To Fra Mauro, At Last

The loss of the scientific information Apollo 13 would have returned from Fra Mauro made it necessary to reevaluate objectives for later missions. At its meeting in early March the Apollo site selection board had recommended Littrow [Figure 4, site 2]) as the target for Apollo 14.16 After Apollo 13 the board's scientific advisers almost unanimously agreed that the Fra Mauro site still rated the high priority it had been given; they recommended sending Apollo 14 there instead of Littrow, and the board agreed.17 Since a number of changes in the service module were expected as a result of the Apollo 13 investigation, Apollo 14 was rescheduled for the third time in six months. Launch readiness was targeted for no earlier that January 31, 1971.18 In the nine months between the third and fourth lunar exploration missions, the last of the year's budget shocks hit the Apollo program. With the loss of Apollo 15 and 19, Apollo 14 became the last of the intermediate ("H"-type) missions. Its basic objectives were the same as those of Apollo 13, but several changes were made in details.

Apollo 13 had carried a surface science package consisting of a passive seismometer, an atmospheric detector and a charged-particle detector, and a heat flow instrument. Apollo 14's package left off the heat-flow experiment and added three more: an active seismic experiment, a laser reflector like the one carried on Apollo 11, and an ionosphere detector like the one carried on Apollo 12. The active seismic experiment consisted of a set of detectors (geophones) to be laid out on the surface and two devices for producing calibrated shocks. It would aid in the interpretation of seismic data by giving seismologists a measure of the velocity of seismic waves in the near-surface layer of the moon.19

After earlier crews reported problems in carrying all the gear required for sampling on the moon, MSC's Technical Services Division designed and built a two-wheeled modular equipment transporter for the Apollo 14 mission. The rubber-tired "rickshaw," as it was nicknamed - actually it more resembled a golf cart - weighed only 18 pounds (8.2 kilograms) but could carry a 360-pound ( 163-kilogram) load; either astronaut could pull it with one hand. Providing storage space for core tubes, sample bags, cameras, maps, and hand tools, it folded up for storage on the lunar module at launch, alongside the experiment packages.20

Significant changes were made in pre- and postflight medical operations on Apollo 14. A prelaunch flight crew health stabilization program was established by medical officials to prevent the crew's exposure to communicable disease, which had caused problems on Apollo 7, 8, 9, and 13. For three weeks before launch, prime and backup crewmen were isolated from close contact with everyone except their families and ground-support personnel whose duties required them to work closely with the astronauts. All these "primary contacts" were examined, tested for immunity to common diseases, and kept under medical surveillance. Crewmen were restricted to specified areas at the Cape and the air-conditioning system in their quarters was fitted with biological filters to minimize exposure to airborne disease organisms.21 Postmission quarantine arrangements were also modified to shorten the return to the lunar receiving laboratory. Since the recovery zone was some 600 miles (965 kilometers) from the U.5. air base in Samoa, plans called for the crew to be transferred by helicopter from the mobile quarantine facility aboard the recovery ship to Samoa. There they would enter a second isolation trailer, which would be flown to Houston.22

After the Apollo 13 accident, preparations for the next flight were delayed while the service module oxygen tanks were modified and tested. Meanwhile, several other minor changes to spacecraft and launch vehicle were made at the Cape.23 Thee new tanks - including a third, isolated from the other two, which would assure that the command module had enough oxygen to supply the crew - were installed and tested by January 18, and no further problems showed up as launch date approached.24

Launch day, January 31, was cloudy and rainy; eight minutes before the scheduled liftoff, the launch director stopped the countdown to wait for the heaviest clouds to move across the Cape. Forty minutes later Apollo 14 was on its way.25 The trip to the moon was uneventful until the time came to remove the lunar module from the S-IVB stage. Five attempts to dock the command module with the lunar module failed for no apparent reason - a worrisome anomaly, to say the least - but the sixth was successful.26 The spent 5-IVB stage was then put on a course to crash on the moon some 100 miles southwest of the Apollo 12 landing site.27 Command module Kitty Hawk and lunar module Antares braked into lunar orbit 82 hours after liftoff. Two hours later Kitty Hawk's main engine lowered both spacecraft to the altitude from which Antares would begin its descent.28 This maneuver was one result of the refinement of mission techniques that planners had been working on since Apollo 12, designed to conserve fuel in the lunar module and give the crew more time to hover before landing if they needed to look for a suitable site.

After mission commander Alan Shepard and lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell had checked out Antares, command module pilot Stuart Roosa pulled Kitty Hawk away and Antares began its descent to the surface. Last-minute course corrections sent up from Houston were entered in the guidance computer and Shepard piloted the spacecraft to a routine landing about 350 miles (563 kilometers) west-southwest of the center of the moon's visible side. Antares was only 175 feet (53 meters) from its targeted landing site29 Meanwhile Roosa had boosted Kitty Hawk back up into a higher, circular orbit, where he had a number of tasks to perform while his colleagues explored the Fra Mauro Formation.

The terrain on which Antares sat was gently undulating, with numerous craters but comparatively few boulders. Mitchell commented that there was "more relief [i.e., variations in elevation] than we anticipated from looking at the maps,"30 a characteristic that would cause them some difficulty later on. Having given Houston a description of what they could see, Shepard and Mitchell put on their space suits and prepared for their first excursion.

Shepard's first words as he stepped on to the moon were inspired by his 9 years, 10 months, and 10 days of waiting from Mercury-Redstone 3, when he had been the first American in space, to the day he stepped on the moon.* "It's been a long way," he said, "but we're here."31 Mitchell joined Shepard on the lunar surface and they unloaded the rickshaw and experiments and picked a spot some 500 feet (150 meters) west of Antares for the instruments. After laying out the geophones for the active seismic experiment, Mitchell fired the explosive charges in his hand-held "thumper" as they walked back to the lunar module. On the way Shepard stopped to collect a comprehensive sample of rocks and fine surface material from a representative area, found two "football-sized" rocks, and collected some other surface samples. After more than four and a half hours they were back in the lunar module. Houston then had half an hour's worth of questions from the scientists in the back room, and then it Was time to turn in.32

Shepard and Mitchell did most of the mission's geological field work on their second traverse. Their biggest problem was in determining their location from the landmarks shown on their map. More than once they changed their minds about where they were. At the time and later, they attributed this to the rolling terrain and the relation of their line of sight to the sun: craters might be visible in one direction but not in another. Without familiar objects for reference, they found it difficult to estimate distances. A prime objective was to sample the rim of "Cone" crater, about a thousand meters (3,300 feet) from the spacecraft. By the time they got there, however, they had spent considerable time and were not positive that they were in the right place. As it turned out, they stopped just a few meters short of the rim, but at the time they were not certain they were on the slope of Cone, and Shepard was concerned with the tasks they had yet to accomplish and the time available.33 They turned back, completed the planned traverse, and returned to Antares after another 4 1/2-hour excursion. They had collected nearly a hundred pounds (45 kilograms) of samples and taken hundreds of photographs documenting many of the rocks, boulders, and sampling sites, including several panoramic views of the landing site.34 Before climbing back into the lunar module, Shepard took out of his suit pocket "a little white pellet that's familiar to millions of Americans" - a golf ball - and dropped it on the surface. Then, using the handle for the contingency sample return container, to which was attached "a genuine six-iron," he took a couple of one-handed swings. He missed with the first, but connected with the second. The ball, he reported, sailed for "miles and miles."35

During the 33 1/2 hours Shepard and Mitchell were on the moon, Stuart Roosa had several important tasks to perform in Kitty Hawk. Continuing what had begun on Apollo 12, he photographed one of the remaining candidate landing areas (Descartes) and made numerous observations of prominent lunar landmarks to provide data that would improve landing accuracy on subsequent missions.36

Back in Antares, Shepard and Mitchell stowed their samples and discarded their expendable equipment. Houston then passed up questions for half an hour concerning details of their visual observations, which brought out some of the difficulties they had experienced on the traverse. Geological features had been subtle, occasionally they had had too little time to observe and comment on details, and the rolling terrain had sometimes blocked their view of features only a few meters away.37

Liftoff from the moon came at 1:48 p.m. EST on February 6. Mission planners had worked out a "direct" rendezvous scheme - that is, the ascent trajectory was programmed to meet the command module at its highest point, with necessary corrections being made during ascent - which they used for the first time. (On previous missions several maneuvers had been necessary to adjust the LM's orbit before bringing the spacecraft together.) Two and a half hours after liftoff, Antares and Kitty Hawk docked; three hours later, having sent the lunar module crashing to the lunar surface, Kitty Hawk headed home.38

Along the way the crew performed some "inflight demonstrations" experiments exploring some zero-g techniques that might offer useful application of technology in space: electrophoresis (the migration of charged molecules in solution under the influence of an applied voltage), transfer of liquids between two containers, heat transfer, and casting of various materials from the molten state.39 Results were promising enough to warrant further investigation on Skylab and, later, on space shuttle missions. After finishing those demonstrations, Shepard, Mitchell, and Roosa had little to do for the rest of the mission. Kitty Hawk made a normal reentry and landed 0.6 miles (965 meters) from its targeted point in the South Pacific near the aircraft carrier U.S.S. New Orleans in the early morning light of February 9. Three days later the astronauts in their quarantine trailer arrived at the lunar receiving laboratory at MSC, where they spent 15 days in quarantine.40

Apollo 14 successfully concluded the intermediate stage of lunar exploration, closing a period in which the progress made in mission planning and operations exceeded expectations. Armstrong had overshot his target by five miles (eight kilometers). Conrad and Shepard, aided by improved techniques, had landed within a quarter of a mile of theirs (400 meters) - an accuracy that MSC's mission planners had expected to achieve after three or four tries, but scarcely hoped for on the second. Eagle had stayed on the moon for 21 1/2 hours, Intrepid for 31 1/2, Antares for 33 1/2. Armstrong and Aldrin's 2 1/2 hours on the surface was more than doubled by Conrad and Bean and extended nearly ninefold by Shepard and Mitchell. Apollo 12 brought back 50 percent more lunar material than Apollo 11, and Apollo 14 returned 25 percent more than that. About the only remaining improvements to lunar exploration would come from the addition of extra supplies and a powered vehicle to save time in exploring the lunar surface.

* Shepard was the only one of the "Original Seven" astronauts to make that journey, only the second to fly in the Apollo program.

16. Rocco A. Petrone to multiple addressees, "Apollo Site Selection Board Minutes of Meeting," Mar. 16, 1970; James A. McDivitt to multiple addressees, "Apollo Site Selection Board Meeting March 6, 1970"; Myers to Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - March 9, 1970," Mar. 9, 1970.

17. Calio to Mgr., Apollo Spacecraft Program, "Site Selections for Apollo Missions 14 and 15," May 8, 1970.

18. U.S. Congress, Senate, Apollo 13 Mission Review, Hearings before the Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, 91/2, June 30, 1970, p. 52; "Apollo 13 Rescheduled," NASA Release 70-5, Jan. 8, 1970; John Noble Wilford, "Apollo 14 to Use Cart on the Moon," New York Times, Jan. 20, 1970; Richard D. Lyons, "NASA and 2 Companies Blamed for Apollo Blast," New York Times, June 16, 1970.

19. Bendix Corp., Mission Assignments, "Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP)," no date [c. Dec. 1970], box 079-51, JSC History Office files.

20. "New Labor-Saving device: the MSC 'Rickshaw,'" MSC Roundup, Jan. 30, 1970.

21. MSC-03465-Rev. A, "Flight Crew Health Stabilization Program," Oct. 26, 1970; "MSC Flight Readiness Review, Apollo 14," part IV, Dec. 11, 1970, pp. 13-14; "Crew Health Stabilization Plan Announced for Apollo 14," MSC Roundup, Oct. 9, 1970.

22. "MSC Flight Readiness Review, Apollo 14," part IV, pp.27, 31-34; MSC-04112, "Apollo 14 Mission Report," May 1971, pp. 10-14 to 10-15.

23. Benson and Faherty, Moonport, pp. 494-96.

24. Myers to Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - January 11, 1971," Jan. 11, 1971.

25. Benson and Faherty, Moonport, p. 499.

26. MSC, "Apollo 14 Mission Report," MSC-04112, May 1971, pp. 1-1, 9-3, 14-1 to 14-5.

27. Ibid., p. 3-19.

28. Ibid., p. 6-2.

29. Ibid., pp. 6-2, 6-7.

30. MSC, "Apollo 14 Technical Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription" (hereinafter cited as "14 Air-to-Ground"), pp. 400-401.

31. 14 Air-to-Ground, p. 449.

32. Ibid., pp. 449-531, 535-54, 575-85.

33. Ibid., pp. 637-68; MSC, "Apollo 14 Technical Crew Debriefing," Feb. 17, 1971, pp. 10-35 to 10-36, 10- 50 to 10-57.

34. "Apollo 14 Mission Report," p. 1-2.

35. 14 Air-to-Ground, p. 723; "Moon Trip Prescribed For Golf Ills," Washington Post, Feb. 18, 1971. Shepard's golf club was fashioned at his request by technicians in MSC's Technical Services Division. According to Jack Kinzler, chief of Technical Services, it was "bootlegged" through the shops because no one wanted to draw high-level managerial attention to it.

36. "Apollo 14 Mission Report," p. 4-4, 4-5.

37. 14 Air-to-Ground, pp. 757-67.

38. "Apollo 14 Mission Report," pp. 6-4, 6-10.

39. Ibid., pp. 5-1 to 5-6.

40. Ibid., pp. 11-3 to 11-7, 10-15. It later came out that Edgar Mitchell had participated in an experiment of his own, not in the official flight plan. In cooperation with a Midwestern drafting engineer who claimed psychic powers, he attempted some telepathic communication with earth at various times during the flight. See "Apollo ESP test told," Washington Daily News, Feb. 22, 1971.

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