Wednesday, June 29th, 2016

NASA sent astronauts to the moon with porn strapped to their wrists

Narada Desk | June 29, 2016 6:25 pm Print
The Saturn V's internal guidance was unaffected and it was still on course, but NASA had no way to know what the problem was or whether the mission could safely continue. And they had to decide fast whether to call for a mission abort. Moments after the second strike Apollo 12 accelerated beyond the speed of sound. Within minutes three astronauts would arrive in space — possibly on a doomed craft.

In November 1969, astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad and Alan Bean rode a lunar lander down to the moon’s Ocean of Storms while module pilot Dick Gordon orbited overhead.

Conrad and Bean were on their way toward becoming the third and fourth men to walk on the moon, respectively. But their mission, just four months after Neil and Buzz’s Apollo 11, lacked either the moment of a first landing or the high drama of Apollo 13’s near-disaster. Maybe that’s why the details of Apollo 12 have passed from popular memory.

That’s too bad, because Apollo 12 was downright zany. This was the mission that was nearly scrapped before it left the atmosphere, where a bad swing of the arm destroyed precious equipment.

And then, of course, there was the porn.

Apollo 12 got struck by lightning in flight and the mission was almost aborted

Probably the most famous event of the Apollo 12 mission came within its first minutes. Reading the mission transcript, the whole launch plays out like a scene from a movie.

Setting:  Cape Canaveral, Florida.

A gathered crowd — including President Nixon, the first sitting commander in chief to watch space launch — endured a rain storm as a Saturn V topped with the command capsule Yankee Clipper erupted from the launch pad. It was 11:22 AM.

Twelve seconds after liftoff, Gordon announced the spacecraft, which was nearly 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty, had cleared its launch tower.

“Roger. Clear the tower. I got a pitch and a roll program, and this baby’s really going,” Conrad replied. Eight seconds later he added, “It’s a lovely lift-off. It’s not bad at all. Everything’s looking great. Sky’s getting lighter.”

But just 13 seconds later his tone changed:

000:00:37 Gordon (onboard): What the hell was that?

000:00:38 Conrad (onboard): Huh?

000:00:39 Gordon (onboard): I lost a whole bunch of stuff; I don’t know …

000:00:40 Conrad (onboard): Turn off the buses.

Public Affairs Office – “40 seconds.”

000:00:42 Carr: Mark.

000:00:43 Carr: One Bravo.

000:00:43 Conrad (onboard): Roger. We had a whole bunch of buses drop out.

000:00:44 Conrad: Roger. We [garble] on that. [Long pause.]

000:00:45 Bean (onboard): There’s nothing – it’s nothing …

000:00:47 Gordon (onboard): A circuit …

000:00:48 Conrad (onboard): Where are we going?

What no one on board Yankee Clipper or at Mission Control knew was that lightning had struck Apollo 12, scrambling the rocket’s instruments. A second strike twenty seconds later knocked many of them out entirely. The astronaut’s only sign that their module was even still connected to the rocket was the massive g-forces still acting on their bodies.

Apollo 12 launches in stormy weather. NASA

The Saturn V’s internal guidance was unaffected and it was still on course, but NASA had no way to know what the problem was or whether the mission could safely continue. And they had to decide fast whether to call for a mission abort. Moments after the second strike Apollo 12 accelerated beyond the speed of sound. Within minutes three astronauts would arrive in space — possibly on a doomed craft.

For 28 seconds, Gerald Carr, the man at mission control charged with communicating with the astronauts, said nothing into his radio while specialists tried to make heads or tails of the nonsense data streaming back from Apollo. Then:

000:01:36 Carr: Apollo 12, Houston. Try SCE to auxiliary. Over.

000:01:39 Conrad: Try FCE to Auxiliary. What the hell is that?

000:01:41 Conrad: NCE to auxiliary…

000:01:42 Gordon (onboard): Fuel cell…

000:01:43 Carr: SCE, SCE to auxiliary. [Long pause.]

000:01:45 Conrad (onboard): Try the buses. Get the buses back on the line.

000:01:48 Bean (onboard): It looks – Everything looks good.

000:01:50 Conrad (onboard): SCE to Aux.

000:01:52 Gordon (onboard): The GDC is good.

000:01:54 Conrad (onboard): Stand by for the – I’ve lost the event timer; I’ve lost the…

Public Affairs Office – “Comm reports the reading is back.”

A 24-year-old NASA officer named John Aaron had recognized the strange telemetry pattern from an earlier test. The power supply to the SCE, the device that converted raw instrument signals to coherent data, had malfunctioned, producing the same problem as the unseen lightning strikes. Bean following Aaron’s instruction to switch to auxillary power — an option Conrad didn’t even know existed on their massive instrument panel — reset the SCE and returned everything to normal. After some careful check-ups in space, the mission was able to continue.

The first thing Conrad did on the moon was win a $500 bet

“Whoopee!” Conrad exclaimed as he put his foot down on the moon for the first time, becoming the third person to ever do so. “Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.”

Conrad was five feet, six inches tall, a full head shorter than the 5′ 11″ Neil Armstrong. Still, the greatest moment of a person’s life is a weird time for a self-deprecating short joke.

But Kathy Sawyer’s 1999 Washington Post profile of the astronaut reveals the story behind this strange quote.

Conrad, Sawyer reveals, was a prankster who once goaded Neil Armstrong into driving a Corvette so fast on the way back from a Texas burger joint that they got arrested. He was convinced he got barred from the Mercury program for “making a sport” of the psychological tests; when interviewers showed him a blank card, he told them it was upside-down.

And he dreamed up his first words on the moon sitting poolside with his first wife, Jane Conrad, and the journalist Oriana Fallaci before his mission. NASA, Fallaci told Conrad, must have scripted Armstrong’s statement from the lunar surface. Conrad insisted in return that he’d be able to say anything he wanted, and predicted his “Whoopie!” line then and there. He and Fallaci ended up making a $500 bet on the first-step phrase, but he was never able to collect it.

Most of the moonwalks happened without a working TV camera

America’s moon missions were propaganda victories in the Cold War as much as they were scientific expeditions. So NASA made a point of broadcasting live from the lunar surface. For Apollo 12, the engineers decided to step up the production value from Apollo 11, and sent a color TV camera along.

But 42 minutes into broadcasting the first moonwalk of the mission, the feed cut out. Despite their best efforts, Conrad and Bean couldn’t get it going again.

NASA had them bring the camera back with them for inspection. Later NASA reported that Bean had pointed the lens directly into the sun while carrying it over to the tripod, frying its internal machinery. The space agency developed protocols to prevent a similar incident in the future — like packing a lens cap.

All three astronauts had Playboy on their wrists

For all the expense and effort of their moon mission, Conrad and Bean had just hours at their destination to get through their assigned tasks. So NASA scheduled their time there down to the minute, with instructions written out on checklists strapped to their wrists.

Dave Scott, the backup commander for Apollo 12 who would have stepped in if Conrad were unable to go, saw to it that some other material made its way into those little wire-bound flip books.

FOR MORE READ

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE
Loading...