Friday, November 14, 2008

Apollo 12...39 years and counting

Apollo 12 launched 39 years ago today, on November 14, 1969. I was in 8th grade shop class at the time of the launch. I couldn't persuade the teacher to order a TV set from the library, but he did let us listen to it on the radio. We knew that something was going on (the lightning strike) from a little of the crew-to-ground radio, but it was hard to figure out. I was really upset that I had to miss seeing the launch on TV. The mission was taking a color TV camera to the moon's surface, and my dad had finally broken down and bought us our first color TV for the occasion. Here was my first chance to see a launch in color, and I had to miss it! I probably didn't miss too much, since the Saturn V disappeared into clouds only seconds after clearing the tower.

This is a VIP launch badge for the mission.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Apollo 12 prime crew

Apollo 12 launched on November 14, 1969. Its prime crew was: Charles "Pete" Conrad, Commander; Dick Gordon, Command Module Pilot; and Al Bean, Lunar Module Pilot. Conrad was making his third trip into space and Gordon his second. Conrad flew on Gemini V with Gordon Cooper (another Gordon!); Conrad and [Dick] Gordon flew together in 1966 on Gemini XI. This was Bean's first spaceflight. He was was head astronaut for the Apollo Applications Project (later Skylab). He was moved into the Apollo 9 backup role (putting him in line for Apollo 12 prime crew) after astronaut Clifton "C.C." Williams was killed in a plane crash. Conrad, who had been Bean's flight instructor, personally requested Bean on the crew. So, this was a tight, friendly, and fun-loving crew of Navy pilots. If I could have tagged along on any mission, this crew would easily have been the most fun to be with.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gemini XII anniversary

Today marks the 42nd anniversary of the launch of Gemini XII, the last mission of the Gemini program, carrying Command Pilot Jim Lovell and Pilot Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin. By now, we had repeatedly demonstrated the rendezvous and docking techniques that would be critical to the lunar missions of Apollo, but EVA was still proving much more difficult than anticipated.

Gene Cernan, Mike Collins, and Dick Gordon had substantial problems in their spacewalks on Geminis IX, X, and XI. Having rehearsed in a neutral buoyancy tank, and with the addition of handholds and foot restraints on the vehicle, Aldrin almost made spacewalking look easy. This mission paved the way for the EVAs on Apollos 15-17, in which the CMP retrieved film from the SIM bays on the side of the Service Module. It also pioneered the techniques that would be necessary for the EVAs from the Space Shuttle and the assembly of the International Space Station.

The Martin Co. badge in this photo gave its wearer access to a test of the Gemini XII launch vehicle. It also grants the wearer the permission to keep the badge as a souvenir afterward!

Monday, November 10, 2008

Intrepid? or Aquarius? or Antares?

In August 1969, my dad went on a VIP tour of Kennedy Space Center. His office had been responsible for developing - and letting NASA borrow - the TV camera which Apollo 11 used on the lunar surface. I believe that as an informal 'thank you,' he and some of his coworkers got to take the KSC tour. You can't believe how jealous I was that he got to go and I didn't, but at least he brought back some great souvenirs and photos. I'll post more pictures of the tour later on.

One of the things he saw on his visit to the Cape was this Lunar Module ascent stage. The Apollo 12 launch vehicle was being stacked in the Vehicle Assembly Building that month, so this ascent stage could possibly have been that of Intrepid. However, as you'll see in the other attached photo, the CSM was already atop the vehicle stack, which may have meant that the LM was also in place inside the S-IVB adapter. If that was the case, then this LM might have been Aquarius (Apollo 13), or even Antares (Apollo 14).

The original flight schedule for 1969 was that Apollo 11 would fly in July, followed by Apollo 12 in September (in case Apollo 11 was unsuccessful) and Apollo 13 in November. Once Apollo 11's mission ended in July 1969, and NASA met President Kennedy's challenge to land men on the Moon and return them before the end of the decade, the pressure was off, and Apollo 12 was slipped to November 1969 to allow more time for preparation. In any case, the delivery schedule was tight, and there were usually several vehicles in various stages of assembly at the Cape during the heyday of the Apollo landings.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

41 years since Apollo 4

Today marks 41 years since the first launch of a Saturn V...then and still the world's biggest rocket. I have read accounts of the people who witnessed that first launch. They knew it was going to be loud, but none of them appreciated how truly overwhelming it would be. Walter Cronkite stood and laughed with joy as pieces of his broadcast booth came down around him!

This booklet from my collection was published as a public service (i.e., bragging rights) by the prime contractor, North American Aviation. "This is the first of the big shots - NASA's Apollo 4. 8 hours, 43 minutes, and 30 seconds when America will hold its breath."