Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Apollo 12 on the Moon

Apollo 12 landed on the Moon 39 years ago today. Unlike the Apollo 11 landing, which we watched on a Sunday afternoon, this landing was late at night for us on the US East Cost, after midnight on Tuesday.

Perhaps the biggest contrast was the completely different feeling we got about the landing as we listened to the ground to air conversation. Apollo 11 had been all tension, from the moment the LM rounded the Moon's limb, with communications dropouts, computer alarms, and then the low fuel warnings. On Apollo 12, we were treated to Pete and Al's ecstatic and jubilant exclamations all the way down. "There it is! There it is! Son of a gun - right down the middle of the road!!" And just after landing, there was Al's, "Good landing, Pete! Outstanding, man!" You never would have heard that from Neil and Buzz. It was so much fun to listen to.

The first moonwalk of the mission started later that morning. My parents let me stay home from school to watch it on our brand new color TV. Unfortunately, Al Bean accidentally pointed the camera at the sun when he was setting it on a tripod, and it burned out the camera's vidicon tube, completely ruining the picture. The networks still carried the audio of the moon walks.

This litho is one of my favorites of Al Bean's work, "Heavenly Reflections." I think Al's description of the work is almost as beautiful as his painting.

I have painted Pete Conrad and myself 239,000 miles from Earth, standing on the Ocean of Storms, looking homeward. Pete and I had come a long way together. We had met some ten years before. I was a student in Navy test pilot school and Pete was one of my instructors. I admired him for his professional skills and for his relaxed, colorful attitude. He is the best astronaut I have ever known. It was incredible to be standing on the Moon with him. It was good to take a moment to reflect on all the dedicated people it took to get us here for America. We were the lucky ones.

The stars were not visible because the sunlight reflecting from the bright lunar surface caused the irises of our eyes to contract, just as they do on Earth at night when standing on a brightly lit patio. As we looked up, the sky was a deep, shiny black. I guessed that deep, shiny black was the color one sees looking into infinity.

As I touched Pete's shoulder I thought, can all the people we know, all the people we love, who we've seen on TV, or read about in the newspapers, all be up there on that tiny blue and white marble? Earth is small but so lovely. It is easily the most beautiful object we could see from the Moon. It was a wondrous moment. If there is a God in heaven, this must be what he sees as he looks toward his children on the good Earth.

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