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Fifty Years Ago: Apollo 12 Three Weeks Until Launch

John Uri |
October 23, 2019

Launch day—Nov. 14, 1969—was rapidly approaching for Apollo 12 astronauts Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad, Command Module Pilot Richard F. Gordon and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Alan L. Bean, as well as their backups David R. Scott, Alfred M. Worden and James B. Irwin.

The primary objectives of Apollo 12 included a pinpoint landing on the lunar surface, deploying scientific experiments on the surface and performing geologic sampling during two spacewalks, spending a total of 31.5 hours on the Moon. The pinpoint landing added the extra benefit of visiting the Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which had been on the Moon since April 1967, and returning several parts for scientists and engineers to examine the effects of the long exposure to lunar conditions. All the astronauts continued their intensive training program, including many hours in spacecraft simulators, while Conrad and Scott practiced lunar landings. At NASA’s Kennedy Space Center, workers continued to prepare the Saturn V rocket and the Apollo 12 spacecraft for the upcoming launch. Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the Apollo 11 astronauts and their wives continued their goodwill world tour, which began in late September and would end in early November. 

Left: Apollo 12 crew (top to bottom Alan Bean, Richard Gordon and Pete Conrad) on the steps leading up to the Command Module simulator at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Right: Bean in the suspension rig at the Manned Spacecraft Center that simulated walking in the 1/6-g lunar environment. Image Credits: NASA

One of the final significant milestones before every major launch, the Countdown Demonstration Test (CDDT), began at Kennedy on Oct. 23 for the Apollo 12 mission. The CDDT, a full dress rehearsal for the actual countdown to launch, consisted of two parts. The “wet” phase included workers at Launch Pad 39A fueling the rocket as if for launch, with the countdown cutting off just prior to first-stage engine ignition, and did not involve the flight crew. The “dry” phase followed on Oct. 29—an abbreviated countdown without fueling the rocket, but with the flight crew boarding the Command Module, call sign Yankee Clipper, for Apollo 12 as if on launch day.  

Two views of the Apollo 12 Saturn V on Launch Pad 39A during the wet phase of the CDDT. Image Credits: NASA

Apollo astronauts had two important training tools to prepare them for the actual Moon landings: the Lunar Landing Research Facility (LLRF) at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, and the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base near the Manned Spacecraft Center, now Johnson Space Center, in Houston. The LLRF consisted of a 400-by-230-foot A-frame structure with a gantry used to manipulate a full-scale Lunar Excursion Module Simulator. Workers modelled the base of the LLRF with fill material to resemble the Moon’s surface. The LLRF simulated piloting the LM in the final 150 feet of the descent to the lunar surface and was available to train both commanders, LMPs and their backups. Conrad completed his final training run in the LLRF on Oct. 27. The LLTV, often dubbed “the flying bedstead,” was a high-fidelity simulator of the LM’s flying characteristics, especially of the final 500 feet of the descent. Challenging to fly, Apollo commanders considered the LLTV an essential tool in teaching them the skills to pilot the LM to the lunar surface. Conrad completed his final LLTV flight on Oct. 26, while Scott flew four more missions in early November. Both were then qualified to pilot the LM Intrepid to the lunar surface.

Left: Apollo 12 Commander Conrad surrounded by his family after his last LLTV flight. Middle and right:  Apollo 12 backup Commander David Scott prepares for a training flight on LLTV-2. Image Credits: NASA

Meanwhile, halfway around the world, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil A. Armstrong, Michael Collins and Edwin E. “Buzz” Aldrin, accompanied by their wives Janet, Patricia and Joan, respectively, continued their Presidential Giantstep goodwill world tour. By the latter part of October, they had visited four Latin American countries and wrapped up the European portion of the tour in Belgrade, Yugoslavia. Next followed stops in Ankara, Turkey; Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo; Tehran, Iran; Bombay (now Mumbai), India; Dacca, East Pakistan (now Dhaka, Bangladesh); and Bangkok, Thailand. From there, they were off to Australia, Guam and east Asia before finally returning to the United States. At each stop, heads of state and other dignitaries greeted the astronauts while cheering crowds welcomed them as they rode through the streets in motorcades. A presidential jet ferried them and their NASA and State Department entourage from city to city.

Left: In Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of Congo, President Mobutu presents the Apollo 11 astronauts’ wives (left to right) Joan Aldrin, Patricia Collins and Janet Armstrong with the Order of Zaire medals.  Right: Dancers perform for the Apollo 11 astronauts and their wives in Bangkok, Thailand.

Richard Gordon in the Command Module simulator. Image Credit: NASA
Richard Gordon in the Command Module simulator. Image Credit: NASA
Pete Conrad (left) and Alan Bean in the Lunar Module simulator. Image Credit: NASA
Pete Conrad (left) and Alan Bean in the Lunar Module simulator. Image Credit: NASA