50 Years Ago: Apollo 14 lands at Fra Mauro and Shepard plays golf on Moon
On Feb. 4, 1971, Apollo 14 Launched from NASA's Kennedy Space Center carrying astronauts Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, and Stuart Roosa. The primary mission objectives on the Moon centered on deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (lunar field geology investigations); collection of surface material samples for return to Earth; and deployment of scientific instruments not part of the experiments package.
By John Uri, NASA Johnson Space Center
After Apollo 14 entered lunar orbit on Feb. 4, 1971, astronauts Alan B. Shepard and Edgar D. Mitchell separated their Lunar Module Antares from the Command Module Kitty Hawk, aboard which Stuart A. Roosa remained in orbit.
Shepard and Mitchell touched down in the Fra Mauro highlands region and conducted two lunar surface excursions lasting more than nine hours in total. They set up an experiment package and collected 93 pounds of rock and soil samples to return to waiting scientists on Earth. In the meantime, Roosa conducted observations and photography of the lunar surface from orbit. After their 33-hour lunar surface stay, Shepard and Mitchell rejoined Roosa in orbit, and, their mission accomplished, left lunar orbit for the three-day return trip to Earth.
NASA VIDEO: Apollo 14: 'A Wild Place Up Here'
Following the Jan. 31, 1971, launch from NASA's Kennedy Space Center, Apollo 14's translunar coast lasted 79.5 hours. During the astronauts' fourth day in space, their spacecraft's trajectory took them past the leading edge of the Moon, and as they disappeared behind it, as expected, all contact with the Mission Control Center (MCC) at the Manned Spacecraft Center, now NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, was cut off.
Left: The Apollo 14 crew of Stuart A. Roosa, left, Alan B. Shepard, and Edgar D. Mitchell. Right: The Apollo 14 crew patch.
Thirty minutes later, the Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine fired for more than six minutes to drop them into an elliptical 195-by-67-mile orbit around the Moon. As they rounded to the near side of the Moon, Shepard reported to capsule communicator (capcom) Fred W. Haise in the MCC, "We had an extremely fine burn." He added enthusiastically, "Well, this really is a wild place up here. It has all of the grays, browns, whites, dark craters that everyone's talked about before. It's really quite a sight. ... Really fantastic."
Left: The Apollo 14 Command and Service Module Kitty Hawk photographed in lunar orbit by astronauts Alan B. Shepard and Edgar D. Mitchell shortly after they separated aboard the Lunar Module Antares. Right: Antares photographed from Kitty Hawk by Stuart A. Roosa shortly after undocking.
Mitchell added his first impressions of the Moon. "The description that comes to mind ... is that it looks like it's been molded out of plaster of Paris," he said. Roosa provided a running commentary of all the landmarks as they passed over them. Haise informed them that their Saturn V rocket's expended third stage impacted on the Moon as expected. About 100 miles away, the seismometer left by the Apollo 12 astronauts picked up the impact, with the Moon reverberating for more than three hours.
Flight Director M.P. "Pete" Frank and his controllers known as the Orange Team took over the consoles in the MCC from Gerald D. "Gerry" Griffin's Gold Team, with NASA astronaut C. Gordon Fullerton replacing Haise as capcom. About 4 hours after entering lunar orbit, the astronauts fired the SPS engine for 21 seconds to change their orbit to one 67 miles by 10 miles, a procedure used for the first time on Apollo 14.
Left: Photo of the Earth rising against the lunar landscape taken from aboard the Apollo 14 Lunar Module (LM) Antares before beginning the descent to the surface. Right: A still image from a 16-mm film taken from the LM's right hand window during the descent to the surface, showing Cone Crater just to the left of the center.
By using the large SPS engine to reduce the low point of their orbit, the Lunar Module (LM) retained additional fuel margin for the descent to and landing on more rugged terrain than attempted on previous missions. Settled in their new orbit, the crew began their fourth sleep period of the mission.
The fifth day included the critical landing on the Moon. The astronauts put on their spacesuits, and Shepard and Mitchell transferred into the LM Antares to activate its systems, including deploying its landing gear. They closed the hatches, leaving Roosa alone in the CM Kitty Hawk to conduct observations from orbit while Shepard and Mitchell explored the surface.
As they came around to the Moon's front side on their 12th revolution, the two spacecraft undocked. Roosa fired the SPS engine to put Kitty Hawk back into a circular 60-mile-high orbit. Meanwhile, Antares passed over the Fra Mauro landing site on the 13th revolution, and Shepard called out that they could easily pick out landmarks for their descent and landing.
Overcoming an issue with their guidance computer that threatened to cancel the landing, Shepard and Mitchell began Antares' powered descent to the surface on the 14th revolution. In an ironic twist, capcom Haise, the astronaut who, but for the oxygen tank explosion during Apollo 13, would have landed at Fra Mauro the previous year, gave Apollo 14 the "go" to initiate the powered descent to that very site.
Schematic map of the Apollo 14 landing site showing the short first excursion west of the Lunar Module Antares (marked by X) to set up the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package and the longer trek east to Cone Crater and back.
The LM's landing radar set in the incorrect setting gave some initial concern, but the descent then continued trouble-free. Shepard brought Antares to a soft landing with about 60 seconds of fuel remaining. The LM settled on a seven-degree slope, well within the range the vehicle could handle.
Controllers evaluated the status of Antares after the landing, and cleared it to stay on the surface. Shepard and Mitchell turned off all the descent stage systems. They photographed the lunar surface through their respective windows, the slope of their landing site readily apparent.
Providing commentary on their surroundings, Mitchell suggested, "There is more terrain, more relief here, than we anticipated from looking at the maps." To which Shepard punned, referring to the successful landing, "There's a hell of a lot of relief inside the cabin!" The two grabbed a meal and began preparations for the first of their two moonwalks on the lunar surface.
Left: At the start of the first moonwalk, Alan B. Shepard on the Lunar Module Antares' footpad about to take his first steps on the lunar surface. Right: Shepard on the lunar surface, photographed by Edgar D. Mitchell still inside Antares.
About five hours after landing, they depressurized the LM and Shepard climbed down the ladder, activating a TV camera on the side of the vehicle. The world watched him jump down from the ladder and step onto the lunar surface, becoming the fifth person to walk on the Moon.
Referring to Shepard's age of 47, at the time considered advanced for an astronaut, capcom Bruce McCandless quipped, "Not bad for an old man!" Referring to his 10-year wait to return to space after his historic Mercury-Redstone 3 flight in May 1961, Shepard replied, "And it's been a long way, but we're here."
Mitchell joined him on the surface five minutes later. Shepard removed the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET), a two-wheeled cart to carry their equipment, from its stowage position on the LM and placed it on one of the footpads for later use. He removed the camera from the LM and set it up on a tripod so controllers in the MCC and viewers around the world could follow their activities. Mitchell collected a contingency sample, gathered in case they had to make an emergency liftoff from the Moon. To improve communications with Earth, Shepard set up the S-band dish antenna.
Left: During their first moonwalk, Alan B. Shepard and Edgar D. Mitchell deployed the S-band antenna to aid communications with Earth; they have temporarily positioned the Modular Equipment Transporter, still wrapped in its insulation, on one of Antares' footpads. Middle: The deployed Solar Wind Composition experiment. Right: Mitchell conducting a panoramic tour with the television camera.
The primary focus of the first moonwalk involved setting up the surface experiments. These included the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP) and several independent investigations. Mitchell deployed the Solar Wind Composition (SWC) experiment that he later retrieved at the end of the second moonwalk for return to Earth. They planted the American flag and took turns photographing each other with it, and then photographed their surroundings and the LM itself to document its condition.
Left: Apollo 14 astronaut Alan B. Shepard with the American flag. Right: The Lunar Module Antares on the lunar surface at the Fra Mauro site.
Shepard deployed the MET for their first traverse. The two retrieved the two ALSEP sub-packages from their stowage location in the side of the LM descent stage, with Mitchell retrieving the plutonium-containing cask used to power the ALSEP's radioisotope thermal generator. They loaded some of the experiments on the MET and attached others to a barbell-like carrying device.
With Shepard pulling the MET and Mitchell carrying the barbell, they set out toward the west to find a suitable flat location to set up the ALSEP experiments about 600 feet from the LM, and the Laser Ranging Retro-Reflector 100 feet west of the ALSEP. The two spent the next hour and 40 minutes deploying the various ALSEP instruments, including an active seismology experiment that fired small explosive charges into the surface with geophones that recorded the resulting shock waves.
A still image from 16-mm film showing Edgar D. Mitchell, left, holding the "thumper" device during setup of the active seismometer experiment, with Alan B. Shepard behind the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Package (ALSEP).
Mitchell spent 48 minutes conducting this experiment that provided important clues about the Moon's interior structure. On the way back to the LM, Shepard collected geology samples, including a football-sized rock. Back at the LM, they packed up their samples, dusted each other off, and headed back up the ladder and inside the spacecraft. They spent 4 hours and 48 minutes outside on their first moonwalk.
After repressurizing the LM, Shepard and Mitchell reconditioned their spacesuits, ate dinner, strung up their hammocks, and went to sleep. Both crewmembers managed about four to four-and-a-half hours of sleep and awoke early to begin preparations for the second moonwalk, whose main objective was the nearly one-mile trek to Cone Crater. Geologists hoped that samples collected from near the crater's rim, likely material from deeper layers ejected during the crater's formation, would reveal insights about the Moon's interior.
The astronauts put their helmets and gloves back on, depressurized the LM, and as before, Shepard headed out first, followed three minutes later by Mitchell. They loaded their equipment and sample collection bags onto the MET and headed east toward Cone Crater. Along the way, they used the Lunar Portable Magnetometer to measure the Moon's very weak magnetic field and stopped to collect rock and soil samples at predetermined sites.
Shepard stands near the MET holding a core tube.
The unexpectedly undulating surface and the large number of craters around which they needed to steer made it difficult for them to gauge their travel time and their precise location through much of the second moonwalk. The overall slope from the LM to the top of Cone Crater was nearly 10 degrees -- tough work in the spacesuits, pulling the MET, and trudging in the lunar soil. Unknowingly, they approached to within 150 feet from the edge of the rim, but time and consumables required them to start heading back to the LM.
They collected samples that likely represented ejecta from deep within the crust, thrown out during Cone Crater's formation. Mitchell chipped a sample from Saddle Rock, a large boulder sitting on the southeast rim of Cone Crater. They also collected the largest rock of the mission, nicknamed "Big Bertha," weighing in at 19.8 pounds. By dating these rocks, scientists determined that Cone Crater formed about 26 million years ago, relatively fresh in lunar geologic terms.
They headed back down toward the LM, taking grab samples of lunar material along the way. When they arrived back at Antares, the two split up, with Shepard returning to the ALSEP to adjust the antenna to resolve a poor communication issue and Mitchell jogging north to sample some boulders, including one they nicknamed "Turtle Rock," which they had previously observed and deemed of scientific interest.
Two images from the television downlink near the end of the second moonwalk. Left: Alan B. Shepard has just swung at a golf ball. Right: Edgar D. Mitchell used the staff for the Solar Wind Collector experiment as a javelin.
Back at Antares, Shepard took several photographs of the crescent Earth above the LM, unknowingly also capturing the planet Venus in the frames. Mitchell rolled up the foil collector of the SWC experiment after 21 hours of exposure to the solar wind.
An avid golfer, Shepard had snuck a six iron onto the flight and now attached it to the handle of the contingency sample collection tool. Facing the television camera, he dropped a golf ball and said, "a little white pellet that's familiar to millions of Americans." Using a one-handed swing to the spacesuit's rigidity, he topped the ball on his first attempt. On his second swing, Shepard connected but only sent the ball about two or three feet to the side, prompting Haise to comment, "That looked like a slice to me, Al."
On his third try, he hit the ball and it travelled about 24 yards, landing in a nearby crater. Shepard dropped and swung at a second ball, claiming that it went for "miles and miles and miles." In actuality, it travelled about 40 yards in the direction of the ASLEP site. Not to be outdone athletically, Mitchell took the staff that was holding the SWC and threw it javelin-style. It landed in the same crater as Shepard's first golf ball.
Shepard and Mitchell completed all their packing activities, stowing all the samples they collected, cameras, and film magazines. With a rock box in one hand, Mitchell bounded up the ladder and into the spacecraft. Shepard spoke these last words on the surface, "Okay, Houston, crew of Antares is leaving Fra Mauro Base." Haise replied, "Al, you and Ed did a great job. Don't think I could have done any better myself."
Photograph taken after the astronauts jettisoned unneeded equipment, including the two spacesuit backpacks; Shepard's second golf ball is visible as a small white dot in the direction of the ALSEP site at the upper left of the image.
After this exchange, Shepard climbed up the ladder and into the LM, and he and Mitchell closed the hatch behind them. The second moonwalk lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes, for a total for both excursions a record-setting 9 hours and 22 minutes. They covered a total distance of more than 13,000 feet, travelling as far as 4,770 feet from the LM, and collected 93 pounds, another record, of lunar samples to return to waiting scientists.
The third lunar surface exploration entered the history books. After a 33-hour stay on the surface, Shepard and Mitchell prepared their spacecraft for liftoff to rejoin Roosa waiting aboard Kitty Hawk.