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Apollo 14

"And it's been a long way, but we're here." The entire Apollo 14 crew autographed this crew lithograph in person for me.  Photo Credit: NASA
Crew Signed Photo of Apollo 14 CrewApollo 14 was targeted for  a crater called Cone Crater in the Fra Mauro region of the Moon.  Fra Mauro was a high priority science target and had been the destination of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

Selected to be Commander of Apollo 14 was Alan (Al) Bartlett Shepard, Jr.  Shepard had one previous flight when he became the first American in space on Mercury Redstone 3.

The Command Module Pilot  was chosen to be Stuart (Stu) Allen Roosa.  Apollo 14 would be the first and only flight for Astronaut Roosa.

The astronaut selected to be Lunar Module Pilot was Edgar (Ed) Dean Mitchell.  Apollo 14 would also be Mitchell's only spaceflight.

The name selected by the crew for the Command Module was Kitty Hawk.  This was done in honor of Wright Brothers, who flew the first powered flight at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.  The Lunar Module was named Antares.  Antares was also the name of a star that would be used to guide Shepard and Mitchell down to the lunar surface.

Two modifications had been made to the Command Service Module in response to the accident on Apollo 13.  A third oxygen tank was added to the service module at a location isolated from the other two.  Also a spare battery was added to carry the electrical load of the spacecraft at any point in a returning mission, if the fuel cells should fail.

The Apollo 14 Saturn V lifted off from launch complex 39-A at the Kennedy Space Center on January 31, 1971.   Roosa called out, "Go, baby go!"  Mitchell responded, "She's going; she's going. Everything is good."  The ascent into orbit by Apollo 14 was nominal without any major issues.

The Apollo 14 backup crew consisted of Eugene Andrew Cernan, Ronald Ellwin Evans, and Joseph Henry Engle.  The backup crew humorously referred to the prime crew as the old man; the fat man; and the cute little red head."  Shepard was 47 years old at this point and would become the oldest man to walk on the Moon.  Roosa had red hair.  That left Lunar Module Pilot Mitchell with the moniker "fat man".

As a practical joke the Apollo 14 backup crew had a special patch designed.  Its theme was taken from the cartoon characters of the Coyote and Roadrunner.  The Coyote represented the Apollo 14 prime crew.  It had a beard for the "old man", a fat belly for the "fat man", and it was colored red for the "cute little red head".  The Roadrunner represented the backup crew and the patch depicted the Roadrunner or backup crew beating the primary crew or Coyote to the Moon.

To further press the practical joke, the Apollo 14 backup crew secretly stowed these comical patches in just about storage place there was in the Apollo 14 Command Module. These patches floating in micro gravity would greet the Apollo 14 crew on orbit.

Apollo 14 took the customary 1.5 orbits of the Earth to check out spacecraft systems.  During this time, the practical joke of the backup crew patches became painfully obvious.  The transcripts of the on-board conversations during that time include many references to the patches.

At 1 hour, 26 minutes, and 16 seconds into the flight, Shepard commented, "There's more badges."   Mitchell responded, "OK, I got it."  
Shepard answered, "I'll get it out of the way ... I'm over here ... beep, beep, beep all over the place." Roosa chimed in, "He who laughs last."  Shepard answered, "Well I'm - even so, I'm hell of a lot happier that we're flying and looking at their patches, rather than the other way around." Roosa quipped, "Well that's what I meant by laughing last."

The spacecraft systems checked out all right and the crew was given the go for TLI (Trans Lunar Injection).  The J2 rocket engine was fired on the third stage (S-IVB) of the Saturn rocket, breaking Apollo 14 free of the bonds of Earth's gravity.

The Command Service Module was separated from the S-IVB and Astronaut Roosa transposed the position of the spacecraft to face the lunar module nestled at the top of the S-IVB.

Roosa maneuvered in and attempted to dock with the Lunar Module.  To the surprise of the Apollo 14 astronauts, the Command Service Module failed to dock with the Lunar Module.  At 3 hours, 14 minutes, and 59 seconds, Roosa radioed, "OK Houston, We have hit it twice and - sure looks like we're closing fast enough.  I'm going to back out of here and try it again."

The second attempt at docking also failed.  Roosa radioed, "OK Houston, I hit it pretty good and held 4 seconds on contact, and we still did not latch."
  If the Command Service Module could not dock with the Lunar Module, the lunar landing would be scrubbed.

Frantically, engineers on the ground began pouring over the docking system design for the spacecraft.  Three more docking attempts were made in the next 60 minutes and all of them also failed.  The amount of maneuvering fuel consumed during these failed attempts began to be a concern.

An alternative docking procedure was radioed up to the crew.  They would skip the soft dock part of the process and instead would hit the hard dock switch in conjunction with ramming the docking probe into the drogue on the lunar module.  At 4 hours, 56 minutes, and 53 seconds, Shepard announced, "I got - got a barber pole. We got a hard dock."
  It was a big relief to the crew and to mission control to put that docking behind them.

When they reached the Moon, the service propulsion engine on the Service Module was fired and Apollo 14 was inserted into lunar orbit.

On February 4, 1971 Shepard and Mitchell undocked Antares from Kitty Hawk in preparation for their descent towards the Fra Mauro region of the Moon.  A problem developed with Antares computer.  The computer repeatedly entered the abort mode as they tested its operation before beginning powered descent.

Mission Control struggled on the ground to determine what was causing the abort.  It was finally determined that the abort switch was faulty.  With only 15 minutes left in the window before the landing would have to be canceled entirely, a new computer procedure was radioed up to the crew.  This fixed the problem and Antares was given the go for descent.

On the way down, the landing radar switched into an incorrect mode of operation.  Mitchell implored, "Come on radar; that's a lock-on... radar... thousand... have anything to get the radar in?"  Shepard was instructed to recycle the circuit breaker powering the landing radar.  Shepard did so and radioed, "Okay, It's cycled." Mitchell pleaded, "Come on."  The landing radar came back on in the proper mode and a relieved Shepard called, "Good. Good. Whew that was close."

Antares pitched over and provided Shepard and Mitchell their first view of the approaching landing site.  Shepard and Mitchell were excited to see the lunar landmarks they were expecting. Shepard exclaimed, "There is Cone Crater... And there it is! Right on the money!"  Mitchell replied, "Hot damn! Right on the money!"

As they neared the surface the contact light illuminated on the Antares control panel.  This was an indication that the landing probes had touched the surface.  Mitchell told Shepard, "Contact, Al."  Shepard pushed the button to stop the descent engine and stated, "...stop. Great. Oh, Auto, Auto." Mitchell announced, "We're on the surface."  Shepard followed with, "Okay. We made a good landing."

The third manned lunar landing had occurred on February 5, 1971. This had been the most accurate landing of all of the lunar landing missions.  Shepard and Mitchell had put Antares down only 174 feet away from the planned target.  When the descent engine was shut down only 68 seconds of maneuvering fuel remained.  If anything, this landing proved that landing on the Moon was not a routine experience.

On February 5, 1971 with tears in his eyes, Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr. became the fifth man to walk on the surface of the Moon.  Shepard's first words on the surface were, "Okay, you're right. Al is on the surface.  And it's been a long way but we're here."

Soon after Shepard was on the surface, Edgar Dean Mitchell joined him and became the sixth man to walk on the Moon.  One of the comments Mitchell made was, "Mobility is... very great under this crushing one-sixth-g load, Houston."

For the first time, on the Moon, the spacesuit for the Commander had red stripes on the helmet, elbows, and knees.  These stripes would make it easier to determine which astronaut was which in photographs and on the television.

Because of the loss of the television camera on Apollo 12, a new procedure was developed for moving the television camera on Apollo 14.  A lens cap would be placed over the television camera lens before the camera was moved.  That would avoid the risk of damaging the camera if it were accidentally pointed into the Sun.

Shepard and Mitchell set up the S-band communications antenna and aligned it towards the Earth.  They set up the American flag and took turns photographing themselves saluting it.

Deke Slayton in Mission control relayed a message  to Shepard and Mitchell from President Nixon.  Slayton told them, "Okay.  We were very pleased here in Mission Control to receive a phone call from President Nixon.  He asked me to extend to you and Stu his best congratulations.   He said that, like millions of people all over the world, he is an astronaut watcher at this time.  The picture is coming in very well at the White House, he said.  The President said he knew how many thousands of people had worked on this mission without whom men would not be safely walking on the Moon.  He asked that I wish the Apollo - entire team well.  The President said he was proud of you and proud of them.  He sent you a wire just before the flight wishing you Godspeed, and he wishes you well on your return flight.  The President also asked me to invite you to the White House for dinner and to spend the weekend with your families at Camp David after your mission is completed. Over."

The astronauts then went about the business of setting up the scientific instrument station called ALSEP.  As with Apollo 12, this station would be reporting readings from the Moon long after the Apollo 14 crew had left.

Apollo 14 would be the only lunar mission to utilize a Mobile Equipment Transporter (MET). It was a hand pulled cart with two small wheels to aid the crew with carrying their equipment on the lunar surface.  Shepard affectionately referred to the MET as his lunar rickshaw.  While moving out towards the ALSEP deployment site, Shepard remarked, "The MET seems to be riding very well, Houston.  It's bouncing a little bit making nice tire marks, but not about to turn over.  It jumps about a foot every time it hits a small rise but very stable."

The terrain at the Fra Mauro landing site was sloped and pock marked with many craters.  This made it somewhat difficult to find a good site to deploy ALSEP.  The most suitable site for ALSEP was selected at a fair distance away from the Lunar Module.

Dust would again be a nemesis of the moonwalkers, Mitchell commented, "Everything else is going to be full of dust before long. Be filthy as pigs."

With ALSEP deployed Shepard and Mitchell conducted a seismic experiment with a tool called a "thumper".  This tool had a charge in it that when fired in contact with the surface would produce shock waves for the seismic instruments to record.  While using the thumper, Mitchell remarked, "Fire. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.  Besides having a hard trigger, this has a pretty good kick to it."  Shepard responded, "Okay, good shot, Ed."   Mitchell continued, "Kind of like firing both barrels of a 12-gauge shotgun at once."

The rest of the EVA was spent collecting lunar samples.  Before Mitchell and Shepard climbed the ladder to enter the Lunar Module, they tried to clean the lunar soil off of each other's spacesuits.  Shepard commented to Mitchell, "All righty. Do you ever use soap on your clothes?  Bet you been wallowing in them."  Mitchell retorted, "Okay, come on around and let me get this other leg.  Okay. That's good.  Get them off good because you're going to sleep in that hammock over me."

The first EVA lasted for 4 hours, 47 minutes and 50 seconds.  After a rest period a second EVA was conducted the next day on February 6, 1971.  At the beginning of the second EVA Shepard joked, "Yes it's a beautiful day here at Fra Mauro Base.  Not a cloud in the sky."  Perhaps as an indication of things to come, Mitchell responded, "Beautiful day for a game of golf."

The goal of this EVA was to reach the rim of Cone Crater and sample rocks there.  It was believed that the oldest rocks thrown out from the bottom of the crater would be near the rim.

The traverse up to the rim of Cone Crater would prove to be more difficult than imagined. The landmarks indicated on their lunar surface map were difficult to distinguish.  Shepard commented, "Not even half way to the - to the rim of Cone yet."  Mitchell added, "Yes, this place all looks alike out here."

The terrain was steep and littered with boulders.  Some were partially buried in the soil. Shepard and Mitchell found pulling the Mobile Equipment Transporter up this steep and undulating grade to be very difficult.  They took turns pulling the MET.  At one point Mitchell radioed, "Al's picked up the - Al's got the back of the MET now and we are carrying it up.  I think it seems easier."

Shepard and Mitchell were pushing themselves to the limits of exertion.  They were breathing heavily and had to stop and rest from time to time.  They continued to be stymied in identifying their exact location.  Mitchell commented, "Doggone it, you sure can be deceived by the slopes here. The sun angle is very deceiving."  Later Mitchell would add, "It's going to take longer than we expected.  Our positions are all in doubt now Fredo."

The difficulty caused the moonwalkers to fall behind their schedule for the EVA by about 30 minutes. Shepard began to get concerned that they had spent too much time trying to reach the rim of Cone Crater and not enough time documenting and sampling the rocks.  He proposed stopping the attempt to reach the rim so that they would have enough time for their geological sampling.  Mitchell protested, "Oh, let's give it a whirl.  We can't stop without looking into Cone Crater."

The discussion continued and Fred Haise the CAPCOM from Mission Control radioed, "Okay, Al and Ed.  In view of your assay of the - where your location is and how long it is going to take to get to Cone, the word from the back room is that they'd like you to consider where you are to be the edge of Cone Crater." Mitchell was not pleased and radioed, "Think your finks."

Shepard and Mitchell had made a bet before the flight that they would reach Cone Crater with the MET in tow.  Mitchell suggested to Shepard, "Why don't we lose our bet and leave the MET and get on up there.  We could make it a lot faster without it."  Shepard disagreed.  He did not think the MET was slowing them down. Shortly Fred Haise radioed, "And Al and Ed, Deke says he'll cover your bet if you drop the MET." 
Shepard responded, "No, the MET's not slowing us down, Houston.  It's just a question of time.  We'll get there."

Time was their enemy.  Mission Control had given them a 30-minute extension to the plan for the EVA based upon the difficulties encountered and now that 30-minute extension was eaten up.  The call was made to stop and sample the boulder field that they were in.  They did not realize it at the time, but they were tantalizingly close to their goal, the rim of Cone Crater

The time consumed by the traverse did not leave them with enough time to document the samples that they collected very well here at the end of their traverse.  They were given permission from Mission Control to just pick up samples of opportunity on the way back to Antares so that they could catch up to the mission plan.

Shepard and Mitchell hurried back to the Lunar Module.   Mitchell was given the task of sampling some nearby boulders.  Shepard was directed to the ALSEP site to realign the ALSEP antenna for better communication with Earth.

When they both got back to the Lunar Module, they were directed point the TV camera back towards Antares so that Mission Control could watch the close out activities.

Shepard had a trick up his sleeve or in this case in his pocket.  He radioed, "Houston, while you're looking that up you might recognize what I have in my hand as the handle for the re - the contingency sample return; it just so happens to have a genuine six iron on the bottom of it.  In my left hand, I have a little white pellet that's familiar to millions of Americans.  I drop it down.  Unfortunately, the suit is so stiff, I can't do this with both hands, but I'm going to try a little sand trap shot here."

Shepard became the only human to ever hit a golf ball on the Moon.  The first shot collected more dirt than ball.  Shepard then dropped a second ball and made better contact with his second attempt.  Describing the second shot Shepard reported that it went, "Miles and miles and miles."  Not to miss out on the fun, Mitchell attempted a javelin throw with a no longer needed pole.

As they were loading up the Lunar Module for their return, Shepard accidentally pulled the cable to the television camera and knocked it over.  He went over to the camera and stood it back up.  The picture from it was reported to be better than it had been before it was knocked in the lunar dust.

Before he left the surface, Shepard reported, "Okay, Houston. Crew of Antares is leaving Fra Mauro base."  Fred Haise who missed his opportunity to explore Fra Mauro due to the aborted Apollo 13 mission radioed back, "Roger, Al.  You and Ed did a great job.  Don't think I could have done any better myself."

The second EVA had lasted 4 hours, 37 minutes, and 41 seconds. Shepard and Mitchell prepared the cabin of Antares for the ascent into orbit and rendezvous with Roosa in Kitty Hawk.  Shepard counted down the time for the ignition of the ascent engine, "Ascent engine is armed. 6, 5, 4, 3, 1, 0."  Mitchell called, "Ignition."  Shepard concurred, "We have ignition." Mitchell exclaimed, "What a lift-off!"

Antares rendezvoused with Kitty Hawk.  The docking problems experienced on the outbound journey from Earth caused some concern now for the lunar orbit docking.  Roosa was instructed to try the normal docking procedure rather than the one they had improvised during the original docking.  This time the normal procedure worked as it was supposed to.

The lunar samples and lunar explorers were transferred over to the Command Module.  Antares ascent stage was jettisoned and crashed into the Moon.  A short time was spent in lunar orbit before the service propulsion engine on the Service Module was burned on February 7, 1971 for Trans Earth Injection to send Apollo 14 back on it's three day cruise towards the Earth.

Shepard and Mitchell had spent a total of 33 hours, 30 minutes on the surface of the Moon. On their two EVAs, they collected a total of 92 and one half pounds of lunar samples.  Apollo 14 completed 34 lunar orbits.

On February 9, 1971, as Apollo 14 neared the point of reentry with the atmosphere, the Command Module was separated from the Service Module.  One of the goals at this point was to photograph the Moon as it set below the horizon of the Earth.  For this photographic exercise, the camera was mounted in Mitchell's window.  Mitchell commented, "Oh man that sure is pretty. Back home again. Keep it in the window. You're letting it get too high on me..."

The parachutes deployed normally and Apollo 14 splashed down safely in the Pacific Ocean on February 9, 1971.  The prime recovery ship for Apollo 14 was the USS New Orleans.

To prevent possible lunar microbe contamination of the Earth, the Apollo 14 crew was required to wear breathing masks upon exiting the Command Module.  The were quarantined for 15 days in Houston following the mission.  No lunar microbes were found and the quarantine procedure was dropped for subsequent missions.

The flight duration for Apollo 14 was 9 days, 0 hours, 1 minute, and 57 seconds.  Apollo 14 would be the last spaceflight for Shepard.  It would be the only spaceflight for Mitchell and Roosa.

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UPDATED : March 29, 2008
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