It's the ultimate buddy movie. Forty years ago, on November 19, 1969, astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean landed on the moon in one of the most important of the Apollo flights. This video shows them making a pinpoint landing on a treacherous lunar surface, finding rocks, and generally having a blast. The program features an interview with Pete Conrad, filmed a year before he died in a tragic motorcycle accident in 1999. Credit Space.com with editorial assistance.
Earth.... November 14th, 1969.
Three astronauts... with spacesuits, food, water, and a battery of scientific and communications equipment... were bound for the moon.
Thousands gathered at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, including President and Mrs. Richard Nixon, to witness the historic launch.
The Saturn V rocket that would carry them into space was theoretically designed to launch in any weather... and on this day it was raining.
The mission's commander, astronaut Pete Conrad, would say later: "The flight was extremely normal, for the first 36 seconds."
Audio: 10, 9, 8, ignition sequence start, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1, 0, all engines running... liftoff.
The five engines of the Saturn 5's huge first stage burned through 5 million pounds of liquid oxygen in just two and a half minutes, boosting the spacecraft 42 miles up... and 58 miles out over the Atlantic.
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 the spacecraft's circuit breakers shut off. The tracking system was lost.
Pete Conrad interview
Fortunately, the generation of the lightning didn't do anything to the booster guides. It did affect our guidance but ours was backup. So while this was all going on the booster was just happy as a clam going, doing its job, which it did all the way through, put us into proper orbit.
Astronaut Alan Bean managed to activate an auxiliary power system. The mission was back on track.
Now on course for the moon. They entered the lunar lander, Intrepid, to look for damage. They saw none on the inside of either the lander or the command module.
But on the outside was a parachute system needed to bring them safely back to Earth. No one knew for sure whether it had survived... the lightning.
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 of exploration had ever had.
But hundreds of thousands of miles out in space they'd be pretty much on their own.
What made Apollo 12 unique was the friendship and chemistry of its crew. Conrad, Gordon, and Bean were all Navy men. Working and training together on the Gemini program... they had gained each other's respect and trust.
Conrad had lobbied his NASA bosses hard to get Bean onto his Moon crew.
Now, hurtling across a quarter of a million miles to the moon, they prepared to work together on one science's most fascinating questions:
Could they find evidence of where the Moon came from... how it formed... and how Earth and its Moon fit within the story of our Solar System?
To do this, the astronauts of Apollo 12 would have to improve on the landing of Apollo 11 just 5 months before.
Dropping down over a region called the Sea of Tranquility, mission commander 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 miles beyond the target, with less than 30 seconds of fuel left, the lander, called Eagle, was literally running out of gas.
To go beyond that historic first moon mission, future astronauts would have to be able to make precision landings at locations dictated by science.
They had to learn to touch down safely on landscapes filled with all kinds of rocks and craters.
For Apollo 12, the science pointed to a corner in a vast region known as the Ocean of Storms, 1300 miles from where the Eagle had landed. The landscape is dark from an ocean of lava that cooled to form its flat expanse billions of years ago.
Over the eons, violent impacts had remade this and other lunar landscapes. Here, an impacting asteroid had hollowed out Copernicus crater, perhaps showering the region with subsurface rocks containing clues to the moon's geologic past.