Apollo 12 logo.

An American clipper ship and blue-and-gold motif signified an all-Navy crew and related the era of the clipper ship to the era of space flight. Credit: NASA

› Full Image and Caption

Fast Facts: Apollo 12

The Apollo 12 spacecraft was struck by lightning twice just after launch, temporarily knocking out electrical power and telemetry – but this didn't stop a successful mission.

The goals of Apollo 12 focused on science, including investigating the lunar surface environment, emplacing the first Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), obtaining samples from a second lunar mare and enhancing the capability for human lunar exploration.

The crew deployed the instrument package. They collected more than 75 pounds (34 kilograms) of samples, photographed the surface, investigated soil mechanics, collected samples of the solar wind and retrieved parts of the robotic Surveyor 3 spacecraft that had landed previously.

The astronauts remained on the lunar surface for more than 31 hours, including EVAs totaling nearly eight hours.

Nation United States of America (USA)
Objective(s) Lunar Landing
Spacecraft Command and Service Modules (CSM): Yankee Clipper
Lunar Module (LM): Intrepid
Crew 1. Charles "Pete" Conrad, Jr. (1930-1999)
2. Alan Bean (1932-2018)
3. Richard F. Gordon, Jr. (1929-2017)
Spacecraft Mass 63,471 pounds (28,790 kilograms)
Mission Design and Management NASA
Launch Date and Time Nov. 14, 1969 / 16:22 UTC
Launch Vehicle Saturn V
Launch Site Cape Canaveral, Florida, USA | Launch Complex 39A
Scientific Instruments Earth Orbit / Lunar Orbit Experiments
  1. Cosmic Ray Detector (helmets)
  2. Multispectral Photography
  3. Candidate Exploration Sites Lunar Mission
  4. Photography from CM
  5. Selenodetic Reference Point Update
Surface Experiments
Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)
  1. Lunar Dust Detector
  2. Passive Seismic Experiment
  3. Lunar Surface Magnetometer
  4. Solar Wind Spectrometer
  5. Suprathermal Ion Detector
  6. Cold Cathode Ion Gauge

Firsts

  • First time human explorers met up with a robotic spacecraft in space
  • First crewed lunar mission with science as the primary objective

Key Dates

Launch: Nov. 14, 1969

Lunar Orbit Insertion: Nov. 18, 1969

Lunar Landing: Nov. 19, 1969

Lunar Surface Departure: Nov. 20, 1969

Recovery on Earth: Nov. 24, 1969

Results

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 Nov. 19, 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 kilometers) of Surveyor 3, a robotic spacecraft that, 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.

Astronaut and robot together on the Moon.
This unusual photograph, taken during the second Apollo 12 extravehicular activity (EVA), shows two U.S. spacecraft on the surface of the moon. The Apollo 12 Lunar Module (LM) is in the background. The unmanned Surveyor 3 spacecraft is in the foreground. Credit: NASA

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 cited the value of bringing samples from the site to Earth-based labs in order to validate data that 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. 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 moonwalks totaling nearly eight hours, during which they deployed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), a more comprehensive collection of experiments than the one that Apollo 11 had delivered. They also took photographs, investigated lunar soil mechanics and collected samples of rocks and regolith (the pulverized rock that 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.

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 0.84 mile (1.35 kilometers) on foot.

They lifted off from the Moon on November 20. 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 3,735 mph (1.7 kilometers per second), 47 miles (76 kilometers) 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 Nov. 24, 1969 at 20:58:24 UT (3:58:24 p.m. EST) near American Samoa, about four miles (seven kilometers) from the recovery ship USS Hornet, after a mission elapsed time of 244 hours, 36 minutes, 24 seconds.

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

Additional Resources

NASA: Apollo 12

NASA: Apollo

NASA History Program Office: The Apollo Program

Apollo Lunar Surface Journal

Apollo Flight Journal

Apollo Expeditions to the Moon

Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions

Lunar and Planetary Institute: Apollo Missions

Apollo: Where Are They Now?

NASA Astronaut Biographies: Former Astronauts

Related News