Apollo 12 Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad unfurls the American flag on the moon, November 19, 1969
Forty-three years ago this evening, Apollo 12 landed on the moon. Four months earlier in July, the Apollo 11 crew had paved the way for this mission by proving a lunar module could land on the moon, a walk on the lunar surface was safe, and a successful liftoff and return to their spacecraft was possible. Here’s an excerpt of a news article from this day in history:
Richmond Times Dispatch, Richmond, VA, Wednesday, November 19, 1969, Pages One & Two, Courtesy of Genealogy Bank
Conrad, Bean Land on Moon For 2 Walks, 31 ½ Hour Stay
Arrival Seems Perfect, Stirs Up Clouds of Dust
From Wire Dispatches
Houston – Two Americans landed on the moon’s Ocean of Storms this morning. Their moonship Intrepid landed at 1:54 a.m. EST.
Charles Conrad, Jr. and Alan L. Bean piloted the lunar module Intrepid to a landing on the eastern shore of the vast plain to begin a 31 ½ hour stay on the lunar surface.
“Outstanding!” shouted Conrad in glee. “Beautiful !”
“Okay, Houston,” said Bean. “We’re in real good shape.”
In rapid fire they clicked off the last items on their check-lists.
“I think we’re in a place that’s a lot dustier than Neil’s,” Conrad said, referring to the landing-place where Neil Armstrong and Edwin E. Aldrin set down Apollo 11’s Eagle last July.
“Beautiful Down Here”
“Holy cow,” Conrad exclaimed. “It’s beautiful down here.”
They landed near the crater where the unmanned Surveyor spacecraft lies. The Surveyor 3 plunked down there 2 ½ years ago, and plans call for the Apollo 12 astronauts to visit it and bring pieces back to earth for study to see what a long-term stay on the moon does to man-made metal.
Astronaut Conrad prepares to descend the ladder of the Lunar Module to become the third person to walk on the moon
Astronaut Alan Bean steps on the moon about thirty minutes after Conrad
On the schedule were the two moon walks, totaling some seven hours of exploration, more than twice as much as the Apollo 11 astronauts compiled in their pioneering landing last July.
Soaring out of sight some 65 miles above and beyond was astronaut Richard F. Gordon Jr. in the mother ship Yankee Clipper on lonely patrol around the moon while Conrad and Bean are on the lunar surface.
View of the moon during Apollo 12′s mission
The scene that greeted the astronauts was the stark effect of a lunar dawn. The sun slanted in low from the west, creating a long shadow out of Intrepid’s spidery silhouette. All around the ground gleamed in the sunlight, and above there was only blackness, a black that Conrad described as the blackest he had ever seen.
Joy in Their Voices
The landing and the control were so perfect the astronauts couldn’t keep the joy out of their voices. But the dust in the area was really thick, they said, and when they were landing they were almost blinded by the dust their engine kicked up.
Between them there was a back and forth conversation about the landmarks they were spotting. The enthusiasm spilled all over.
“Man, I can’t wait to get outside, “ Conrad said. “Look at that…”
“It’s a good thing we flew high and then sat down, because I couldn’t see after that dust came up,” Conrad said.
“Look at those boulders out there,” Bean replied. “This is a nice place.”
The last 10 minutes of the descent to the lunar surface was a tense and perfect show with the astronauts practically giddy with excitement.
The Apollo 12 Lunar Module Intrepid before their descent on November 19, 1969
As they were coming down, Conrad told Mission Control. “I sure hope you have us lined up right…because there’s a whole bunch of mountains in front of us right now. I hope we go down the middle. There’s only one valley.”
He was chuckling all the time.
Apollo 12 Crew
Ahead were two expeditions on foot over the powdery soil for a total of seven hours, mankind’s first far-ranging scientific exploration of the moon.
It was dawn on the moon, with the low sun creating long shadows as the Intrepid settled to the surface just as the first manned spacecraft, Apollo 11, did Sunday, July 20, 1969.
In their pioneer landing, the Apollo 11 astronauts spent only 2 ½ hours walking the moon. But they proved man could land there, and return to earth, setting the stage for Apollo 12.
The final maneuvers began at 11:16 p.m. EST, when Conrad and Bean undocked from the command module and pulled away. Half an hour later, Gordon burned his rocket engine to give the 14th turn around the moon, Conrad put the fragile craft into its descent orbit.
Finally, at 49,235 feet above the lunar surface, flying with their eyes turned to space, Conrad began descending.
At something over 7,000 feet, he turned the spacecraft around so that he and Bean could see the approaching surface, their rocket aimed in the direction of their flight to break their speed.
Then the probes extending down from the spidery legs of the craft contacted the surface as the Intrepid dropped to the 12-foot level, and Conrad cut his engines, letting the ship settle down on its footpads.
Apollo 12 Plaque on Lunar Module
The Apollo 12 astronauts were set to conduct a more thorough, 32-hour exploration of the lifeless lunar world first touched last July by the Apollo 11 astronauts.
Apollo 12’s planned 32-hour stay on the moon is 10 hours longer than Apollo 11’s. The astronauts plan two walks out on the surface, instead of one, and each walk should last at least 3 ½ hours.
Conrad was scheduled to step out on the moon for the first time at about 6 a.m. today, to be followed by Bean about half an hour later.
The lunar module is a two-stage, 33,000 pound vehicle. The lower stage holds the descent rocket, whose engine will blast the vehicle away from the command module and bring it to a soft landing.
For the trip to and from the surface the astronauts ride in the roundish upper stage. Its rocket provides the power to lift them off the surface for the return to the command module, leaving the spent lower stage on the moon.
Conrad examines the unmanned Surveyor III spacecraft during the second extra-vehicular activity on November 20, 1969
The Apollo 12 landing site imaged by the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter in 2011 showing the footprints and hardware left by astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean
It’s amazing to me that we have the technology to see the lunar module Intrepid left on the moon by the Apollo 12 crew as well as their footprints, which appear as trails or lines on the surface. After all these years, I still find the trips to the moon fascinating!