Happy 46th anniversary Apollo 12

16 Nov

It was 46 years ago today, November 14, that NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) launched, Apollo 12, their second manned moon mission. It was an overcast day full of rain and wind when the three astronauts; Richard F. Gordon Jr., Charles “Pete” Conrad, and Alan L. Bean; climbed aboard the Apollo capsule. Everything went fine with the preflight check as the count-down commenced. At 8:22 am PST (16:22 UTC) the Saturn V rocket blasted off from the launchpad into the sky over Cape Canaveral, Florida. Just seconds after the rocket cleared the tower something unexpected happened.

What the hell was that?” asked Gordon. Twenty seconds of confusion ensued, and then another disturbance occurred.

The answer to Mr. Gordon’s question was lightning struck the Apollo 12 command module. The massive discharge caused the fuel cells to detect an overload and they went off-line. With the fuel cells off-line the command module had to rely on batteries. That meant that they now were trying to power a 75 ampere load on 28 amps provided by the batteries. This was causing several malfunctions and all the warning lights where flashing. That was not the worst though.

About 30 seconds after the first strike they suffered another lightning bolt. This one the “8-ball” altitude indicator. The astronauts and mission control were thinking they would have to abort the mission less a minute into the flight. Just then John Aaron; electrical, environmental, and consumable engineer; remembered his training on how to handle the situation. He relied the solution to the crew of Apollo 12 that plug in the proper sequence to get everything back on track to continue the mission to the moon.

Charles “Pete” Conrad Jr. had a rough road to travel on his way to NASA. As a youth he struggled in school with a dyslexia problem. He was expelled after failing his junior year of high-school. His mother was able to get him into a new school that helped him work around his dyslexia. After that he excelled in his academic studies enough that he was accepted to Princeton University with an ROTC Navy scholarship. He went on to become a Navy aviator, flight instructor, test pilot, and one of the “Mercury Seven” astronauts.

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