Technology: SPACE

Anniversary of Apollo 12 Launch Marks Milestone in Space Safety

In November of 1969, homeward bound aboard the "Yankee Clipper" command module, the Apollo 12 astronauts took this dramatic photograph of the Sun emerging from behind the Earth. From this distant perspective, part of the solar disk peers over the Earth's limb, its direct light producing the jewel like glint while sunlight scattered by the atmosphere creates the thin bright crescent. Today at 10:24 pm Eastern Daylight Time is the Summer Solstice. From an earthbound perspective, the solar disk will climb to its greatest northern declination marking the Northern Hemisphere's first day of Summer and creating the longest day -- with over 15 hours of daylight near latitude +40 degrees.
National Journal
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Kenneth Chamberlain
Nov. 14, 2011, 10:46 a.m.

Ef­forts to get hu­mans in­to space have al­ways been fraught with danger, which has been un­der­scored by a num­ber of dis­asters and near-dis­asters. One such near-dis­aster was the launch of the Apollo 12 mis­sion to the moon on Nov. 14, 1969, in which the Sat­urn V rock­et that was be­ing used to get as­tro­nauts Charles Con­rad, Richard Gor­don, and Alan Bean to the moon was struck by light­ning — twice.

“What the hell was that?” Gor­don ra­di­oed to the ground after the first hit, which caused a ma­jor elec­tric­al dis­turb­ance, ac­cord­ing to NASA. Twenty seconds later, an­oth­er strike hit the space­craft. “Okay, we just lost the plat­form gang,” re­por­ted Con­rad, “I don’t know what happened here. We had everything in the world drop out.”

After it be­came clear that they had been hit by light­ing and after the space­craft’s elec­tric­al sys­tems came back, as­tro­naut Con­rad ra­di­oed to the ground that “I think we need to do a little more all-weath­er test­ing,” to which the per­son on the oth­er end re­spon­ded: “Amen.”

The Apollo 12 ex­er­i­ence did lead to great­er con­sid­er­a­tion of at­mo­spher­ic elec­tric­al activ­ity when launch­ing space­craft, ac­cord­ing to the NASA, which pro­duced an in­cid­ent re­port (PDF) ana­lys­is the fol­low­ing year of what happened and how sim­il­ar in­cid­ents could be min­im­ized in fu­ture launches.

Above is the au­dio from NASA of the first five minutes after launch, in­clud­ing the two light­ning strikes, and be­low that are pho­tos from the mis­sion’s time on the moon.

Rocket exhaust clouds the Apollo 12 Saturn V space vehicle as it lifts off from Launch Complex 39A, sending astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Richard F. Gordon and Alan L. Bean on the Nation's second manned lunar landing mission.

Rocket exhaust clouds the Apollo 12 Saturn V space vehicle as it lifts off from Launch Complex 39A, sending astronauts Charles Conrad, Jr., Richard F. Gordon and Alan L. Bean on the Nation's second manned lunar landing mission. National Journal

Personnel within Firing Room 2 of the Launch Control Center following the early moments of the Apollo 12 launch on the overhead data display boards. When this view was taken - at two minutes and fifty-four second into the flight, the vehicle's second stage engines ignited, carrying the Apollo 12 spacecraft to an altitude of more than 229,000 feet and more than 50 miles downrange. The astronauts were launched at 11:22 a.m. EST November 14, 1969, on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's second lunar landing mission.

Personnel within Firing Room 2 of the Launch Control Center following the early moments of the Apollo 12 launch on the overhead data display boards. When this view was taken - at two minutes and fifty-four second into the flight, the vehicle's second stage engines ignited, carrying the Apollo 12 spacecraft to an altitude of more than 229,000 feet and more than 50 miles downrange. The astronauts were launched at 11:22 a.m. EST November 14, 1969, on the National Aeronautics and Space Administration's second lunar landing mission. National Journal

Lightning strikes the Apollo 12 launch pad about 36 seconds after the spacecraft was launched.

Lightning strikes the Apollo 12 launch pad about 36 seconds after the spacecraft was launched. National Journal

The Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM), in a lunar landing configuration, is photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Modules (CSM). The coordinates of the center of the lunar surface shown in picture are 4.5 degrees west longitude and 7 degrees south latitude. The largest crater in the foreground is Ptolemaeus; and the second largest is Herschel. Aboard the LM were astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot. Astronaut Richard R. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while Conrad and Bean descended in the LM to explore the surface of the moon.

The Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM), in a lunar landing configuration, is photographed in lunar orbit from the Command and Service Modules (CSM). The coordinates of the center of the lunar surface shown in picture are 4.5 degrees west longitude and 7 degrees south latitude. The largest crater in the foreground is Ptolemaeus; and the second largest is Herschel. Aboard the LM were astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot. Astronaut Richard R. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM in lunar orbit while Conrad and Bean descended in the LM to explore the surface of the moon. National Journal

In November of 1969, Apollo 12 astronaut-photographer Charles "Pete" Conrad recorded this masterpiece while documenting colleague Alan Bean's lunar soil collection activities on the Oceanus Procellarum. The image is dramatic and stark. The harsh environment of the Moon's Ocean of Storms is echoed in Bean's helmet, a perfectly composed reflection of Conrad and the lunar horizon. Is it art? Works of photojournalists originally intent on recording the human condition on planet Earth, such as Lewis W. Hine's images from New York City in the early 20th century, or Margaret Bourke-White's magazine photography are widely regarded as art. Similarly many documentary astronomy and space images can be appreciated for their artistic and esthetic appeal.

In November of 1969, Apollo 12 astronaut-photographer Charles "Pete" Conrad recorded this masterpiece while documenting colleague Alan Bean's lunar soil collection activities on the Oceanus Procellarum. The image is dramatic and stark. The harsh environment of the Moon's Ocean of Storms is echoed in Bean's helmet, a perfectly composed reflection of Conrad and the lunar horizon. Is it art? Works of photojournalists originally intent on recording the human condition on planet Earth, such as Lewis W. Hine's images from New York City in the early 20th century, or Margaret Bourke-White's magazine photography are widely regarded as art. Similarly many documentary astronomy and space images can be appreciated for their artistic and esthetic appeal. National Journal

On April 20, 1967, NASA's robot spacecraft Surveyor 3 landed on the moon, touching down on the inside slope of a small lunar crater in the Ocean of Storms. Over 2 1/2 years later, on November 19, 1969, the lunar module Intrepid, piloted by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, flew overhead and landed nearby in the second visit by humans to the lunar surface. Intrepid touched down about 600 feet away and the moon walking astronauts were easily able to reach the Surveyor and examine the remote explorer that had preceded them. Intrepid is seen in the background of this striking high resolution picture of Surveyor 3. Surveyor's leftmost foot pad appears dug in while its foreground foot pad has made two distinct imprints in the powdery lunar soil - clear indications that the Surveyor slid and bounced on landing. Using bolt cutters, the astronauts removed Surveyor's TV camera (the cylinder shape at the right of the tall solar panel mast) and its sampling scoop (on the arm extended to the right), returning them to Earth for study.

On April 20, 1967, NASA's robot spacecraft Surveyor 3 landed on the moon, touching down on the inside slope of a small lunar crater in the Ocean of Storms. Over 2 1/2 years later, on November 19, 1969, the lunar module Intrepid, piloted by Apollo 12 astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean, flew overhead and landed nearby in the second visit by humans to the lunar surface. Intrepid touched down about 600 feet away and the moon walking astronauts were easily able to reach the Surveyor and examine the remote explorer that had preceded them. Intrepid is seen in the background of this striking high resolution picture of Surveyor 3. Surveyor's leftmost foot pad appears dug in while its foreground foot pad has made two distinct imprints in the powdery lunar soil - clear indications that the Surveyor slid and bounced on landing. Using bolt cutters, the astronauts removed Surveyor's TV camera (the cylinder shape at the right of the tall solar panel mast) and its sampling scoop (on the arm extended to the right), returning them to Earth for study. National Journal

Buzz Aldrin deploys a seismometer in the Sea of Tranquillity.

Buzz Aldrin deploys a seismometer in the Sea of Tranquillity. National Journal

Astronaut Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot, deploys the Lunar Surface Magnetometer (LSM) during the first Apollo 12 extravehicular activity on the Moon. The LSM is a component of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP). The Lunar Module can be seen in the left background.

Astronaut Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot, deploys the Lunar Surface Magnetometer (LSM) during the first Apollo 12 extravehicular activity on the Moon. The LSM is a component of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP). The Lunar Module can be seen in the left background. National Journal

In November of 1969, homeward bound aboard the "Yankee Clipper" command module, the Apollo 12 astronauts took this dramatic photograph of the Sun emerging from behind the Earth. From this distant perspective, part of the solar disk peers over the Earth's limb, its direct light producing the jewel like glint while sunlight scattered by the atmosphere creates the thin bright crescent. Today at 10:24 pm Eastern Daylight Time is the Summer Solstice. From an earthbound perspective, the solar disk will climb to its greatest northern declination marking the Northern Hemisphere's first day of Summer and creating the longest day -- with over 15 hours of daylight near latitude +40 degrees.

In November of 1969, homeward bound aboard the "Yankee Clipper" command module, the Apollo 12 astronauts took this dramatic photograph of the Sun emerging from behind the Earth. From this distant perspective, part of the solar disk peers over the Earth's limb, its direct light producing the jewel like glint while sunlight scattered by the atmosphere creates the thin bright crescent. Today at 10:24 pm Eastern Daylight Time is the Summer Solstice. From an earthbound perspective, the solar disk will climb to its greatest northern declination marking the Northern Hemisphere's first day of Summer and creating the longest day -- with over 15 hours of daylight near latitude +40 degrees. National Journal

A very thin, crescent Earth, seen from the Apollo 12 Command and Service Modules (CSM) as NASA's second lunar landing crew returned home from the moon in November 1969. The brightness in the lower left corner of the photograph is a lens flare caused by sunlight reflecting on the window and the lens of the handheld Hasselblad camera. While astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot, descended in the Lunar Module (LM) "Intrepid" to explore the Ocean of Storms region of the moon, astronaut Richard F. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM "Yankee Clipper" in lunar orbit.

A very thin, crescent Earth, seen from the Apollo 12 Command and Service Modules (CSM) as NASA's second lunar landing crew returned home from the moon in November 1969. The brightness in the lower left corner of the photograph is a lens flare caused by sunlight reflecting on the window and the lens of the handheld Hasselblad camera. While astronauts Charles Conrad Jr., commander; and Alan L. Bean, lunar module pilot, descended in the Lunar Module (LM) "Intrepid" to explore the Ocean of Storms region of the moon, astronaut Richard F. Gordon Jr., command module pilot, remained with the CSM "Yankee Clipper" in lunar orbit. National Journal
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