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Apollo 12

"Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me." This photo shows the crew upon their egress from the Command Module Yankee Clipper.  The entire Apollo 12 crew autographed it.  You may note that the date inscribed by Astronaut Conrad should have been 11/24/69.  Photo Credit: NASA
Crew Signed Photo Of The Recovery Of The
                          Apollo 12 CrewApollo 12 was the second manned mission to land on the Moon.  Its destination on the Moon was Oceanus Procellarum (the Ocean of Storms).

The Commander for Apollo 12 was chosen to be Charles Peter (Pete) Conrad, Jr.  Conrad was a veteran of two Gemini flights.

Selected as the Apollo 12 Command Module pilot was Richard Francis Gordon, Jr.  Gordon had flown in space with Conrad on Gemini XI.

Chosen to be Lunar Module Pilot was Clifton Curtis Williams, Jr.  Williams did not have any spaceflight experience.  Two years before Apollo 12 would fly, on October 5, 1967, Williams was killed when the T-38 jet he was flying crashed.

Commander Conrad requested that Alan Lavern Bean take over the vacant Lunar Module Pilot position on the crew.  Conrad and Bean had been classmates at US Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland.  Conrad, Gordon, and Bean had also served as the backup crew for Apollo 9.

Yankee Clipper was the name given to the Apollo 12 Command Module.  The Lunar Module was called Intrepid.  The crew asked the people who built these two spacecraft to submit a list of names fro the vehicles.  It is from those two lists that Yankee Clipper and Intrepid were selected.

Launch day for Apollo 12 was November 14, 1969.  The weather at the launch site that day was very poor.  There was considerable rain in the area and a cloud ceiling of only 2100 feet obscured visibility.

The Apollo 12 Saturn V lifted off at 11:22 AM Eastern Standard Time.  The rocket disappeared into the base of the cloud.  Observers on the ground saw two bright blue flashes in the area where the rocket had been. 36 seconds after launch, the unthinkable had occurred.  Lightening had struck the spacecraft.  16 seconds later the rocket was struck by lightening for a second time.

Caution and warning lights on the command module control panel lit up like a Christmas tree.  Conrad radioed, "We just lost the platform gang.  I don't know what happened here; we had everything in the world drop out."

At the time people in mission control were not sure what had happened. 
They were not aware of the lightening strike. Their telemetry screens were reading gibberish.  This situation had never been planned for in simulations. The flight controller in charge of the electrical systems for the Command and Service Module, John Aaron, remembered an event that inadvertently had happened a year previously.

Technicians accidentally powered up the space vehicle using only a single battery during a test sequence.  This resulted in the same type of gibberish telemetry that he now saw on Apollo 12.  Aaron told the capsule communicator to have Astronaut Bean turn a switch, known as the Signal Condition Equipment switch, to auxiliary. The capsule communicator radioed, "Apollo 12, Houston. Try SCE to auxiliary. Over."  This selected a backup power supply and telemetry from the rocket was restored.

Despite the problems the Saturn V continued its flight.  After the first stage dropped off and the second stage took over.  Conrad radioed, "Okay, now we will straighten put our problems here. I don't know what happened; I'm not sure we didn't get hit by lightening."

Spacecraft systems knocked off line were reactivated and Apollo 12 safely reached orbit.  Decisive action by Flight Controller Aaron and Astronaut Bean had saved the rocket.  A concerned mission control team then instructed the crew on how to verify the integrity of the vehicle systems.

The vehicle checked OK and the crew was given the go ahead for Trans Lunar Injection.  The J2 rocket engine on the S-IV-B was fired and Apollo 12 was on its way to the Moon.  The Command Service Module separated from the S-IVB, transposed its position, docked with the Lunar Module and extracted it.

On November 18, 1969, the Service Propulsion System engine on the Service Module was fired to insert the Apollo 12 crew and their spacecraft into lunar orbit.  Bean complimented Gordon, "Man!  Look, at that place. Outstanding effort there, Dick Gordon.  Flash Gordon pilots again!"  Conrad commented, "Good Godfrey! That's a God-forsaken place; but it's beautiful, isn't it?"

Conrad and Bean took their positions in Lunar Module Intrepid and the hatches were sealed between the two vehicles on November 19, 1969.  Astronaut Gordon remained in the Command Module Yankee Clipper.  The two vehicles were undocked and the legs on Intrepid's Descent Stage were deployed into the landing position.

Conrad and Bean fired the descent engine on Intrepid and headed toward their destination on the Moon.  Their destination was not just the Ocean of Storms. It was a specific crater called where robot explorer Surveyor III had landed on April 20, 1967. Examining Surveyor III after 31 months of exposure to the space environment was a primary objective for Conrad and Bean.

The landing of Apollo 11 had not been very precise.  It took quite some time for the scientists and engineers to determine exactly where Apollo 11 had landed on the Moon. The imprecision was caused by the significant variations of lunar gravity during the course of a lunar orbit.  It was difficult to predict the exact orbit of a lunar spacecraft due to concentrations of dense material in the lunar sphere known as Mascons.

Apollo 12 was using a new technique of analyzing orbital data and three powerful tracking stations on Earth to get better navigational information.  Prior to the launch the trajectory engineer asked Astronaut Conrad where he wanted to land in relationship to Surveyor III.  Conrad, unsure of the precision of the navigation, asked to be targeted for the middle of the crater where Surveyor III had landed.

Much to Conrad's surprise, when they neared the surface of the Moon, Intrepid was headed directly for the center of Surveyor crater.  Conrad remarked "Hey it's started right for the center of the crater..." Astronaut Conrad took over manual control of the vehicle and maneuvered to the edge of the crater.  If they had landed directly in the center of the crater it would have been too close to Surveyor III.

As Intrepid got closer to the surface of the Moon a tremendous amount of dust was stirred up by the blast from the descent engine.  The crew was blinded by this dust and had to rely on their instrumentation for the landing.

Off of three of the legs of the lunar module protruded thin probes that reach down toward the surface.    When one of the probes came in contact with the surface, a blue light, known as the "Contact Light" would illuminate on the Lunar Module control panel. 

As Conrad hovered over the surface, Bean announced "Contact light" and Conrad shut down the engine on the lunar module. With an abrupt thud, Intrepid landed on the Moon, having fallen the remaining six feet after the descent engine was turned off.  Bean remarked to Conrad, "Good landing Pete! Outstanding man!"

Astronaut Charles Peter (Pete) Conrad Jr. became the third man to walk on the surface of the Moon.  On November 19, 1969, Conrad jumped off the bottom rung of the Lunar Module ladder and exclaimed,
"Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

Conrad had made a bet with an Italian journalist that he could say whatever he wanted to when he stepped on the lunar surface.  The journalist had been convinced that NASA scripted the communication for Neil Armstrong and forced him to say it when Armstrong became the first man to step on the Moon.  Conrad won the bet.

During Conrad's first few moments on the surface he told Bean, "Guess what I see sitting on the side of the crater."  Bean responded, "The old Surveyor, huh?"  Conrad confirmed, "The old Surveyor; yes sir.  Does that look neat?  It can't be any farther than 600 feet from here.  How about that?"

Conrad found working on the Moon to be a very dirty environment.  Conrad remarked, "Man, did I get dirt all over myself.  This is what is known as dirt's dirt."

Conrad was really enjoying himself on the surface.  As he loped about, he hummed, "Dum dum, tunk-e tunk-e tum. Trying to learn to move faster. Pretty good. Hey, I feel great." 
Later an exuberant Conrad added, "De-dum dum dum.  I feel like Bugs Bunny."

A short while after Commander Conrad was on the surface; Lunar Module Pilot Bean joined him.  Alan Lavern Bean the fourth person to walk on the Moon.

One of Bean's first tasks on the surface was to remove the television camera from its position on the lunar module and reposition it on the surface.  While he was doing this, Bean pointed the camera into the Sun.  Sadly this burned out the camera rendering it useless for the rest of the mission.

remember being tremendously disappointed when that happened.  I was in my usual roost, perched in front of our black and white television, captivated by the second exploration of the lunar surface.  Suddenly, less than an hour into the EVA, the images were gone.  We would not witness Conrad and Bean examining Surveyor III.  We could only hear the words.

Bean was instructed to try and fix the camera by tapping it with his hammer.  He radioed, "I hit it on the top with my hammer. I figured we didn't have a thing to lose. I just pounded it on the top with this hammer that I've got."  The capsule communicator in Houston joked, "Skillful fix, Al."  Bean agreed, "Yes, that's skilled craftsmanship."

At the time I seriously wondered if the camera had not been destroyed intentionally.  Could it be that the astronauts just did not want someone looking over there shoulder?  I was devastated and I am sure the geologists in Houston were disappointed as well.

Conrad and Bean erected an American flag on the lunar surface.   There was some difficulty in doing that. The rod that was supposed to hold the flag outstretched on the airless Moon would not cooperate so the flag draped down at an angle.  Conrad radioed, "Okay, the flag is up.  We hope everyone down there is as proud of it as we are to put it up."

Conrad then requested Bean to take a photo of him with the flag saying, "Can we have a quickie here?" One of the more striking color images to come from Apollo 12 was a photograph that Bean took of Conrad with the flag.


The EVA continued as Conrad and Bean set up an important array of scientific instruments on the lunar surface called the Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package (ALSEP).  The ALSEP package would continue monitoring conditions at the Ocean of Storms long after the Apollo 12 crew had left.

A thermonuclear reactor using radioactive plutonium powered ALSEP. The plutonium gave off heat that was converted into electricity by thermocouples.   Conrad and Bean had a great deal of difficulty extracting the plutonium fuel element from its holder on the Lunar Module. 

After struggling with it for some time, Conrad resorted to tapping on the side of the container while Bean pulled on the element.  That finally loosened it and Bean extracted the element.  Bean commented, "Keep it going baby. That hammer's a universal tool."  Later Bean stated,
"Hey, don't ever - don't ever come to the Moon without a hammer."

One of the instruments that the electrical generator powered was a seismometer to record seismic activity on the Moon.  The instrument was so sensitive that it was even able to record the footsteps of the Apollo 12 astronauts during the rest of their EVA.

The first EVA ended after 3 hours and 56 minutes.  Conrad and Bean would rest before they would walk over to examine Surveyor III.  When he landed Intrepid, Conrad  had indeed put the vehicle down about 600 feet away from Surveyor.

On November 20, 1969 Conrad and Bean were on the lunar surface for their second EVA.
The astronauts bounded their way into the crater for a close up inspection of Surveyor.  They found that it was not white as it had been when it left the Earth but was tan or brown.  It seemed to the astronauts that the dust kicked up by their lunar landing must have blanketed the dormant Surveyor with a layer of dust.

Conrad and Bean removed parts off of Surveyor to bring back to Earth for analysis.  Scientists were interested to find out how the long-term exposure to the space environment had affected the materials.  Items brought back from Surveyor, included Surveyors television camera, metal tubing, electrical wiring, and the scoop with which it dug in the lunar surface.

After 3 hours and 49 minutes, the second EVA had ended.  Conrad and Bean had finished their exploration of the Ocean of Storms.  The farthest they had walked away from the Lunar Module was 1,361 feet.  They collected 74.8 pounds of lunar samples.

On November 20, 1969, about 6.5 hours after their final EVA ended; Conrad and Bean fired the ascent engine on Intrepid and the ascent stage lifted off from the Moon.  Intrepid headed for a rendezvous with Yankee Clipper.

Typically the mission commander flew Lunar Module.  The Lunar Module Pilot assists by observing and reporting readings from the instruments.  When they were on the far side of the Moon, Conrad asked Bean if he would like to fly the Lunar Module.

Of course Bean did want to fly the Lunar Module but told Conrad that the people in Mission Control would not like the variance from procedures.  Commander Conrad's response to Lunar Module Pilot Bean was that they were on the backside of the Moon, out of communication from Earth, who would know?  So Alan Bean became the first and perhaps only Lunar Module Pilot to actually fly the Lunar Module.

Intrepid rendezvoused and was docked with Yankee Clipper.  When Gordon opened the hatch, he saw that Conrad and Bean were covered with lunar dust.  Desiring to maintain a clean ship, Gordon requested Conrad and Bean to strip out of their clothing and clean up before they could come on board the command module. Conrad said, "Listen we're so filthy dirty, I can't believe it."  Gordon responded, "Why don't you take those suits off over there?" 240,000 miles away from Earth, Conrad and Bean entered the command module, the way they came into the world, naked.

After transferring the cargo of lunar samples from Intrepid, the Lunar Module was jettisoned. Intrepid was deliberately crashed into the Moon as part of a seismic experiment.   The effect of the impact was recorded by the newly deployed ALSEP seismometer at the Ocean of Storms.  Seismologists were surprised by what they saw.  Unlike it would have done on Earth, the impact on the Moon caused it to ring like a seismic bell.  The reverberating shock waves continued for 55 minutes.  On the Earth the shock waves would have ceased after 2 minutes.

Apollo 12 remained in lunar orbit for a few more revolutions taking photographs and making observations of future landing sites.  On November 21, 1969, the service propulsion system engine was fired and Yankee Clipper and her crew left lunar orbit to return home to the Earth.  Upon coming around the far side of the Moon for the final time Conrad announced, "Hello Houston; Apollo 12 en route home."

Reentry from the Moon is a violent process that dissipates a great deal of kinetic energy.  During reentry Bean exclaimed, "It won't be long now. Babe we're whistling in.  You can tell we're lower."  Conrad responded, "How about 35,481 feet per second!"

On November 24, 1969, the Apollo 12 crew splashed down in the Pacific Ocean.  The primary recovery ship for this mission was the USS Hornet.

The flight duration for Apollo 12 was 10 days, 4 hours, 36 minutes and 25 seconds.


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UPDATED : March 30, 2008
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