Apollo 16 was not famous for the news it gave but the news the crew received while on the moon in 1972.
During a March on the Moon on April 21, mission commander John Young received a message from the Mission Control Center. He was told that Congress had just passed the space budget, which included approving the development of the space shuttle.
As Apollo 16 was the second last Apollo mission after the program was canceled, this was welcome news.
Young replied, “I’m proud to be an American.”
Nearly nine years later, Young was one of the first astronauts to fly on the inaugural space shuttle mission, dubbed STS-1.
Saturday, April 16, marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 16 crew on an 11-day mission. In addition to Young, the crew included Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke and Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly.
Among the mission successes: The crew returned the largest lunar rock ever collected in any of the missions.
Two crew members on the surface – Young and Duke – spent a record more than 20 hours walking on the Moon (the record was later broken by Apollo 17).
Here’s what else you need to know about the Apollo 16 mission.
The ‘less known’ Apollo missions:
Apollo 12 at 50:Lightning could have judged the mission
Apollo 14 at 50:Shepherd’s Return, Weather Delay, and Historic Golf Swing
Apollo 15 at 50:A new rover, “Genesis Rock” and the first EVA in deep space
Young became an astronaut in 1962 as part of the NASA Astronaut Group 2. At the time of Apollo 16, he was a 41-year-old Navy captain who had made three previous missions to space: Gemini 3 (1965), Gemini 10 (1966) and as a unit pilot. Command of Apollo 10 (1969), the last voyage to pass the moon before astronauts land on it.
Mattingly, a Navy lieutenant at the time of Apollo 16, was selected to NASA’s Fifth Group of astronauts in 1966. He was 36 years old at the time of Apollo 16 and had served as a support crew member for Apollo 8 and 9. Mattingly was assigned Originally for the main crew of Apollo 13, but contracted rubella through Duke, who at the time was in the Apollo 13 reserve crew with Young. Mattingly never fell ill, but three days before launch he was removed from the crew and replaced by his backup, Jack Swigert. Gary Sinise is best known for his role as Mattingly in the Tom Hanks movie Apollo 13.
Duke, who is also a Group V astronaut, had served on the Apollo 10 support crew and was a capsule hub (CAPCOM) for Apollo 11. Apollo 16 was his first flight into space. Duke, as 36 as Mattingley, was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force at the time of Apollo 16. However, because he was about six months younger than Mattingley, who never came to the surface, Duke became the youngest person to walk aboard. moon. It still holds that title today.
The Apollo 16 mission was a fact-finding mission because there were no major new instruments or procedures to test on the lunar surface.
Scientists sought information about the early history of the moon, which they believed could be obtained from the lunar heights. The heights were not visited in previous expeditions.
Several members of the scientific community have noted that central lunar heights resemble regions on Earth created by volcanoes and hypothesize that the same may be true on the Moon. They were hoping that the science output from the Apollo 16 mission would provide an answer. The answer was no: the heights were not created by volcanoes.
The mission also provided several nuclear-powered experiments designed to measure seismic activity long after the crew had left, as well as the Particle and Sub-Fields Satellite (PFS-2), a small satellite launched into lunar orbit from the service module.
The main goal was to measure charged particles and magnetic fields throughout the Moon as the Moon orbits the Earth.
Of the three sites considered, that of Descartes was chosen. With the help of orbital imaging obtained on the Apollo 14 mission, Descartes’ position was determined to be safe enough for the crew to land.
The selected landing site sat between two small impact craters, the North Beam and the South Beam – 3,280 and 2,230 feet in diameter, respectively – providing “natural drilling holes” that penetrated through the site’s lunar regolith, thus leaving exposed bedrock that could have been sampled from before the crew.
After selection, mission planners made the Descartes and Cayley formations, two lunar highlands geologic units, the primary sampling interests of the mission.
It was these formations that the scientific community widely suspected were formed by lunar volcanoes, but this hypothesis was proven incorrect by the composition of the moon’s samples from the mission.
The launch of Apollo 16 was originally scheduled for March 17, 1972. Several problems caused delays until April 16, 1972.
The official countdown to the mission began on Monday, April 10, 1972, at 8:30 a.m., six days before launch. The astronauts underwent their final physical examination on April 11.
Apollo 16 lifted off from the Kennedy Space Center at 12:54 p.m. on April 16, 1972. Aside from a minor problem while in Earth’s orbit, things went smoothly as the crew headed toward the moon.
After waking up on flight day four, the crew began preparations for the maneuver that would propel them into orbit.
The next day, they headed toward the surface of the Moon on the Orion lunar lander.
Moon walks and moon rocks
The crew spent 20 hours and 15 minutes doing extra-vehicular activities (EVAs or Moonwalks).
They were the second crew to circumnavigate the lunar module, logging just over 16 miles.
While there, they collected moon rock that became known as Big Muley – the largest sample returned from the moon as part of the Apollo program. The 26-pound rock is named after Bill Mullberger, leader of the Apollo 16 field geology team.
The Big Muley is currently stored in the Lunar Sample Laboratory facility at Lyndon B Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas.
They have successfully deployed all their equipment and science experiments and have spent nearly three full days on the moon.
On April 24, they left the lunar surface to meet the Casper Command Module, which Mattingly named after the famous friendly ghost.
But before he left, Duke left a stamped picture of his family on the moon.
back to earth
After returning to the command module, the three astronauts returned toward Earth. Along the way, Mattingly performed an 83-minute EVA to retrieve film cassettes from cameras in the SIM card compartment, with the help of Duke, who remained at the command module slot. About 199,000 miles from Earth, it was the second “deep space” EVA in history.
The crew landed in the Pacific Ocean at 3:45 PM ET on April 27, 1972. The spacecraft and crew were recovered by the aircraft carrier USS Ticonderoga.
The Apollo 16 Casper command module is on display at the US Space and Missile Center in Huntsville, Alabama, after the transfer of ownership from NASA to the Smithsonian in November 1973.