lander’s condition after more than two years on the Moon and remove its television camera and various other components. They would also assemble an Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) and perform extensive geological exploration of their landing site.

When a tentative planning schedule for future flights was published by NASA on 29 July 1969, it showed that Apollo 12 had now moved back a couple of months to mid-November to accommodate planning for the precision landing. Not everyone was blinkered to the reality of how difficult these mission were, however. “Though the flight of Apollo 12 may seem like history relived,” Time told its readers on 24 October, “the second American effort to land men on the Moon should be almost as dramatic as its predecessor. It will demand every bit as much daring from its all-Navy crew.”

If the Apollo 11 crew had been amiable strangers, then the men of Apollo 12 were best buddies, even before their NASA days. Chaikin tells the story of a friendship cultivated with Jim Rathmann, a car dealer in Cocoa Beach, whose contacts within General Motors allowed him to get them three matching gold Corvettes, the license plates of which were emblazoned with their respective crew positions: CDR for Conrad, CMP for Gordon, and LMP for Bean. Another anecdote is that Conrad—a long-time collector of baseball caps—tried to get a huge blue-and-white one that would fit over the helmet of his space suit; he then intended to bounce in front of the television camera on the lunar surface to give his audience a chuckle. Unfortunately, he could not think of a way of sneaking it aboard the spacecraft.

The humor also did not detract from the respect in which Conrad, Gordon, and Bean were held as one of the sharpest crews in the simulator. Their naval backgrounds had already led them to choose the name “Yankee Clipper” for the command and service modules and “Intrepid” for the lunar module, from a selection of names submitted by workers at North American and Grumman respectively. The Yankee Clipper name, in fact, had been submitted by George Glacken, a senior flight test engineer at North American; he felt that such ships of old had “majestically sailed the high seas with pride and prestige for a new America.” Intrepid came from Grumman planner Robert Lambert, who felt that it denoted “this nation’s resolute determination for continued exploration of space, stressing our astronauts’ fortitude and endurance of hardship in man’s continuing experiences for enlarging his Universe.”

Apollo 12 crewmen (from left) Dick Gordon, Pete Conrad, and Al Bean listen to instructions, ahead of a water egress training exercise in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo Credit: NASA

The over-indulgence of the Navy theme, however, may have proven a little too much for the Apollo 12 backup crew—Dave Scott, Al Worden, and Jim Irwin—who all happened to be Air Force officers!

The morning of 14 November 1969 dawned cold, cloudy, and drizzly at the Kennedy Space Center. Weather reconnaissance had already identified a front of rain showers 80 miles (130 km) to the north and moving southward; coupled with broken, low clouds and overcast conditions at 9,800 feet (3,000 meters), it seemed inevitable to some that the launch would be postponed. As Conrad, Gordon, and Bean ate breakfast, the storm clouds rolled overhead, and later, as they lay in their couches aboard Yankee Clipper, they could see trickles of rainwater on the window. Somehow, it had worked its way underneath the spacecraft’s boost protective cover. “The weather was erratic,” wrote Andrew Chaikin. “The skies would seem to clear for a time and then gloom over again.” Still, there were no predictions of thunderstorms or severe turbulence in the area and all of the conditions were “better” than the minimum requirements specified in launch safety rules: cloud ceilings were acceptable, wind speeds within limits, and no lightning for 20 miles (30 km). As Launch Director Walter Kapryan deliberated whether or not to proceed, Pete Conrad lightened the mood by announcing that the Navy was always ready to do NASA’s all-weather testing for it.

It was a statement he would live to regret.

Barely an hour before the scheduled 11:22 a.m. EST launch, a liquid oxygen replenishment pump failed, but the mission was cleared to fly on its backup. With more than 3,000 invited guests in attendance, including President Richard Nixon, Apollo 12 took flight precisely on schedule and quickly disappeared into the low deck of murky clouds. Pete Conrad reported the completion of the “roll program” maneuver, then added that “this baby’s really going!” From their seats, the three men were astonished when, 30 seconds into the ascent, a bright flash illuminated the cabin, accompanied by a loud roar of static in their headsets … and then the wail of the master alarm. Glancing at the instrument panel, Conrad was shocked to see more red and yellow warning lights than he had ever seen in his life. He had seen maybe three or four warning lights glow during simulations, but this looked like a Christmas tree. Even the worst training run had not shown up so many failures.

Mounted atop the Saturn V booster, Apollo 12 inches its way out of the cavernous Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) on 8 September 1969, bound for Pad 39A. Photo Credit: NASA

It seemed that something had gone horribly wrong with the spacecraft’s electrical system: momentarily, all three fuel cells went down, the AC power buses died, and the ship’s gyroscopic platform tumbled out of control. “Okay,” Conrad announced calmly to Mission Control, “we just lost the platform, gang. I don’t know what happened here; we had everything in the world drop out.” But what had happened? The crew was mystified. Al Bean, seated in the right-hand couch, guessed that something had severed the electrical connections between the command module and the service module, which contained the fuel cells … but, then again, the gauges were at least showing that Yankee Clipper was still drawing power, albeit at a greatly reduced rate.

What the astronauts did not know was that the Saturn V had been twice hit by lightning. In fact, the first strike, which came 36.5 seconds after liftoff, was clearly visible to spectators on the ground. The strike had hit the vehicle, traveled down the long plume of flame, and ionised gases of its exhaust all the way to the launch pad! At 1.2 miles (2 km) long, it had set a new record for the Saturn V: making it the world’s longest lightning rod. “Apollo 12 had created its own lightning,” wrote Tom Stafford in his autobiography, We Have Capture, “when this huge, ionized gas plume from the first-stage engines opened an electrical path to the ground.” Yankee Clipper’s systems shut themselves down in response to this massive electrical surge, and a second strike, some 52 seconds into the ascent, knocked out the gyroscopes. Automatic cameras close to Pad 39A recorded both strikes.

Immediately after the shutdowns, the command module automatically transitioned to backup battery power. Almost immediately, Conrad began to suspect that lightning was to blame. As the mission commander, the decision was his to make: he could abort several hundred million dollars of hardware and splash into the ocean a few minutes later … or he could hold out and wind up in orbit with a dead spacecraft. Neither option appealed. With these considerations in mind, it is unsurprising that Conrad opted to ride it out as long as possible.

Fortunately, the Saturn’s guidance system was working perfectly and kept them on a smooth track into orbit. At this point, Conrad reported that he suspected a lightning strike to have caused the power dropout. Meanwhile, Gerry Griffin, seated in the Mission Operations Control Room (MOCR) at the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston, Texas, was undertaking his first stint as a flight director and was almost certain that he would soon be forced to call an abort. If Apollo 12 wound up in Earth orbit with a dead spacecraft, then the crew would be as good as dead. Before doing so, however, he asked John Aaron, the 24-year-old electrical, environmental, and communications officer (“EECOM”), for his recommendation.

Aaron’s computer screen showed a jumble of numbers … but he had encountered a similar problem during a training run a year earlier in which the power had been inadvertently removed from the spacecraft, and thought he knew how to resolve it. “Flight,” he called to Griffin, “try SCE to Aux.” Neither Griffin nor Capcom Gerry Carr had the foggiest notion what this switch meant, and when it was radioed to Apollo 12, neither did Pete Conrad. In fact, it was Al Bean who recognized the switch for the Signal Conditioning Equipment and moved it to the Auxiliary position. Immediately, data reappeared on the screens in Mission Control. The crew was instructed to bring the fuel cells back online by activating their reset switches. “The whole thing,” concluded Nancy Conrad, “had taken less than 30 seconds.”

In drizzle and with ominous thunderstorms and lightning in the area, Apollo 12 takes flight on 14 November 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

The SCE converted raw signals from the instrumentation into data which was usable by Yankee Clipper’s displays, and Aaron had correctly deduced that it had gone offline following a major electrical surge. In Conrad’s mind, two men had effectively saved the mission: Al Bean, by finding and acting on the SCE-to-Aux instruction, and John Aaron for making the call which restored control. Gradually, as Bean brought the fuel cells and electrical buses back online, the warning lights blinked off. When Apollo 12 reached orbit, Dick Gordon set to work taking star sightings and punching numbers into the guidance computer, recovering and realigning the internal navigational platform with just moments to spare before the spacecraft emerged from the Earth’s shadow.

However, there were still no guarantees that the mission was out of the woods. No one knew if the lunar module Intrepid had been damaged by the electrical surge, and there would be no means of checking its systems until after transposition and docking … which itself had to occur after the make-or-break Translunar Injection (TLI) burn for the Moon. “I listened while Griffin was briefed by his experts,” wrote Chris Kraft in his autobiography, Flight. “The lunar module was probably unscathed, they told him. But nobody knew for sure. Go or no-go? It was a decision that only Flight could make. Gerry Griffin made it … one of the gutsiest decisions in all of Apollo and I was proud of it.”

Halfway through their second orbit, with everything returned to normal, the Saturn V’s S-IVB third stage was reignited to commence the three-day journey to the Moon. Shortly thereafter, Gordon uncoupled Yankee Clipper and performed the transposition and docking with Intrepid, extracting the spider-like lunar module from the Saturn’s final stage. “Everything’s tickety-boo,” Conrad reported, but to make sure, later that afternoon he and Bean opened the tunnel and completed a quick inspection of their lander. None of its electrical equipment had been damaged by the power surge, and by now the astronauts were in such high spirits that they even asked Mission Control to replay the voice communications from those first few, adrenaline-fed seconds of launch. It had been a hairy start for Apollo 12 and had demonstrated that a journey to the Moon could never be routine.


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45 Years Since Apollo 12: The Surveyor Crater and the Belly of the Snowman (Part 2)
By Ben Evans, on November 12th, 2014 [AS]

Eerie perspective of one of the Apollo 12 astronauts at work with the Apollo Lunar Hand Tool (ALHT) on the desolate Ocean of Storms. Photo Credit: NASA

Rocketing our fleshy bodies into space has never—and, some might say, can never—be truly routine, and certainly rocketing our fleshy bodies out of Earth’s gravitational well and charting a course for our nearest celestial neighbor, the Moon, carries enormous risk and has only been attempted nine times in human history. As recounted in yesterday’s history article, Apollo 12 astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean endured a hair-raising opening to their November 1969 mission, when the Saturn V booster was twice struck by lightning seconds after liftoff, leaving them with the prospect of a dead spacecraft. Thankfully, the timely actions of Mission Control and the crew had brought the command and service module Yankee Clipper back to life, and the three men proceeded with their three-day journey to the Moon.

That journey, across 240,000 miles (370,000 km), was punctuated by the sounds of Earth, including country music cassettes carried by Conrad and Bean and The Archies‘ bubblegum hit “Sugar, Sugar,” sneaked aboard by Gordon. Four days after launch, at 8:47 a.m. EST on 18 November, Yankee Clipper and Intrepid entered lunar orbit. Conrad and Bean floated through the connecting tunnel to begin preparing the lander for the descent to the surface at Oceanus Procellarum, the Ocean of Storms, the following day. Everything seemed to be going well, although Conrad and Bean’s biomedical sensors seemed unwilling to co-operate: Conrad’s were causing his skin to blister, and those of Bean were producing erratic signals. Both men removed, cleaned, and reattached the electrodes without further incident and finished donning their space suits in readiness for undocking and Powered Descent. Gordon gave them a few words of last-minute advice: “Let’s go over this again, Pete,” he grinned. “The gas is on the right; the brake is on the left!” With this last spell of banter behind them, Intrepid and Yankee Clipper parted company at 11:16:03 p.m. EST on 18 November, beginning a 2.5-hour sweeping curve to the Ocean of Storms.

Understanding the nature of the terrain upon which Conrad and Bean would walk was aided by the presence of the unmanned Surveyor 3 landing craft, which, after bouncing several times, had touched down on the inner slope of a crater on 19 April 1967 and then transmitted a series of remarkable photographs of its surroundings. The landing site was located on photographs taken from orbit by one of the Lunar Orbiter spacecraft flown between 1966-67 to extensively map the Moon and reconnoitre potential landing sites for Apollo.

Stunning view of Earth, captured by the Apollo 12 crew. Photo Credit: NASA

“Ewen Whitaker … was a member of the Surveyor team,” wrote Eric Jones in the Apollo Lunar Surface Journal, “and had the responsibility of identifying the landing sites. As the first pictures came in from Surveyor 3, it was immediately apparent that the spacecraft had landed in a crater. It was a relatively featureless crater, but there were a number of good-sized rocks scattered around, particularly to the north of the spacecraft. One pair of large rocks looked as though they were almost touching each other and it seemed to Whitaker that he might be able to find them when he started to examine the appropriate Orbiter pictures through the microscope. Within a couple of days, he was sure he had them; the rocks looked like mere pinpricks through the microscope, but there were other rocks visible as well and they made a pattern which matched up nicely with the Surveyor 3 pictures. Whitaker had found the crater.”

The 650-foot (200-meter) crater would come to be known as “Surveyor Crater,” and it formed part of a somewhat distinctive cluster, which, when viewed from Conrad and Bean’s angle of approach, closely resembled a fat snowman with the unmanned probe sitting squarely within its belly. By using Lunar Orbiter images and photographs taken by the Apollo 8, 10, and 11 crews, it was possible for trajectory planners to construct a fairly realistic topographical model of the region in which Intrepid would land. Indeed, during training the televised view through Conrad’s left-hand window would be so realistic that, on landing day, 19 November, he would be astounded at how well the planners had done their jobs.

To better familiarise themselves with the spot, the astronauts had given nicknames to the other craters which outlined other parts of the snowman’s body: Head, Left Foot, and Right Foot, to identify just a handful. Conrad hoped to land in what looked to be a relatively flat, smooth place close to Surveyor Crater—he called it “Pete’s Parking Lot”—but, either way, he knew that he had to touch down relatively close to target to allow them to walk over to the probe without difficulty.

Still, it was with some scepticism, therefore, that Intrepid and Yankee Clipper parted company, for none of the astronauts were entirely convinced that the trajectory planners would indeed bring them directly down toward Surveyor Crater. Earlier that day, as he tucked into a breakfast of Canadian bacon, Conrad told Bean: “I don’t know what I’m gonna see when I pitch over. You know, I’m either gonna say ‘Aaaaaa! There it is!’ or I’m gonna say ‘Freeze it, I don’t recognise nothin’!’”

Photographed by Dick Gordon, the lunar module Intrepid heads toward Powered Descent and a touchdown on the Ocean of Storms. Photo Credit: NASA

After undocking, Gordon had tracked them against an endless backdrop of craters with the command module’s 28-power sextant until they disappeared from view. On the far side of the Moon, during their 13th orbit, Intrepid’s descent engine roared to life for 29 seconds to reduce their perilune altitude to just 9 miles (15 km). Passing over Mare Nectaris, the lander flew on its “back,” with the descent engine pointing along the flight path, then, under computer control, pitched over until it was almost vertical and the two men were granted their first glimpse of the lunar landscape beneath them. They were astonished. Despite all their doubts, there was the snowman, right ahead of them.

“I think I see my crater,” Conrad told Bean. “I’m not sure.” At first, it looked like a maze, but then he caught sight of it and blurted out: “There it is! Son-of-a-gun, right down the middle of the road!” A conversation a few weeks earlier with trajectory specialist Dave Reed had led him to request a touchdown in the Surveyor Crater; but now, as he beheld the landscape for real, Conrad decided to shift his aim-point a little shorter and to the north—in other words, directly into Pete’s Parking Lot. From his vantage point, the area looked more like a battlefield, and Conrad began making adjustments with his hand controller, pitching Intrepid backward slightly to reduce their forward velocity, passing around Surveyor Crater’s northern rim, and eyeballing a smooth spot to the north-west, close to Head Crater.

Moving lower now, with barely 100 feet (30 meters) to go, the descent engine began to kick up so much dust that it obscured the landing site. In the strange airless environment that he and Bean were preparing to visit, the dust did not billow around, but shot radially outward in bright streaks. As he “felt” his way down using only rocks sticking up through the sheet of dust, he was relying on both eyeballs through the window and Bean’s reading of the instruments. Sometime around 1:54 a.m. EST on 19 November 1969, one of Intrepid’s footpads found alien soil and the Lunar Contact light glowed blue. Instantly, Conrad’s hand went to the Engine Stop button and the lander dropped the last half-meter or so to the surface.

“Good landing, Pete!” yelled Bean. “Out-standing, man!”

The Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid (left) and the yawning bowl of Surveyor crater beyond illustrate the outstanding achievement of NASA’s trajectory planners in guiding Conrad and Bean to a precision landing point. Photo Credit: NASA

Conrad knew that he was close to Surveyor Crater, but since there was no window in the back of Intrepid’s cabin, he had no way of knowing exactly how far away they were from its rim. The landmarks which had seemed so obvious during the final minutes of descent were now less conspicuous. They knew that Head Crater should have been directly in front of them, but it took them some time digesting the scene to finally realize that, yes, there it was. They were close to its eastern rim and were looking directly away from the sunlight of the early lunar morning, and with a lack of color variation the crater was hard to see.

It was actually Dick Gordon, in orbit aboard Yankee Clipper, who managed to nail down their co-ordinates. During his first overhead pass, he spotted the snowman … and then saw Intrepid’s long shadow. “He’s on the Surveyor Crater!” Gordon jubilantly told Mission Control. “He’s about a fourth of the Surveyor Crater diameter to the north-west … I’ll tell you, he’s the only thing that casts a shadow down there.” A few seconds later, he added, with clear excitement in his voice, that he could see Surveyor 3 itself. The eastern wall of the crater was in shadow, but the body of the unmanned lander was catching the Sun. In fact, Conrad and Bean had set their lander down a mere 530 feet (163 meters) from the old craft, which by any measure was a precision landing.

Their next task was to go outside, and they could not resist a chuckle when Capcom Gerry Carr advised them to rest before their first walk on alien soil. “After all the training, preparation, the dreams and visions of humankind for thousands of years,” wrote Conrad’s second wife, Nancy, in her book Rocketman, “and here they were, the third and fourth in the history of the species to set foot on this thing … and you expect us to sit down for a smoke break?” As with Armstrong on Apollo 11, the chance to rest had been conservatively built into their schedule to allow for the possibility of the descent to the surface being delayed by one orbit; but now that they were here, Conrad elected to begin EVA-1 at the earliest opportunity.

Like a couple of children eager to go outside and play in the snow, he and Bean proceeded through the two-hour effort to don their suits. Four and a half hours after landing, they made one final check and Conrad radioed Houston for permission to depressurize Intrepid’s cabin.

“Houston, are we Go for EVA?”

“Stand by, Intrepid. We’ll be right with you,” replied Capcom Ed Gibson.

Stand by?” asked Conrad, incredulously. “You guys oughtta be spring-loaded!”

Seconds later, after checking the status boards, Gibson gave them the go-ahead, and as the final wisps of oxygen left the cabin the astronauts were in a near-pure vacuum. Within minutes, Conrad had squeezed himself through the hatch and onto the porch. He drew the lanyard to deploy the Modular Equipment Storage Assembly (MESA) on the side of the descent stage, on which was the television camera, and then dropped down the ladder and onto the surface.

Without doubt, Oriana Fallaci’s comment about astronauts being unable to speak for themselves popped into his mind. Conrad was the second-shortest astronaut in the corps and he had a $500 bet to win, so he spoke: “Whoopie! That may have been a small one for Neil, but it’s a long one for me!”


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45 Years Since Apollo 12: The Hammer and the Protuberances (Part 3)
By Ben Evans, on November 13th, 2014 [AS]

Al Bean carries the panniers of the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) across the dusty terrain for installation. Photo Credit: NASA

Forty-five years ago, in November 1969, the human race comprised an estimated three billion souls on Planet Earth … and three others. A quarter of a million miles away, Apollo 12 astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad, Dick Gordon, and Al Bean were in the midst of preparing for humanity’s second piloted landing on the surface of the Moon. Coming only months after Neil Armstrong’s historic “one small step,” there were few who seriously believed that traveling to our closest celestial neighbor could ever be routine, and Apollo 12 demonstrated the very real dangers of space exploration … as well as the rewards it could reap.

As recounted in yesterday’s article, the mission almost ended as soon as it began, when the Saturn V booster was twice hit by lightning only seconds after liftoff on 14 November. Only the prompt actions of the astronauts and Mission Control to bring the systems of command module Yankee Clipper back online saved Apollo 12 from winding up as a dead spacecraft in Earth orbit. Three days later, after a 240,000-mile (370,000-km) journey across cislunar space, the three men reached the Moon and entered orbit. Conrad and Bean boarded the lunar module Intrepid and left Gordon and Yankee Clipper behind, heading for a touchdown on a flat, batten patch of the surface, known as “Oceanus Procellarum,” the Ocean of Storms.

When they arrived, they were not alone.

Al Bean prepares to jump the short distance from the bottom rung of Intrepid’s ladder onto the surface at the beginning of EVA-1. Photo Credit: NASA

But this was no Apollo 18-type horror story, for their mechanical companion, which lay a mere 530 feet (163 meters) away, was NASA’s unmanned Surveyor 3 spacecraft. As part of its desire to accomplish ever more precise landings on the Moon, Conrad and Bean had been specifically targeted to touch down close to the craft—which had arrived on the lunar surface in April 1967—and remove instruments to bring home for analysis. At 6:44 a.m. EST on 19 November 1969, Conrad became the third human in history to set foot on another world.

His first moments were spent learning to walk in gravitational conditions which were barely one-sixth of what 39 years of life had prepared him for on Earth. Al Bean joined him a few minutes later. Both men reported that they never got tired in the bouncy lunar gravity, although the limited flexibility of their pressurized space suits meant that “walking” often took the form of a sort of stiff-legged lope: running with straight legs, landing flat-footed, then pushing off with the toes. There were other aspects of Moonwalking which were quite different to their pre-flight simulations. The fine lunar dust quickly covered everything and, before long, the astronauts’ pure-white suits were black from the knees down. Each time they moved, small clouds of dust kicked up around their feet, and they grew nervous about the effect of this charcoal-like stuff on the working parts of their suits and on Intrepid’s systems.

One of Conrad’s earliest tasks was to collect a sample of lunar material from the Ocean of Storms. This was easier said than done. “We learned things that we could never have found out in a simulation,” he recalled later. “A simple thing like shovelling soil into a sample bag, for instance, was an entirely new experience. First, you had to handle the shovel differently, stopping it before you would have on Earth and tilting it to dump the load much more steeply, after which the whole sample would slide off suddenly.”

In one of the more unfortunate scenes from Apollo 12, Al Bean walks away from the television camera, which had been inadvertently damaged by exposure to the Sun. Photo Credit: NASA

Meanwhile, Bean set to work retrieving the television camera. He would mount it on a tripod and position it in such a way that his terrestrial audience could watch their activities. However, as he carried the camera away from Intrepid, Mission Control told him that the camera seemed to have malfunctioned. When initial attempts to rectify the problem proved fruitless, Bean shook the camera, then tapped it with his hammer. Nothing worked. It later became clear that in carrying the camera on its tripod, Bean had accidentally pointed it toward the Sun and had burned the light-sensitive coating on its vidicon tube. Audiences back on Earth had seen a bobbing image of the lunar landscape, then a brief glimpse of the Sun, then a meaningless pattern. Although the television camera was not critical for the mission, its loss was a public-relations disaster for NASA on its second lunar landing.

The early part of the excursion was akin, in some ways, to Apollo 11. Conrad and Bean set up the U.S. flag and found the process of hammering the flagstaff into the soil relatively straightforward, although the hinge of the horizontal rod failed, leaving the flag draped around the staff. They also unveiled a plaque on Intrepid’s ladder leg. Unlike the plaque aboard Eagle and, indeed, the plaques aboard subsequent Apollo landers, that of Apollo 12 did not have a depiction of Earth and was textured differently; instead of black letters on polished stainless steel, its letters were in polished stainless steel against a brushed-flat background.

Much of their time would be spent gathering samples, photography, and setting up the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) scientific station. To ensure that they did not stray from the timeline, each man had a checklist attached to the cuff of his space suit and this ran through what he was supposed to do. There were also a few “additions” to Conrad and Bean’s spring-bound cuff checklists, thanks to the antics of their backups, Dave Scott and Jim Irwin.

“Part of my job,” wrote Scott in his autobiography, Two Sides of the Moon, “was to keep some levity in the game, keep things light and loose, relieve the tension when I could. In the last days before Pete and the crew were due to launch we got a cartoonist to draw some sketches to stick round their flight plans. We stuck some pictures of Playboy bunnies in there, too, which brought a few laughs.” Each of the images was accompanied by a lewd and suggestive comment, mostly about inspection of geological features: “Don’t forget to describe the protuberances” or “Seen any hills and valleys?”, for example. Conrad would occasionally ask Bean to flip to a certain procedure, revealing only that he “might need your help on this.” Controllers who knew Conrad were aware that he had a tendency to chuckle and hum to himself whilst working, but even they were surprised when, on occasion, he broke into a hearty cackle for no obvious reason.

Only Scott and Irwin knew the truth. …


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45 Years Since Apollo 12: The Surveyor and the Lonely Man (Part 4)
By Ben Evans, on November 14th, 2014 [AS]

The Surveyor 3 landing craft, backdropped by the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, as viewed by Pete Conrad and Al Bean at the Ocean of Storms in November 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

Within minutes of arriving on the Moon’s surface, early on 19 November 1969, Apollo 12 astronaut Charles “Pete” Conrad began erecting an S-band communications antenna, but this was rendered redundant when crewmate Al Bean ruined the television camera, as recounted in yesterday’s history article. Bean’s major task was to remove the two pallets of Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) equipment from the rear of Intrepid’s descent stage. If the television camera had been working, he would have relocated it to provide the audience with a clear view of this activity. After connecting the two pallets to a horizontal bar, he would lug them to the site chosen for their deployment.

Powered by a plutonium dioxide nuclear generator, the ALSEP consisted of a central station and a number of experiments, namely: a seismometer to record quakes and tremors; a suprathermal ion detector to characterise the low-energy positive ions of a near-surface ionosphere; a solar-wind spectrometer to study the electrons and protons of the solar wind which impinge on the lunar surface; a magnetometer to conduct detailed magnetic-field analyses; an instrument to measure the density of any ambient atmosphere and any variations of a random character or correlated with local lunar time or solar activity; and a dust detector, this time mounted on the Central Station, to provide engineering data on the rate at which dust accumulated on the ALSEP as a measure of the degradation of its thermal surface.

The central station was switched on at 9:21 a.m. EST on 19 November, a couple of hours into the Moonwalk, and would be shut down, along with the other ALSEPs in September 1977. During its eight-year operational lifetime, it returned a wealth of data about conditions on Earth’s only natural satellite. In fact, when Intrepid’s ascent stage was sent crashing down to the Moon in a couple of days’ time, the seismometer would record no fewer than 55 minutes’ worth of bell-like oscillations. The strangeness of these reverberations was totally unlike terrestrial quakes and might have been caused by a layer of fractured rock sandwiched between bedrock in the floor of the Ocean of Storms and a more solid cover of finer materials above it. Scientists speculated that in the absence of dampening fluids or gases, this rubble may have acted as a gigantic echo chamber. As later missions deployed a network of seismometers, the true nature of the Moon’s interior became evident.

Al Bean carries the panniers of the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) across the dusty terrain for installation. Photo Credit: NASA

Al Bean’s hammer, earlier used in a futile attempt to get the television camera to work, was also employed by Conrad to hammer out the ALSEP’s plutonium fuel rod, which had gotten stuck in its protective casket. “Never come to the Moon without a hammer!” was one of the astronauts’ key pieces of advice. The two lunar-atmosphere experiments were placed into standby mode to enable internal gases to bake themselves out in two weeks of fierce lunar sunlight. In total, the men spent more than an hour setting up the ALSEP—undoing bolts, setting out the strangely shaped experiments, flattening the soil to ensure a level surface, attaching its bright-orange ribbon cables that carried power, command, and data—and then moved on.

Back inside Intrepid after a walk which, measured from cabin depressurization to repressurization, had lasted three hours and 56 minutes, the astronauts set to work stowing samples and recharging their backpacks with fresh reserves of oxygen and water for tomorrow’s excursion. Their worries about how lunar dust might damage the lander’s delicate systems and their own breathing meant that they kept their suits on throughout the “night.” In reality, it was not “night”: it was early in the lunar morning, and “morning” lasts a full week on the Moon; consequently, Conrad and Bean’s first excursion started at 6:30 a.m. local time, and by the time their second outing began, 13 hours later, only half an hour of lunar time had elapsed.

Sleeping in their suits, Conrad found, was about as snug as sleeping in football pads, and he caught himself glancing several times out of Intrepid’s triangular windows. The sky was blacker than anything he had ever seen, punctuated only by the blue and white marble of Earth, hanging there like a Christmas decoration. “The stars weren’t brilliant,” his second wife Nancy related in Rocketman, her biography of Conrad. “He could hardly make them out at all in the harsh white light bouncing off the [surface]. It was all so cold … and as silent as silent got.”

The lower legs of his space suit blackened by lunar dust, Pete Conrad uses the tongs of an Apollo Lunar Hand Tool to gather a rock sample at the Ocean of Storms. Photo Credit: NASA

Despite having a pair of light, beta-cloth hammocks, they were both particularly uncomfortable: some cooling water had gotten into one of Conrad’s boots and the right leg of his suit had been misadjusted before launch and was effectively too short. It was now pulling on his shoulder, wrote Andrew Chaikin in his landmark book A Man on the Moon, “like a vice.” Conrad woke Bean at one stage and the two men set about undoing cords around the leg of the suit and retying them. Bean had tried taking a sleeping pill, but had slept little. Neither man got much sleep in the cold, cramped cabin and they ended up radioing Houston and starting preparations for their second Moonwalk a good two hours earlier than planned.

Conrad and Bean gulped down a quick breakfast, completed their suiting-up and were back outside by 11 p.m. EST on 19 November. After checking that the ALSEP was healthy, they set about their early exploration, trudging to Head Crater, then Bench Crater, then the relatively fresh Sharp Crater, whose bright rim and ejecta implied that it was only a few million years old, and later Halo Crater. The men collected, documented, and photographed rock and soil specimens, dug trenches, took core-tube samples, and remarked on the strange color of the surface: grey in some areas, brown in others, depending on the angle of the Sun. The lightness of the soil in places drew an excited response from the geologists, particularly when, on rounding Head Crater’s western rim, Bean noticed that Conrad’s footprints had uncovered lighter textures beneath the darker upper coating. It had been theorised that such light soil could represent “ray” material ejected by the impact which created the vast Copernicus crater, more than 180 miles (300 km) to the north. In fact, analysis of Conrad and Bean’s samples helped to peg the age of the Copernicus impact to about 800 million years. In fact, potassium-argon dating would reveal the Apollo 12 basalts to be around half a billion years younger than those from the Apollo 11 site, indicating the Moon was volcanically active for a substantial fraction of its early history.

Two hours after leaving Intrepid, they moved over to the southern rim of Surveyor Crater and could clearly see the three-legged, spindly craft sitting on a 12-degree slope, some 150 feet (45 meters) inside the pit. The pristine white surfaces that it had displayed on the day of its launch were gone—its light-tan discolouration was probably caused by more than two years of exposure to the harsh sunlight and more than a little lunar dust. Descending slowly into the crater (they had been provided with a rope for safety), the men set to work on their tasks. Bean photographed the probe whilst Conrad removed samples for return to Earth: first, a piece of insulated cable, then its television camera, a few other fragments, and finally its mechanical scoop.

With the lunar module Intrepid visible at left, this perspective of Surveyor Crater highlights how close Apollo 12 landed to the Surveyor 3 probe. Photo Credit: NASA

As their second EVA drew to a close, the time seemed ripe for a touch of banter. Conrad had been unable to smuggle a giant baseball cap aboard Apollo 12, but they had managed to sneak a little chrome Hasselblad timer into one of their space suit pockets to get a shot of themselves standing in front of Surveyor 3. They dropped it into the tool carrier at the start of the Moonwalk … but as that steadily filled with rocks and soil, they couldn’t find it! Bean rummaged around for a while, but all he could see was dust on everything. The glint of chrome was nowhere to be seen. In the end, they gave up.

An hour or so later, back at Intrepid, Conrad emptied the tool carrier into a rock box and out popped the timer! “I’ve got something for you,” he called to Bean. Exasperated, Bean grabbed the timer and threw it as far as he could into the distance. It is a pity that the two-man photograph was unable to be taken, because when they re-entered their lander each man had at least 40 percent of his oxygen remaining. Before launch, Conrad agreed with mission planners that if he and Bean were granted one extension to their Moonwalk, he would not ask for another.

In total, they spent eight hours outside during their two excursions and neither man was exhausted, having expended less energy than anticipated. They felt some pain in their forearms: the fingers of their gloves were fully pressurized and this had made them stiff and difficult to move. During the second period on the surface, Conrad and Bean had spent much time carrying tools and other equipment, and this required them to keep their hands clenched almost constantly. After their return to Earth, both men would remark that this stiffness had impaired their efficiency on the Moon.

Still, there was plenty of pride when Intrepid’s ascent stage lifted off at 9:25 a.m. EST on 20 November. The astronauts had spent 31 hours on the Moon and the climb back to Yankee Clipper was picture-perfect; so perfect, in fact, that on the far side of the Moon during the early stages of the rendezvous, Conrad handed control to Bean for a few minutes. It was normally the commander’s prerogative to fly the vehicle, and most presumed this prerogative without a second thought, but yielding control was also a moment of pure Pete Conrad. “Al would never forget,” wrote Nancy Conrad, “the simplest, most natural gesture Pete offered, the only time it happened in the Apollo programme … the commander let the rookie fly.”

For more than four decades, this view of the Home Planet from behind the limb of the Moon has remained unseen by human eyes. Now, perhaps more than ever, the question remains: When will we go back? Photo Credit: NASA

The reunion with Dick Gordon was both joyful and more than a little embarrassing. As soon as the hatches were opened between Intrepid and Yankee Clipper, Gordon grinned, took one look at his two filthy crewmates—literally blackened from exposure to lunar dust—and refused to let them come aboard.

“You’re not coming in my ship like that, Pete. Strip down.”

“Say what?”

“You heard me. Get out of those suits and you can come in.”

Despite his naval background, Gordon was not being finicky. No one knew what effect the abrasive lunar dust might have on the systems of the ship which would keep them alive for the three-day return to Earth; it might clog filters and hamper airflow in the command module. Gordon was not about to take the risk. As a result, Pete Conrad and Al Bean crossed from ship to ship in their birthday suits. Years later, Conrad would chuckle at the picture: if something bad had happened at that precise moment, and a thousand years later someone found them, what would they think?

“That I’m a sick and lonely man,” Gordon deadpanned, “and I went to a lot of trouble and expense for some privacy!”

The ascent stage of Intrepid was sent to crash into the Moon to stimulate the ALSEP seismometer. Yankee Clipper spent another day in lunar orbit, its crew shooting photographs of the Fra Mauro foothills, targeted for Apollo 13 in March 1970, and possible future landing sites near Descartes and Lalande craters. They also talked about the prospects for geologists on an alien world. It would be difficult, they admitted, to carry out efficient fieldwork on the Moon. Certainly, Al Bean felt that “on the spot” geology was hard and that astronauts would benefit from selecting and documenting as many different kinds of lunar specimens as possible. With the return of Apollo 12 to Earth on 24 November 1969, the attitude of the general public toward Moon landings began to wane … and it is a tragically damning indictment of the fickleness of our society that it took the trauma of Apollo 13 to briefly reignite popular enthusiasm.


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« Odpowiedź #9 dnia: Listopad 22, 2019, 22:29 »
'SCE to Aux': Remembering Apollo 12's Hair-Raising Ride to the Moon, 50 Years Ago (Part 1)
By Ben Evans, on November 17th, 2019 [AS]

In drizzle and with ominous thunderstorms and lightning in the area, Apollo 12 takes flight on 14 November 1969, 50 years ago this month. Photo Credit: NASA

Look up “1969” on Wikipedia and the image that appears time and again is related in some way, shape or form to Apollo 11, which saw astronauts Neil Armstrong, Mike Collins and Buzz Aldrin achieve humanity’s long-held dream to set foot on another world. Making landfall on the Moon—and Armstrong’s now-famous “one small step”—was only the first in a series of landing missions which would go on to see 12 men walk the dusty lunar surface, go cross-country on its undulating terrain, find some of the most ancient rocks in the Solar System and suffer indigestion from potassium-laced orange juice.

But only on Apollo 12, which flew 50 years ago this month, in November 1969, could astronauts declare that they had made up their own first words on the Moon; only on Apollo 12 could they truly say that they had used pictures of Playboy girls to guide them to their allotted tasks; and only on Apollo 12 would they return to lunar orbit and be instructed to float from one spacecraft to another, entirely in their birthday suits.

Apollo 12 crewmen (from left) Dick Gordon, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean listen to instructions, ahead of a water egress training exercise in the Gulf of Mexico. Photo Credit: NASA

For only Apollo 12 could have had a crew quite like Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Dick Gordon and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Al Bean. Their friendship and camaraderie long preceded their selection into NASA’s astronaut corps. Conrad and Gordon had been shipmates in the U.S. Navy, whilst Bean was one of Conrad’s students at test pilot school. Conrad and Gordon flew together aboard Gemini and were teamed again for Apollo 12, alongside fellow astronaut Clifton “C.C.” Williams. However, Williams’ tragic death in late 1967 prompted Conrad to ask for Bean to replace him. As a crew, the three friends did everything together, even acquiring three gold Corvettes—their licence plates identifying their respective roles on the mission: CDR, CMP, LMP—from contacts at General Motors. Conrad even tried to smuggle a giant baseball cap into his personal belongings; an unsuccessful ruse which might have seen him bounce in front of the television camera on the Moon, wearing it over his helmet. It would give Earthbound audiences a chuckle, he hoped. Sadly, it was not to be.

But for a twist of fate, Conrad might well have become the first man to walk on the Moon, had Apollo 11 failed. In a conversation with the fiery Italian journalist Oriana Fallaci in the summer of 1969, he became infuriated by her insistence that Neil Armstrong’s famous words had been put into his mouth by NASA brass. No amount of persuasion would change her mind, so Conrad bet her $500 that he would make up his own words when he set foot on the Moon. And on 19 November 1969, as he stepped off the footpad of the Lunar Module (LM) Intrepid and onto the dusty surface of the Ocean of Storms, the smallest member of NASA’s astronaut corps was true to his word. “That may have been a small one for Neil,” he wisecracked, “but it’s a long one for me!”

The Surveyor 3 landing craft, backdropped by the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, as viewed by Pete Conrad and Al Bean at the Ocean of Storms in November 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

However, getting to the Moon proved problematic right from the start. Whilst Apollo 11 landed 4 miles downrange of its targeted spot in the Sea of Tranquility, Apollo 12’s scope was expanded to achieve a precise touchdown, within walking distance of NASA’s Surveyor 3 probe, which had alighted within a “nest” of craters on the Ocean of Storms in April 1967. And whereas Armstrong and Aldrin made a single Moonwalk, lasting barely 2.5 hours, Conrad and Bean would leave Intrepid on two occasions, totalling almost eight hours on the surface. The astronauts would visit Surveyor 3, pluck off a couple of its instruments to return to Earth and set up a monitoring station known as the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP).

The naval backgrounds of Conrad, Gordon and Bean led them to designate their LM “Intrepid” and their Command and Service Module (CSM) “Yankee Clipper”, choosing the names from dozens of suggestions posed by workers at North American and Grumman, who built the two spacecraft. Unfortunately, the Apollo 12 backup crew—Commander Dave Scott, CMP Al Worden and LMP Jim Irwin—happened to be an all-Air Force squad and this led to some significant “ribbing” later in the mission.

Al Bean (right) awaits insertion into Command and Service Module (CSM) Yankee Clipper on 14 November 1969, as Pete Conrad prepares to enter the hatch. Photo Credit: NASA

Early on 14 November 1969, Conrad, Gordon and Bean left their crew quarters at Cape Kennedy to cold, grey and drizzly conditions, with rain showers 80 miles (130 km) to the north and a thick layer of overcast cloud at 10,000 feet (3,000 meters). It seemed probable that Apollo 12 would not launch that day. But the crew boarded Yankee Clipper and lay in their couches as storm clouds rolled overhead, the skies periodically brightening, then darkening. At length, Launch Director Walter Kapryan gave a definitive “Go for Launch” and Conrad responded that the Navy was always willing to support NASA’s all-weather testing. It was a cocky statement that he would live to regret.

At 11:22 a.m. EST, the Saturn V rocket roared aloft from Pad 39A, watched by more than 3,000 invited guests, including President Richard Nixon. Quickly, the rocket disappeared into the murky cloud. Then something went badly wrong. For the astronauts, a bright flash, a roar of static, the wailing master alarm and a caution-and-warning panel lit up like a Christmas tree gave them a shock; even their worst simulation had never shown up so many failures. All three fuel cells went down, the AC power buses were gone and Yankee Clipper’s gyroscopic platform drifted. “Okay, we just lost the platform, gang,” Conrad calmly radioed to Mission Control. “I don’t know what happened here. We had everything in the world drop out.”

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Apollo 12 launch and commentary. Video Credit: NASA/YouTube

What had happened was that the 36-story Saturn V had been struck by lightning. The first strike was clearly visible from the ground, hitting the rocket at 36.5 seconds into the flight and travelling down its long exhaust plume, all the way back down to Pad 39A. At 1.2 miles (1.9 km) in length, Apollo 12 had unwillingly become the world’s longest lightning rod. Yankee Clipper’s systems shut themselves down in response to the massive electrical surge, but the worst was not over. In a view recorded by long-distance cameras at the launch pad, another strike knocked out its gyroscopes.

With the spacecraft running on backup batteries, Conrad’s decision was to pull the abort handle and waste several hundred million dollars’-worth of Moonship or wind up in low-Earth orbit with an electrically-dead spacecraft. He chose to hold out as long as possible and, fortunately, the Saturn V’s guidance system was unaffected and delivered them smoothly into orbit. But Flight Director Gerry Griffin was convinced he would have to order an abort. Before he did so, he checked in with the 24-year-old Electrical, Environmental and Communications Officer (EECOM) John Aaron for a recommendation. And Aaron had seen this problem on a previous simulation. “Flight, try SCE to Aux,” he told Griffin, instructing the crew to move a switch for the Signal Conditioning Equipment to its Auxiliary position. Bean promptly complied and the data returned to Mission Control’s screens. SCE converted raw instrumentation signals into usable computer data and John Aaron had effectively saved the second manned landing mission to the Moon.

There was much guts-and-glory in Mission Control that day, none more so than Griffin himself, who made the decision to press on. “It was a decision that only Flight could make,” recalled veteran flight director Chris Kraft. “Gerry made it…one of the gutsiest decisions in all of Apollo and I was proud of it.”


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« Odpowiedź #10 dnia: Listopad 25, 2019, 00:45 »
Hills and Valleys: Remembering Apollo 12's Hair-Raising Ride to the Moon, 50 Years Ago (Part 2)
By Ben Evans, on November 24th, 2019 [AS]

Alan Bean carries the panniers of the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) across the dusty terrain for installation. Photo Credit: NASA

Fifty years ago, this month, America triumphantly completed the second voyage with humans to the surface of the Moon. As outlined in last weekend’s AmericaSpace history article, the Apollo 12 crew of Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Dick Gordon and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Al Bean enjoyed a far-from-nominal ascent to low-Earth orbit on 14 November 1969; watched by President Richard M. Nixon, their rapidly climbing Saturn V booster was twice struck by lightning, necessitating quick reactions from the crew and remarkable skill and heroism from Mission Control. At length, a potentially disastrous situation with the electrical system aboard Command and Service Module (CSM) Yankee Clipper stabilized and the second landing mission to the Moon was underway.

Pete Conrad (right) and Al Bean are pictured aboard the lunar module simulator in October 1969, during Apollo 12 pre-flight training. Photo Credit: NASA

Halfway through their second orbit of the Earth, the crew fired the Saturn V’s S-IVB third stage for the Translunar Injection (TLI) to set them on a three-day course for the Moon. Shortly thereafter, Gordon detached Yankee Clipper from the booster, performed an about-turn and extracted Lunar Module (LM) Intrepid. Early on 18 November, Apollo 12 entered lunar orbit and Gordon offered his crewmates some advice for the landing ahead. “Let’s go over this again, Pete,” he told his commander. “The gas is on the right; the brake is on the left!” Yankee Clipper and Intrepid parted company at 11:16 p.m. EST and began a sweeping, 2.5-hour curve to descend towards the Ocean of Storms, some 800 miles (1,300 km) west of Armstrong and Aldrin’s landing site in the Sea of Tranquility.

Photographs from NASA’s Lunar Orbiter missions had given a pretty good topographical perspective of the target location, which resembled a snowman, with craters the astronauts had labelled Head, Left Foot, Right Foot and others. Conrad aimed for a relatively smooth spot near the 650-foot-wide (200-meter) Surveyor Crater, which he nicknamed “Pete’s Parking Lot”. He hoped that it would allow Bean and himself to walk without much difficulty over to the crater and Surveyor 3. But until Intrepid pitched over and he could actually see the surface with his own eyes, he remained sceptical at the trajectory planners’ numbers. That scepticism ended when the lunar module’s computer flipped them over from flying on their backs to flying almost vertically…and there was the snowman, laid out beneath them. “I think I see my crater…I’m not sure,” yelled Conrad, tentatively. Then, after a few seconds, he was sure. “There it is! Son-of-a-gun, right down the middle of the road!”

With the lunar module Intrepid visible at left, this perspective of Surveyor Crater highlights how close Apollo 12 landed to the Surveyor 3 probe. Photo Credit: NASA

At 1:54 a.m. EST on 19 November, Intrepid’s footpads found alien soil and the second pair of human explorers were on the Moon. But having landed just past Surveyor Crater—and with no window in the “back” of the lunar module—Conrad and Bean could not be certain how close they were to Surveyor Crater. It was Gordon, flying overhead, peering through Yankee Clipper’s sextant, who determined that they had landed only 530 feet (160 meters) from Surveyor 3 itself.

The two pumped-up Moonwalkers-to-be were ready to explore, but were momentarily astonished when CapCom Ed Gibson advised them to “stand by” before opening the lunar module’s hatch. “Stand by?” retorted Conrad. “You guys ought to be spring-loaded!” Shortly thereafter, the go-ahead was given and at 6:44 a.m. EST Conrad became the third human to set foot on the Moon. And he spoke his light-hearted words to secure his bet with Oriana Fallaci. Sadly for Conrad, she never paid up.

Panoramic view of the Apollo 12 astronauts at work near the lunar module Intrepid. Photo Credit: NASA

Joined in short order by Bean, the two men spent a few minutes acclimatising themselves to one-sixth lunar gravity, walking in a stiff-legged lope, running straight-legged, landing flat-footed, pushing off with their toes. Before long, their white space suits were black from the knees down with lunar dust. Even simple tasks were very different from their pre-flight simulations. Shoveling soil into a bag required them to hold the shovel differently, stopping before they would ordinarily stop on Earth and tilting it to dump the load more steeply, because the entire sample would slide off suddenly in the weak gravity. Then as Bean attempted to set up a color television camera, he inadvertently aimed it too close to the unfiltered Sun, burning out the light-sensitive coating on its vidicon tube. Perplexed, he tried tapping the camera with his hammer, but the camera was dead.

The astronauts set up the U.S. flag and unveiled a commemorative plaque on Intrepid’s leg, then set to work collecting samples, taking photographs and setting up the ALSEP. They were aided in these tasks by small checklists on their space suit cuffs, which had received a number of additions, courtesy of backup crewmen Scott and Irwin. “Part of my job,” wrote Scott in his memoir, Two Sides of the Moon, “was to keep some levity in the game, keep things light and loose, relieve the tension where I could.” So he got a cartoonist to draw some sketches to stick in Conrad and Bean’s cuff checklists and flight plans. Scott and Irwin also added some cut-out pictures of girls from Playboy. Each image was accompanied by a suitably lewd comment, loosely connected to lunar geology. “Don’t forget the protuberances” was one example, whilst “Seen any hills or valleys?” was another. But for Mission Control and a listening public—oblivious to the prank—there was confusion when Conrad would start cackling out loud every so often, for no apparent reason…

The Surveyor 3 landing craft, backdropped by the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, as viewed by Pete Conrad and Al Bean at the Ocean of Storms in November 1969. Photo Credit: NASA

The ALSEP was a complex station, plutonium-powered, which was designed to provide in-situ measurements of the landing site. Its instrumentation included a seismometer to record subsurface quakes and tremors, a suprathermal ion detector to characterise the low-energy positive ions of a near-surface ionosphere, a solar-wind spectrometer to study the electrons and protons emanating from the Sun and their impact on the Moon, a magnetometer and a lunar dust detector. For almost eight years, until it was shut down in September 1977, Apollo 12’s ALSEP returned a wealth of scientific data. This included more than 55 minutes’-worth of bell-like oscillations, recorded when Intrepid’s ascent stage was purposely crashed into the Moon at the end of its mission.

Conrad and Bean’s first Moonwalk ended after almost four hours, measured precisely from the depressurisation to repressurisation of the lunar module’s cabin. Back inside, they stowed samples and recharged their suits’ backpacks with oxygen and water for the second excursion the following day. They slept very uncomfortably in their suits, which Conrad sarcastically remarked was about as comfortable as sleeping in football pads. In the book Rocketman, the biography of her late husband, Nancy Conrad remarked that they could hardly make out stars in the black lunar sky, thanks to the harsh sunlight which bleached the surface. “It was all so cold,” she wrote, “and as silent as silent got.”

Astronaut Dave Scott, backup commander of Apollo 12, was primarily responsible for Conrad and Bean’s unorthodox cuff checklist additions. Photo Credit: NASA

Even resting in beta-cloth hammocks made little difference and a misadjusted right leg of Conrad’s suit made it too short and was causing him severe discomfort. He woke Bean and they undid and retied cords around the suit leg, ready for the second Moonwalk. To be fair, Bean had slept badly in the clammy cabin, despite taking a sleeping pill, and the astronauts were fully awake two hours earlier than intended, already preparing to go outside again. They were back on the surface by 11 p.m. EST on 19 November.

They checked the ALSEP’s health, then trudged to several craters, collecting, documenting and photographing rocks and soil, digging trenches, taking core samples and describing the strange colours and textures of the surface: grey in some places, brown in others, depending upon the angle of the Sun. After two hours, they approached the southern rim of Surveyor Crater and saw Surveyor 3 itself, sitting on a 12-degree slope, about 150 feet (45 meters) inside the enormous bowl-like pit. Discolored by 30 months of exposure to solar radiation, it appeared in otherwise good condition, as the astronauts descended into the crater. Bean photographed the spacecraft, whilst Conrad plucked off a piece of insulated cable, then a television camera and finally Surveyor 3’s mechanized scoop to return to Earth.

Al Bean became the fourth human to set foot on the Moon during Apollo 12. Photo Credit: NASA

Returning to Intrepid, the time came for some banter. Conrad’s effort to smuggle a baseball cap aboard may have failed, but he did manage to sneak a little chrome Hasselblad timer into one of his space suit pockets. His plan was to get a photograph of himself and Bean standing in front of Surveyor 3 and puzzle their Earthbound audience with the question: Who took the picture? Unfortunately, the timer got stuck in the bottom of their tool carrier, which gradually filled up with rocks and soil. Bean rummaged for all a while, but the glint of chrome was nowhere to be seen. Disappointed, they gave up on their unique photo opportunity. But after returning to Intrepid, as he emptied to tool carrier, Conrad found the timer. He gave it to an exasperated Bean, who tossed it into the distance.

Intrepid’s ascent stage lifted off from the Moon at 9:25 a.m. EST on 20 November, after spending 31 hours on the surface. During the return journey to Yankee Clipper, Conrad gave up his commander’s prerogative to fly and handed control over to Bean for a few minutes. It was a touching moment, which occurred on the far side of the Moon. “Al would never forget the simplest, most natural gesture Pete offered,” wrote his widow Nancy, “the only time it happened in the Apollo programme: the commander let the rookie fly.”

A partially illuminated Earth rises above the lunar limb during Apollo 12. Photo Credit: NASA

But after docking with Yankee Clipper and opening the hatches to see a grinning Gordon, the Moonwalkers were in for a shock. He took one look at their filthy suits and refused to let them come aboard.

“You’re not coming in my ship like that, Pete. Strip down.”

“Say what?”

“You heard me. Get out of those suits and you can come in.”

Gordon was not being awkward; he was acutely aware that the abrasive lunar dust could damage the systems of the spacecraft which would keep them alive for the three-day return to Earth, potentially clogging filters and hampering air flow. So it was that Conrad and Bean—naked as the day they were born—crossed from one ship to another, high above the Moon. And Conrad could not help but wonder: if something bad happened, at that precise moment, and a thousand years later someone found them, what would they think?

“That I’m a sick and lonely man,” Gordon deadpanned, “and I went to a lot of trouble and expense for some privacy!”

Hatches were closed and Intrepid’s ascent stage was cast adrift to crash into the lunar surface and provide some interesting data-spikes for the ALSEP. Four days later, on 24 November 1969, Yankee Clipper splashed down in the waters of the Pacific Ocean. With the safe return of Conrad, Gordon and Bean, the seemingly effortless campaign to put men on the Moon was beginning to bore a fickle public. By January 1970, there were mutterings that up to three Apollo lunar landings might face the axe of cancelation and in April of that same year Apollo 13 had to compete with regular television programmes when its crew launched on another ‘regular’ trip to the Moon. With that mission, however, no one would be left in any doubt that space exploration would always be a harsh and unforgiving mistress.


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« Odpowiedź #11 dnia: Grudzień 13, 2019, 20:40 »
50 Years Ago, Americans Made The 2nd Moon Landing... Why Doesn't Anyone Remember?
November 19, 201911:14 AM ET, Geoff Brumfiel [NPR.ORG]

From NASA: Apollo 12 commander Charles "Pete" Conrad unfurls the United States flag on the lunar surface during the first extravehicular activity on Nov. 19, 1969. NASA

Fifty years ago, astronaut Pete Conrad stepped out of the lunar module onto the surface of the moon.

His first words were: "Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

Conrad, who stood at just 5 feet 6 inches tall, was only the third human to set foot on the lunar surface. He did it on November 19, 1969, just four months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin made the first lunar landing. However, unlike Armstrong and Aldrin, Conrad and fellow astronaut Alan Bean are not household names.

Their mission, Apollo 12, remains largely unknown, according to Teasel Muir-Harmony, the curator of the Apollo Collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. And it's a shame, because it was, frankly, a really fun trip, she says.

"This crew was hilarious," Muir-Harmony says. "They were really entertaining."

Apollo 12 got off to an inauspicious start. There were thunderstorms on the day of the launch, and the rocket was actually struck by lightning — twice — as it ascended skyward. "That led to electrical problem that shut down a lot of the controls," she says.

Fortunately the rocket kept flying, and with the help of Mission Control, the astronauts were able to restore power to all of their systems.

"Think we need to do a little more all-weather testing," Conrad said wryly as the Saturn V rocket shot into orbit.

That was the dramatic beginning of what turned into kind of a goofy road trip. Pete Conrad, the mission commander, brought up a tape deck (as commander, he also set the playlist: Dusty Springfield, Elvis, and some classic country).

He and fellow astronauts Bean and Richard Gordon had all met as pilots in the Navy.

Alan Bean and Pete Conrad were the third and fourth people to walk on the moon. NASA

"These guys were all friends, they all knew each other before they became Apollo astronauts," Muir-Harmony says.

If Apollo 11 was about proving it was possible to land on the moon, Apollo 12 was about doing it better. "The major focus of Apollo 12 was the pinpoint landing," Muir-Harmony says. Conrad was "considered one of the best pilots, if not the best pilot of the Apollo astronauts," she says.

He nailed the landing, on the edge of a crater and just 600 feet from a robotic probe known as Surveyor III. As part of their planned activities, the astronauts later visited the spacecraft, the only time humans have gone to poke a robotic probe sent ahead of them.

Conrad first words as he stepped onto the surface were actually part of a bet with a journalist, Muir-Harmony says. She had asked Conrad whether the U.S. government had dictated Neil Armstrong's first words. "And he made a bet (I think it's about a $500 bet) saying, 'No, we can say whatever we want. We're not being told what to say by the government.'"

That was not the only gag on Apollo 12. The astronauts' cuff checklists, small binder guides strapped to their arms, contained silly cartoons and several nude Playboy models that were slipped in by the backup crew. The nudes were accompanied by instructions such as: "Survey - her activity."

Muir-Harmony says the astronauts kept that joke to themselves. Even at the time, the crude gag probably wouldn't have gone over well with either conservative America or the burgeoning women's movement. And it says a lot about gender in the space program at the time: "The role of women in space was seen as entertainment or pleasure as opposed to an equal colleague," she says.

Pete Conrad let Alan Bean drive the lunar module a little bit--even though he wasn't supposed to. NASA

Archival transcripts of the mission reveal Conrad did a lot of merry singing as he bounced along the lunar surface: "Dum dum, dum dum," he sang, according to official transcripts of the mission. "Boy, do I like to run up here. This is neat!"

"It is fun," agreed Bean.

Unfortunately, there's very little footage of the astronaut's antics. Shortly after landing, Bean accidentally pointed the lunar surface TV camera directly at the Sun, frying its circuitry. The lack of images may be one reason that the mission is not as well remembered as some of the others, Muir-Harmony says.

Conrad and Bean lifted off on November 20. Conrad let Bean drive the lunar module a little bit, even though he wasn't supposed to. They returned to Earth and made a perfect landing in the Pacific.

Although they received the same honors as the Apollo 11 crew, things were different. The Apollo 12 astronauts had dinner with President Richard Nixon at the White House, Muir-Harmony says. "But they could tell that Nixon's focus was elsewhere,"

The president was trying to negotiate an arms control treaty with the Soviets. Meanwhile, in Vietnam things kept getting worse. On the second day the astronauts were on the moon, pictures emerged of a massacre at a town called My Lai.

Muir-Harmony believes this is the real reason Apollo 12 never got much attention. "It's hard to feel optimistic and excited and focused on exploration when these horrible atrocities are happening on earth," she says.

But for what it's worth, the astronauts had a pretty good time.


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