On the Moon 40 Years Ago

Exactly 40 years ago, the Apollo 12 lunar lander "Intrepid" placed it's four frisbee-shaped footpads down on the lunar surface at the Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum). And today, you can see the footprints of Apollo 12 Astronauts Al Bean and Pete Conrad, thanks to the very recent images from the LRO spacecraft:

(Image courtesy of LRO/NASA)

Inspired by the anniversary of Apollo 12, I opened up Google Earth and started exploring; then I thought it might be fun to give a quick tour of the Apollo 12 landing site with a few images and some short stories here on the blog, especially since Pete and Al were both such colorful characters.

The crew landed on one of "the great lunar plains", about 1500km west of the Apollo 11 Tranquility Base, next to a relatively young and geologically interesting crater named Copernicus. Pinpoint landing was the name of the game for this lunar landing, as NASA wanted the crew to grab some parts from the Surveyor 3 spacecraft that was parked nearby.

Prior to the mission -- using a combination of photos taken by Surveyor 3, some distant photos from orbit, and a microscope to identify boulder patterns on the surface -- a member of the Surveyor team named Ewen Whitaker managed to pinpoint the location of the craft in the descriptively-named "Surveyor Crater". This crater actually formed the torso in a series of craters nicknamed "The Snowman"; a resemblance best seen when viewed from the approach trajectory:

Apollo 12 snowman

Pete Conrad targeted The Snowman as they approached with the lander and, thanks to the visual cues, managed to land "just on the shoulder of the Snowman", as Apollo 12 Command Module Pilot Dick Gordon would report from orbit.

Apollo 12 panorama

It wasn't long until Pete and Al were ready for their first EVA. As Pete made the 3 meter jump from the bottom rung of the Apollo 12 ladder to the lunar surface, he yelled, "Whoopie!" Then with both feet firmly planted, he stated,

"Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me."

Once both men were on the surface, they started setting up the ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package). You may have noticed the ALSEP before, labeled on the LRO image above.

While setting up the power source for the ALSEP, one of the components got stuck. Frustrated, Al and Pete started banging the side of the ALSEP with a hammer until the component let loose. "Never come to the Moon without a hammer," quipped Conrad, while chuckling. They completed the setup of the scientific equipment and wrapped up EVA 1, then headed back to the lunar module for some rest.

Their second EVA was a geological adventure. The Apollo Surface Journal for Apollo 12 outlines the journey much better than I can:
"EVA-2 was to be a long, circular geology walk that would take them around the west side of Head Crater, and then southwest to a small, fresh impact feature called Sharp Crater. From there, they would walk east to a point on the southern rim of Surveyor Crater opposite the LM, and then make their way down to the Surveyor itself before climbing back up to the LM. In all, they planned to cover about 1300 meters, the equivalent of walking the first four or five holes of a public golf course."

EVA 2, apollo 12

(Pete Conrad with a lunar soil sample, Photo: NASA)

Toward the end of this lunar jaunt, the astronauts approached Surveyor 3:

(Surveyor 3 with Lunar Module in the background. Photo: NASA)

Pete and Al extensively photographed the Surveyor, then used bolt cutters to remove the TV camera, the scoop, and a few other parts to bring back to Earth. Then they lunar-hopped back to the lunar module to complete their second, and final, EVA.

I hope that you enjoyed this quick journey back to Apollo 12! Perhaps in the near future, one of our GLXP teams will choose this area as a landing site, to add a third generation of spacecraft to this historic crater.

If you want more details about Apollo 12 or any other Apollo missions, the Lunar Surface Journals can provide many more facts, transcripts and images!

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