Thursday, July 30, 2009

Remembering Apollo 15

Apollo 15 was without a doubt my favorite of the Apollo Moon landing missions when I was growing up. The mission launched on July 26, 1971, when I was on summer vacation between my freshman and sophomore years of high school. That was the first summer that I worked as a volunteer tour guide at the Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC, when Mike Collins was the Director. It was the perfect summer for a space geek!

The mission had it all. The Lunar Module Falcon was the new J-type, which would enable the astronauts to stay on the Moon for 3 days. This was the first mission for the Lunar Roving Vehicle (a.k.a. the Lunar Rover, or Moon Buggy), which could take the astronauts miles away from their base on the Moon. The mission also landed in one of the most spectacular locales of any of the missions, with miles-high mountains on either side of the landing site and a mini Grand Canyon (Hadley Rille) in front of the landing site. Finally, there was a spacewalk outside the Command Module as it returned home from the Moon.

The TV coverage did not disappoint us. The TV networks actually covered most of the moonwalks, the last time this would happen during the Apollo program. On Apollo 11 and 14, the camera was mounted on a fixed tripod and could not follow the astronauts if they walked out of the field of view. On Apollo 15, the color TV camera was mounted on the Rover and showed all of the work the astronauts did as they ventured far afield from the Falcon. We got to visit all of the exotic places with them. It was a great front-row seat for the mission!

The last treat for this mission from the Moon's surface was watching the crew blasting off and returning to orbit, thanks to the TV camera mounted on the Rover and parked several hundred feet behind the Lunar Module.

I have many, many badges, patches, and the like for Apollo 15, but I wanted to show something a little different. At the top of this post is a ceramic "launch team" commemorative plaque, issued to Hal and Mary Shelton. Hal was a cartographer and employee of the US Geological Survey. Hal Shelton (1916-2004) is best remembered as a pioneer in producing natural-color relief maps, which were very similar to what a pilot or astronaut would see from on high.

At left is a commemorative display from Dow-Corning, celebrating the use of Fiberglas in the Apollo 15 mission. The acrylic item encapsulates a Beta-cloth Apollo 15 patch, as well as a miniature representation of the Lunar Rover.