Thursday, June 11, 2009

Five reasons why Apollo 12 was awesome

The Apollo 12 mission to the Moon in November of 1969 falls between the first-ever landing on the Moon in July of that year and the drama of Apollo 13 in April of 1970. In general, the Apollo missions, save the two more dramatic ones, don't seem to garner too much attention. However, after reading a book on the Apollo 11 mission that briefly makes note of the following voyage to the Moon, I looked into it a little more and found that there are at least five reasons that it was a pretty incredible and awesome trip.

5. Surviving the storms

They say lightning doesn't strike twice. They are wrong. The Saturn V rocket carrying the three-man crew into orbit was hit by lightning not long after launch, and again soon after. A good deal of equipment went a little haywire, but the rocket was not seriously damaged and lunar module pilot Alan Bean was able to get the systems back online with some help from Mission Control. Here's a dramatized clip:

Also kind of cool, one of the stages of the rocket was supposed to be jettisoned into solar orbit; it didn't quite make it, but is in enough of an orbit that it revisited the planet around 2002 and should be back again in about 30 years.

4. "First" words

The first words spoken on the Moon were actually "Contact light," spoken by Buzz Aldrin as part of the technobabble of the landing and, as far as I know, simply letting Mission Control know that a light indicating that the lunar module had touched down had come on. Of course, the first words spoken on the Moon by a person on the surface were those of Neil Armstrong: "That's one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind."

Evidently in a bet to a reporter, or perhaps just a flub from a misstep, Charles "Pete" Conrad Jr., commander on Apollo 12 and a little shorter than Neil, said upon dropping from the ladder, "Whoopie, that may have been a small step for Neil but it's a big one for me!"

3. Flying ships!

Searching for Odin, my love!

The insignia for the mission is a friggin' flying clipper ship. Literally a big sailing vessel, propelled by rocket fuel and displaying the United States flag, as it flies around the Moon. Take that, Apollo 11's insignia of an eagle depositing an olive branch on the lunar surface as a sign that we came in peace for all mankind!

2. They brought Playboy

Sexy women on the Moon...the sci-fi writers were right!

has been on the Moon. Or, more accurately, scans of the magazine hidden in the lunar manuals for Conrad and Bean with the hilarious caption, "Seen any interesting hills & valleys?" So technically, this might mean that Misses September 1968 through January 1969 were the fifth through ninth people on the Moon.

It's just too bad that the backup crew didn't also hook up command module pilot Richard Gordon, Jr. with an issue. I'm sure he would have liked to "just read the articles" while orbiting the Moon waiting for the astronauts to come back.

1. Visiting an unmanned spacecraft

In my opinion, one of the more interesting plot pieces in any science fiction work involves the crew of a manned spacecraft visiting an unmanned space probe. Just the idea of sending something away from the planet and checking it out again when the species gains the ability to see it again in person is one that appeals to me. The Mars landers and other space probes are like interplanetary time capsules.

So I was pretty surprised to see that Apollo 12 already went there.

Look at this primitive piece of 1967 crap!

Part of the mission involved touching down in an area where a few unmanned probes had landed, and so astronauts actually visited an old American lander (the Surveyor 3) and broke off a few pieces to take back to Earth. Granted, the lander was only about two years old, and efforts to land a person on the Moon were well underway when Surveyor was launched. Still, this has to be one of the coolest images from the Apollo missions.

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