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Apollo 12
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Apollo 12
Apollo 12 Mission to Earth's Moon

Mission Type: Lander, Orbiter, Sample Return
Launch Vehicle: Saturn V
Launch Site: Kennedy Space Center launch complex 39A
NASA Center: Johnson Space Center, Kennedy Space Center
Spacecraft Mass: 28,790 kg (63,471 pounds)
Spacecraft Instruments: Lunar Surface Experiments:
Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)
-Lunar Dust Detector
-Passive Seismic Experiment
-Lunar Surface Magnetometer
-Solar Wind Spectrometer
-Suprathermal Ion Detector
- Cold Cathode Ion Gauge
Lunar Field Geology
Solar Wind Composition
Lunar Surface Close-Up (camera)
Lunar Sample Analysis
Surveyor 3 Analysis
Earth Orbit and Lunar Orbit Experiments:
Cosmic Ray Detector (helmets)
Multispectral Photography
Candidate Exploration Sites
Lunar Mission Photography from CM
Selenodetic Reference Point Update

Apollo 12 Lunar Surface Journal
Apollo Flight Journal
National Space Science Data Center
NASA History Program Office: The Apollo Program
Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions
Lunar and Planetary Institute: Apollo Missions

With Apollo 12, the program's primary goal moved beyond landing humans on the moon and returning them safely to Earth. This was the first Apollo mission with science at the forefront of its objectives. It succeeded in ways both anticipated and completely unexpected.

On 19 November 1969, while Richard F. Gordon piloted the command module "Yankee Clipper" in lunar orbit, Apollo 12 Commander Charles P. "Pete" Conrad and Alan L. Bean, pilot of the lunar module "Intrepid," flew down to Oceanus Procellarum (Ocean of Storms). This was to be the first demonstration of "point landing," the ability to target a landing site with a fair amount of precision. NASA hoped that they would be able to land within a mile (1.6 km) of Surveyor 3, a robotic spacecraft which in April 1967 had made one of the first soft landings on the moon. Conrad and Bean surpassed expectations by landing within just 512 feet (156 meters) of the defunct spacecraft.

The Surveyor Surprise

The choice of Surveyor 3 as the landing target had been the subject of dispute. Opponents pressed for a landing site they thought would be more scientifically interesting. Advocates argued that it would be valuable to bring back parts of the spacecraft so scientists and engineers could see the effect of more than two and a half years of exposure to lunar conditions. They also pointed out the value of bringing samples from the site to Earth-based labs in order to validate data which the spacecraft had radioed to Earth.

No one suspected that Surveyor 3 would provide evidence about the possibility of life on other worlds.

Among the Surveyor 3 components that the Apollo 12 astronauts returned to Earth was a TV camera. And on the insulation covering the circuit boards were 50 to 100 Streptococcus mitis, a harmless kind of bacteria commonly found in human noses, mouths and throats. They had traveled with Surveyor 3 to the moon and spent two years and seven months in vacuum, subjected to harsh radiation, temperatures down to 20 degrees above absolute zero, and utter lack of water or nutrients. But they had survived, and when scientists reintroduced them to a nutrient source, they resumed their biological activities.

Apollo 12 Commander Pete Conrad said, "I always thought the most significant thing that we ever found on the whole ... moon was that little bacteria who came back and lived."

While this doesn't prove that there is life anywhere else in the Universe, it does demonstrate the possibility that life could exist under conditions far less hospitable than those of Earth. And astrobiologists who speculate that life might have arisen elsewhere and been transplanted to Earth by meteorites no longer have to worry about claims that living things could not survive the journey through space.

Exploring the Moon

Conrad and Bean conducted two moon walks totaling nearly eight hours, during which they deployed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), a more comprehensive collection of experiments than the one which Apollo 11 had delivered. They also took photographs, investigated lunar soil mechanics, and collected samples of rocks and regolith (the pulverized rock which constitutes lunar soil) and particles from the solar wind. To provide information about the lunar interior, they collected samples along the rays of large craters, which consist of material ejected from deep below the lunar surface by the crater-forming impacts. The information Apollo 12 provided caused scientists to rethink virtually all of their theories about the moon's origin.

Between moonwalks, the astronauts enjoyed an upgrade over the accommodations in Apollo 11's lander: hammocks and blankets. Altogether, they were on the lunar surface for 31 hours, 31 minutes, of which nearly 8 hours were spent outside the lunar module -- three times as long as the Apollo 11 astronauts. Conrad and Bean covered 1.35 km (0.84 mile) on foot.

They lifted off from the moon on 20 November. After docking with Yankee Clipper in lunar orbit and transferring into it for the ride home, they jettisoned Intrepid and set it to crash into the lunar surface to calibrate the seismometer they had left there. It hit the moon at a speed of 1.67 km per second (3,735 miles per hour), 76 km (47 miles) from the instrument, creating the first artificial moonquake. The result was unlike anything experienced on Earth. The vibrations didn't subside significantly for nearly an hour.

Apollo 12 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 November 1969 at 20:58:24 UT (3:58:24 p.m. EST) near American Samoa, about seven kilometers (four miles) from the recovery ship USS Hornet, after a mission elapsed time of 244 hrs, 36 mins, 24 secs.

Command module Yankee Clipper is on display at the Virginia Air and Space Center in Hampton, Virginia. The Surveyor 3 camera which had been home to the microbial astronauts is on display at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C.

Key Dates
14 Nov 1969:  Launch
18 Nov 1969:  Lunar Orbit Insertion
20 Nov 1969:  Lunar Surface Departure
24 Nov 1969:  Recovery on Earth
Fast Facts
Apollo 12 Facts Second crewed landing on the moon.

The spacecraft was struck by lightning twice after launch, temporarily knocking out electrical power and telemetry.

Recovered parts of the Surveyor 3 (shown right) spacecraft, on which bacteria from Earth had survived.

Conrad was a USAF colonel on his third spaceflight. Bean and Gordon were both U.S. Navy commanders. This was Bean's first spaceflight and Gordon's second.
Science & Technology Features
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