This week marks 50 years since the Apollo 12 mission, the second time humans went to the moon and the first time we launched an artificial earthquake there. Plus: one of the two moonwalkers painted a picture that included their command module pilot on the lunar ground.
Conrad, Gordon and Bean: The Fantasy (Art USA)
This week marks 50 years since the Apollo 12 mission, the second time humans went to the moon.
This has been a much quieter anniversary than when we saw in July, when we marked a half-century since Apollo 11.
It’s also less well-known than the extremely close call that was Apollo 13.
But Apollo 12 turned out to be quite a mission.
For one thing, its rocket was hit twice by lightning during launch! And once it got to the moon its TV camera was accidentally pointed at the sun, so it became an audio-only endeavor.
But the biggest fireworks of all came from what was called the Passive Seismic Experiment: an artificial earthquake on the moon.
One of Apollo 12’s goals was to set up a system to detect moonquakes, which would help scientists better understand what was going on up there. Were meteorites crashing into the moon and causing seismic activity? Or was the moon geologically active?
The Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package, or ALSEP, was going to help find out, and part of the mission would put ALSEP to the test by crashing something into the moon.
What did they use? The largest expendable item they had on hand: the lunar module.
After astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean had returned to the command module, they detached the smaller lunar module and sent it right back to the moon’s surface.
That moonquake calibrated the lunar seismometers, so that anytime something else crashed into the Moon, we’d know how hard of a crash it was.
One more story from Apollo 12 before we go.
Astronaut Alan Bean took up painting later in life.
He said that he and Pete Conrad always felt bad that their command module pilot and friend, Dick Gordon, didn’t get to walk on the moon with them.
So Bean made a painting he called “The Fantasy,” which shows all three astronauts together on the moon’s surface.
He said of the painting, “at last, our best friend has come the last sixty miles.”