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Apollo 16
Apollo 16 Mission to Earth's Moon

Mission Type: Orbiter, Sample Return
Launch Vehicle: Saturn V
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A
NASA Center: Kennedy Space Center
Spacecraft Mass: 30,354 kg (66,919 pounds)
Spacecraft Instruments:
Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)

  • Passive Seismic Experiment
  • Active Seismic Experiment
  • Lunar Surface Magnetometer
  • Heat Flow Experiment
Lunar Field Geology
Solar Wind Composition
Cosmic-Ray Detector (sheets)
Portable Magnetometer
Soil Mechanics
Far-Ultraviolet Camera/Spectroscope
Lunar Sample Analysis

Earth Orbit and Lunar Orbit Experiments:
Gamma-Ray Spectrometer
X-Ray Fluorescence
Alpha-Particle Spectrometer
S-Band Transponder (CSM/LM)
S- Band Transponder (subsatellite)
Mass Spectrometer
Bistatic Radar
Particle Shadows/Boundary Layer
Command Module Window Meteoroid
Ultraviolet Photography, Earth & Moon
Gegenschein from Lunar Orbit
CM Photographic Tasks
SM Orbital Photographic Tasks
Visual Observations from Lunar Orbit
NASA History Office
National Space Science Data Center

This was the fifth mission in which astronauts walked on the lunar surface, but it was far from routine. Apollo 16 changed the way scientists think of the moon.

On 21 April 1972, Commander John W. Young and Charles M. Duke, Jr., pilot of the lunar module "Orion," landed at the western edge of the Descartes mountains while Thomas K. Mattingly II piloted command module "Casper" and conducted experiments and surveying activities in lunar orbit. Their descent was delayed by almost six hours because of a malfunction which affected the command and service module's propulsion system. As a result, their stay on the lunar surface would be slightly shortened, and after they returned to the command module, a day would be shaved off of the orbital part of the mission.

The destination this time was quite different from those of the previous Apollo missions, three of which were in mare regions (the lunar "seas") and one of which was in ejecta from the Imbrium impact. This was the central lunar highlands, which was considered representative of 3/4 of the lunar surface. Based on photos taken from space by earlier missions, it was thought to be the product of volcanic eruptions in the moon's ancient past. But measurements and samples taken by the Apollo 16 astronauts disproved that hypothesis, to the great surprise of scientists on Earth. The moon still held major mysteries for scientists to unravel.

As in the preceding mission, Young and Duke had a rover at their disposal, enabling them to cover nearly 27 km (17 miles) and to collect nearly 96 kg (212 pounds) of rock and soil from 11 different sites. Their haul included two anorthosite samples that were bigger and older than the "Genesis rock" recovered by Apollo 15. They also deployed or conducted nine experiments and took numerous photographs.

Gremlins on the Moon

However, another mishap occurred as the astronauts were setting up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), the fourth in a network of lunar surface scientific stations. Young accidentally tore a cable loose from the heat-flow experiment, rendering it inoperable.

Young and Duke lifted off of the moon on 24 April after spending 71 hours on the lunar surface, more than 20 of which were outside Orion. They rejoined Mattingly in the command module and jettisoned the lunar module, intending to crash it into the lunar surface as previous missions had done to test the seismometers that had been left there. But Orion began to tumble, apparently because a circuit breaker for the guidance and navigation system had been left open. Unable to control Orion's attitude, they left it in lunar orbit, where it remained until its uncontrolled crash about a year later.

Ironically, the subsatellite that was intended to orbit for a year lasted only about a month before crashing into the moon. Because of the reduced mission time caused by the earlier problem with the propulsion system, a maneuver to reshape their orbit was cancelled. They released a subsatellite virtually identical to the one which Apollo 15 had placed in lunar orbit, but its orbit was unstable and it met a premature demise.

Return to Earth

But despite these mishaps, Apollo 16 set new records for time spent on the lunar surface, time spent on lunar-surface EVAs, samples recovered from the moon, and number of photos taken. The mission succeeded with 9 out of 10 experiments on the lunar surface and 15 from lunar orbit, and with numerous biological experiments and engineering trials and demonstrations. And it disproved what had been the prevailing hypothesis about the central lunar highlands.

During the return trip to Earth, Mattingly conducted a spacewalk to retrieve film cassettes from the Scientific Instrument Module bay at the rear of the service module. While outside the spacecraft, he set up a biological experiment with the Microbial Ecology Evaluation Device, which was used only on this mission.

The command module splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 27 April 1972 after a mission elapsed time of 265 hours, 51 minutes, 5 seconds. The splashdown point was 215 miles southeast of Christmas Island and 5 km (3 miles) from the recovery ship USS Ticonderoga.

This was the fourth spaceflight for Young, who had flown on Gemini 3 and 10 and on Apollo 10. It was the first for Duke and Mattingly.

The backup crew for this mission consisted of Fred Haise, Stuart Roosa, and Edger Mitchell. Command module Casper is on display at the Alabama Space and Rocket Center in Huntsville, Ala.

Key Dates
16 Apr 1972:  Launch
19 Apr 1972:  Lunar Orbit Insertion
20 Apr 1972:  Lunar Landing
24 Apr 1972:  Lunar Surface Departure
27 Apr 1972:  Recovery on Earth
27 Apr 1972:  End of Lunar Mission
Status: Successful
Fast Facts
Apollo 16 Facts Apollo 16 was the fifth crewed mission to the lunar surface.

At 36 years of age, Charles Duke was the youngest person to walk on the moon.

Ken Mattingly was to have piloted the command module on the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission, but the flight surgeon grounded him 72 hours before the scheduled launch. Charles Duke had exposed the crew to German measles, to which Mattingly had no immunity.

The command module (see right) was named after Casper the Friendly Ghost, allegedly after some children remarked that the spacesuited astronauts looked like the cartoon character.

The lunar module was named "Orion" for the constellation because the crew would depend on star sightings to navigate.
People Spotlight
David S. McKay David S. McKay
During the Apollo program, McKay gave the first men to walk on the moon training in geology. Read More...
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Last Updated: 5 Sep 2013