Happy 45th anniversary of the Apollo 12 mission to the Moon! It’s hard to believe what was accomplished nearly 50 years ago during the Space Race. If you were alive to experience the excitement of the race for space, perhaps every Apollo mission was exciting for you. For the next generations, the historically famous benchmarks (such as Sputnik, Yuri Gagarin’s first flight, Apollo 11, and Apollo 13) are typically the ones that are remembered. This is not to say that other missions were not extraordinary, just not as colloquial.
Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of Apollo 12, which launched astronauts (pictured below in order) Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr. (Commander), Richard F. Gordon Jr. (Command Module pilot), and Alan L.Bean (Lunar Module pilot) on November 14th 1969 from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Even though Apollo 11 proved that landing on the moon was possible, the following Apollo missions weren’t smooth sailing, as evidenced by the infamous Apollo 13. Apollo 12 was no exception. The launch of the Saturn V rocket was scheduled for the day before, however rain delayed the launch a day. Finally, the rocket launched on November 14th with Richard Nixon in the audience (this was the first time a president came to watch a live launch).
But then …. [insert dramatic pause of suspense]…. 36 seconds after launch the vehicle triggered a lightning discharge on itself and down the ionized plume of smoke to the ground. Another strike at 52 seconds happened. The aftermath was insanely nerve-racking. The altitude indicator was zapped, the fuel cells went offline rendering the command module to work off of battery power, and nearly every warning light went on.
[CAN YOU EVEN IMAGINE?!?!! I would have soiled my spacesuit]
All of this happened in less than a minute after launch and you can imagine the pulse of Astronauts and the folks in the control room were beating at insane rates. One such operator in the control room, John Aaron (EECOM – Electrical, Environmental, and Consumable Manager), had recognized the garbled data as telemetry failure during a training simulation a year earlier. He quickly called a command to the Astronauts to “Try SCE to aux”, aka flipping a switch to set the Signal Conditioning Equipment (SCE) to a back-up power supply. The call confused the flight director and the Astronauts (as it was not a normal command), but finally Alan Bean remembered where the switch was and set everything back to normal and the mission was not aborted. Watch the chaos for yourself below!
My favorite part of the clip was astronaut Pete Conrad laughing hysterically to orbit 😀
Once the insanity subsided it was a much more jovial experience. The Apollo 12 backup crew even managed to play some naughty pranks on the astronauts, only to be revealed once on the moon. When executing an EVA (extra vehicular activity) on the moon, the astronauts use a checklist book strapped to their suites that resembles a small flip book. The backup crew inserted several pictures of Playboy Playmates into the flip book with hilarious captions. You can view the full flip book here.
What would go through your mind if you went through a nearly aborted mission to land on the moon (ON THE MOON!!!!) to find Playboy clippings on your checklist? I wonder what the reaction would have been if this was known to the public? After the recent media frenzy (dubbed #shirtstorm) of a certain Rosetta mission team members t-shirt choice with racy women on it, the intended humor may not have translated so well. I can see the headlines now: “Astronauts read Playboy while on the moon”, “Government funded Apollo 12 mission sends playboy bunnies to the moon”, “Astronauts find bunnies on the moon, Playboy bunnies”… etc.
While staying up on the ongoing debate of #shirtstorm and the media coverage of the Rosetta mission, I thoroughly enjoyed the live coverage provided by the popular online comic, xkcd, that was turned into a gif (viewable here). I also came across an older xkcd comic oddly relating the Rosetta mission to Apollo 12.
I browsed the internet for an explanation and it seemed there was quite some confusion regarding the “Apollo 12 Rum Incident”. Some theories suggested a Futurama reference, or perhaps a bottle of Harpoon Jamaican Rum was brought onboard. If you have any thoughts on what the “Apollo 12 Rum Incident” was, please leave your hypothesis in the comment section below!
Even though Apollo 12 was not as famous of a mission as Apollo 11 or 13, no matter what way you look at it, it is an impressive and magnificent mission worthy of attention. I mean, WE WENT TO THE MOON!!!!! Amazing. If you’d like to learn more about the Apollo missions, check out the documentary, In the Shadow of the Moon, highlighting accounts of the Apollo Astronauts.
Until next time…this is Julia, signing off.