Tuesday, July 20, 2021

Apollo 14 50 years later for Moon Day 2021

Happy National Moon Day! For today's anniversary of Apollo 11 landing on the Moon, I'm looking back at Apollo 14, the only mission whose 50th anniversary occurred since the last Moon Day. I begin with NASA's Apollo 14: ‘A Wild Place Up Here’.

Apollo 14 was the eighth crewed Apollo mission and the third to land on the Moon. On January 31, 1971, Apollo 14 launched from Kennedy Space Center with a crew of commander Alan B. Shepard, command module pilot Stuart A. Roosa, and lunar module pilot Edgar D. Mitchell.

The crew experienced challenges in docking with the lunar module Antares and six attempts were required before a "hard dock" was achieved.

On February 5, 1971, Antares made the most precise landing to date in the hilly uplands of the Fra Mauro crater.

Shepard and Mitchell spent a total of 33.5 hours on the Moon and performed two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs, or “moonwalks”), totaling 9 hours and 23 minutes. During the first EVA, they deployed several science experiments. Among these was a reflector that continues to be used to measure the distance from the Earth to the Moon. They also deployed a seismometer, which detected thousands of moonquakes and helped to determine the structure of the Moon’s interior. Other instruments measured the composition of the solar wind and the Moon’s tenuous atmosphere and plasma environment. Shepard and Mitchell collected 95 pounds of lunar rock and soil samples.

The command module Kitty Hawk splashed down safely on February 9, 1971, exactly nine days and two minutes after launch. The mission duration from liftoff to splashdown was 216 hours, two minutes.
As I observed last year, "One thing that struck me watching all of these videos was that Apollo 10-13 all had a mission-threatening, if not life-endangering, mishap of some kind, most of which I didn't know about until I started watching videos about the missions." That streak continued with Apollo 14, which required six attempts for the Command-Service Module (CSM) to dock with the Lunar Module. Seeker included that in its video about the mission, What Science Was Actually Done on the Moon?

Apollo 14 conducted more scientific exploration of the Moon than any mission before it, and discoveries from the trip would eventually shape a new understanding of our celestial neighbor.
[NASA:] “When Apollo 14 touched down on the moon on Feb. 5, 1971, it was more than a 240,000-mile trip – it was a hard-fought return to flight for NASA's Apollo Program and America's first person in space.”
[Space.com"] “Today, many people best remember this mission as the one where an astronaut hit golf balls on the moon, but the crew also had several other adventures.”
While NASA mentioned Apollo 14 as a return to space after "successful failure" of Apollo 13, concentrating much more on the mission itself, Seeker emphasized the steps required to recover from Apollo 13 and make Apollo 14 happen. Those were important technological achievements of their own, but not as impressive as the science performed during the mission, some which, like the lunar reflectors, are still ongoing experiments.

Speaking of Apollo 13, I didn't embed Seeker's video about the mission last year, so here is A Bomb Exploded on Apollo 13, Here’s What Happened Next for an encore.

When an explosion shutdown the main Apollo 13 spacecraft, NASA was put on the edge of a catastrophic disaster. Mission Control had to figure out how to get the astronauts home or they’d be stranded in space.
That's a gripping story, which is probably why "Apollo 13" was a more successful film than "First Man," both at the box office and at the Oscars.

Since I'm an environmentalist who conserves his resources, I will be able to continue celebrating 50th anniversaries of Apollo missions for two more years with Apollo 15 and Apollo 16 next year and Apollo 17 in 2023. After that, I might be able to blog about Artemis missions on this date. In the meantime, stay tuned for a post about Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos going into space. That fits into the theme of the day, according to National Day Calendar.
The day doesn’t just celebrate the landmark mission. It also celebrates future missions. Private expeditions are taking humans further into space. Armstrong’s “one small step for man” inspired imaginations and sparked innovation, too, for generations to come. Even future moon missions are planned including manned landings.
The adventure continues.

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