Placeholder Image

Subtitles section Play video

  • Earth. November 14, 1969.

  • Three astronauts, with spacesuits, food, water, and a battery of scientific and communications

  • equipment, prepared to fly to the moon.

  • Thousands gathered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, including President and Mrs. Richard

  • Nixon, to witness the historic launch.

  • It was raining that day, but that was no cause for delay. The ship that would carry them

  • into space was designed to launch in any weather.

  • But how would it respond to a powerful electrical storm now gathering above the launch pad?

  • That was just the beginning of the incredible journey of Apollo 12.

  • With three astronauts fastened into their seats, the countdown proceeded.

  • Astronaut and Mission Commander Pete Conrad would say later: “The flight was extremely

  • normal, for the first 36 seconds.”

  • The five engines of the Saturn 5’s huge first stage were designed to burn through

  • 5 million pounds of liquid oxygen in just two and a half minutes, and to send the spacecraft

  • up 67 kilometers above the Atlantic Ocean.

  • When it reached an altitude of 2000 meters, something unexpected happened.

  • Racing through the stormy environment, the rocket generated a lightning bolt that traveled

  • down its highly conductive exhaust trail.

  • Another bolt hit 16 seconds later.

  • All of the spacecraft’s circuit breakers shut off. The tracking system was lost.

  • A young flight controller in Houston, Texas instructed astronaut Alan Bean on how to turn

  • on an auxiliary power system. The mission was back on track.

  • Once in Earth orbit, all systems appeared to check out, and flight control officials

  • gave the crew the green light to leave Earth.

  • The astronauts were not told of concern that the lighting strikes had damaged the pyrotechnic

  • system used to deploy the parachutes that would ease them back through the Earth’s

  • atmosphere.

  • If that system failed, the astronauts would not return alive.

  • This mission would have its share of perils, not unlike those faced by a long line of past

  • explorers, whose courage and restless spirit propelled them into the unknown.

  • This one, however, was backed by years of technology development, test flights, astronaut

  • training, and the largest support team back home that any mission ever had.

  • But hundreds of thousands of kilometers out in space the three astronauts were pretty

  • much on their own.

  • What made Apollo 12 unique was the friendship and chemistry of its crew. Conrad, Bean, and

  • Richard Gordon were all Navy men. Working and training together on the Gemini program,

  • they had gained each other’s respect and trust.

  • Now, hurtling across more than 400,000 kilometers to the moon, they prepared to fullfill the

  • mission’s goals.

  • One was to set up a scientific station designed to record seismic, atmospheric, and solar

  • data.

  • Another was to visit an unmanned lunar probe called Surveyor III that had landed there

  • two and a half years before. The idea was to bring back a part to study the effect of

  • the lunar environment.

  • A third goal was to improve on the landing of Apollo 11 just 5 months before.

  • Dropping down over a region called the Sea of Tranquility, pilot Neil Armstrong found

  • himself heading straight for a crater full of boulders.

  • He had to fly over the planned landing site and find a new one.

  • Now kilometers beyond the target, the lander, called Eagle, was literally running out of

  • gas.

  • With less than 30 seconds of fuel left, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin finally touched

  • down on a landscape obscured by dust stirred up by

  • the vehicle’s thrusters.

  • Future astronauts would have to be able to make precision landings at locations dictated

  • by science. That meant they would have to touch down on landscapes filled with all kinds

  • of rocks and craters.

  • For Apollo 12, the science pointed to a region known as the Ocean of Storms, some 2000 kilometers

  • from where the Eagle had landed. Here, the landscape is dark from lava that cooled to

  • form its flat expanse billions of years ago.

  • Within it, an impacting asteroid had hollowed out Copernicus crater, perhaps showering the

  • region with rocks blasted out from deep underground.

  • To sample this geological treasure trove, the astronauts sought to land at a series

  • of smaller craters about 45 kilometers away.

  • After a journey lasting 83 and a half hours, the crew fired the spacecraft’s engine to

  • go into an elliptical lunar orbit.

  • Five hours later a second burn put the spacecraft into a circular orbit 111 kilometers above

  • the lunar surface.

  • The next day, Pete Conrad and Allan Bean entered the lunar module, Intrepid.

  • Separating from the command module, they dropped down toward their target.

  • Pete Conrad would rely on improvements in the ship’s landing radar to find his way

  • to touchdown.

  • Pete Conrad and Alan Bean landed without a hitch.

  • Now, they prepared to climb down the ladder to experience a whole new world.

  • The plan was for Earth to experience it too, courtesy of a color video camera that was

  • designed to send back a live signal.

  • Conrad was careful to keep it pointed away from the Sun to protect its sensitive imaging

  • tubes. Unfortunately, it caught the glare from Intrepid’s shiny surface, and blew.

  • Back on Earth, the television networks cancelled their coverage. Millions of viewers then went

  • about their day.

  • Which left Conrad and Bean to go about theirs’.

  • The astronauts spent the first of two four-hour moonwalks setting up science and communications

  • equipment, taking photographs, and seeing what was there.

  • There were discoveries and surprises aplenty. One was a series of mounds out in the open,

  • perhaps made up of material ejected from the craters upon impact.

  • Two and a half hours into the moonwalk, the astronauts flipped their wrist-mounted checklists

  • to their next task.

  • They opened an unlikely page, placed there by the Apollo 12 back-up crew.

  • This little prank hardly distracted from their central goal: to walk among the craters making

  • observations and picking up rocks.

  • That was part of a major, unheralded, scientific quest of the Apollo program: to find clues

  • to where the moon came from.

  • At the time, there were three leading theories.

  • The so-called fission theory, championed by George Howard Darwin, son of Charles Darwin,

  • held that the moon was once part of the Earth, cast off by the rapid spin of its young parent.

  • That might explain the Pacific Ocean, a giant hole in the Earth’s surface.

  • Then there was the capture theory, which held that the moon was a wayward object that floated

  • through our solar system and was pulled into orbit by Earth’s gravity.

  • A third idea came from the American astronomer Thomas Jefferson Jackson See, known at the

  • time for his attacks on Einstein’s theories.

  • He suggested that the Moon formed near Earth and gradually fell under its gravitational

  • spell. In that case, moon rocks should resemble those of Earth.

  • Finding out which theory is correct would also yield clues to the formation of the solar

  • system at large, and perhaps even to the birth of our own planet.

  • Day Two on the Moon. Neither Conrad nor Bean had been able to get much sleep. Excitement

  • got the best of them.

  • The pair now left Intrepid for a second, and final, moonwalk.

  • The suits they wore had been built for spending time on the Moon’s surface, with five layers

  • stitched together to maintain constant temperature and air pressure. Because direct exposure

  • to the sun could heat the suits to 120 degrees Fahrenheit, the innermost layers circulated

  • water around the astronaut’s body to keep him cool.

  • On the outside was a shell to protect against micro-meteors that routinely batter the moon’s

  • surface. The astronauts found that lunar dust was so abrasive that this outer layer quickly

  • sustained damage, and so fine that it crept into the rotating wrist joints.

  • This time, the plan was to move out along the edge of Surveyor Crater and pay the probe

  • a visit.

  • Along the way, there were pictures to take, samples to collect, coring tools to drive

  • into the ground.

  • It was a world filled with optical illusions and strange juxtapositions.

  • The lunar landscape appears monochromatic, a bright gray. With no atmosphere, the light

  • is harsh, with shadows cast in deep black.

  • But close up, the moon offers a variety of rich and colorful details owing to its tumultuous

  • past.

  • The Ocean of Storms is an ancient basin that was hollowed out by a huge impact and filled

  • with lava.

  • Finally, the team arrived at Surveyor. They cut off select components to take back to

  • Earth.

  • Scientists would make a surprising discovery lodged in the camera was a colony of bacteria.

  • Did it sneak into the component upon its return to Earth? Or, had it somehow survived for

  • two and a half years on the moon?

  • To this day, no one knows the answer to this intriguing question.

  • One final stop remained: Block crater, where a basketball-sized impactor had exposed the

  • lunar bedrock, leaving a wealth of new samples.

  • One rock they picked up is known as KREEP, for potassium, rare earth elements, and phosphorus.

  • It’s thought to be a piece of bedrock that formed over 4 billion years agoon a lunar

  • surface that was entirely molten.

  • Just a few years later, this evidence would coalesce into a radical new idea of the moon’s

  • origins.

  • At the dawn of the solar system, Earth shared an orbit with a Mars-sized body now called

  • Theia.

  • Its orbit became unstable and it headed in Earth’s direction.

  • Theia struck Earth at an oblique angle, causing the Earth to spin faster and debris from both

  • bodies to fly into orbit.

  • When the dust settled, the debris began to coalesce in Earth orbit, forming the Moon.

  • The moon, then, comes primarily from the outer layers of the Earth and Theia. That’s why

  • overall the moon is less dense than Earth.

  • From this violent beginning, the moon gradually cooled, and the magma that lined its surface

  • hardened into a crust.

  • It was now time for Conrad and Bean to prepare for the return flight home.

  • Along with their gear, they packed up 75 pounds of scientifically priceless dirt and rocks.

  • In the years to come, these samples, and those from the remaining Apollo missions, would

  • continue to yield clues to the history of the moon, and its companion, Earth.

  • Even as Conrad and Bean lifted off from the moon, there was still more science to do.

  • The lander rose up to join the command module, docking flawlessly. Conrad and Bean transferred

  • their samples and equipment.

  • Then they released Intrepid, sending it hurtling back down to the Lunar surface. The idea was

  • to use the impact of a crash landing to calibrate equipment that would monitor moon quakes and

  • asteroid impacts.

  • When it hit, the impact resonnated like a bell for over half an hour, as seismic waves

  • rippled through the moon’s interior.

  • There was one more thing left to do: get home safely.

  • Just before arrival, they gazed at a brilliant scene of Earth moving across the sun.

  • Apollo 12 hit Earth’s atmosphere at 40,000 kilometers per hour.

  • The parachute pack opened just fine.

  • Not even a bolt of lightning could spoil this trip. The crew of Apollo 12 had shown how

  • it’s done, even adding flair to efficiency and precision.

  • Well, almost.

  • At splashdown, Alan Bean got beaned by a camera that had not been secured. His five stitches

  • would be forgotten.

  • What no one could forget was a camera magazine filled with exposed film that had gotten jammed

  • and then accidentally left on the lunar surface.

  • Ironically, given the magnitude of their accomplishment, the astronauts reported catching hell for

  • that oversight.

  • Conrad, Bean and the other astronauts of Apollo will go down in history as the first to step

  • off our planet. Four moon landings later, the program faded away in the wake of declining

  • expectations, social discord, and the politics of those turbulent times.

  • The incredible journey of Apollo 12 lives on as a symbol for those who may one day revive

  • the instinct to travel beyond our planet, in search of clues to the origins of our world,

  • and our place in the cosmos.

  • 3

Earth. November 14, 1969.

Subtitles and vocabulary

Operation of videos Adjust the video here to display the subtitles

B2 moon conrad apollo earth lunar bean

The Incredible Journey of Apollo 12

  • 577 29
    Zenn posted on 2013/04/06
Video vocabulary