It happened today, 50 years ago.
February 5, 1971, Apollo 14 moon landing, the success that saved the Apollo Program

Silvia Vaccari

It was February 5, 1971 when the Apollo 14 moon landing with on board commander Alan Shepard, the veteran chosen by NASA, the first American in space (Mercury Program, May 5, 1961), the pilot of the command, (CM-110) Kitty Hawk, Stuart Roosa and lunar module pilot (LM-8) Antares Edgar Mitchell.

But let’s start from the beginning.

After the averted tragedy of Apollo 13, with Apollo 14 NASA was “playing” the whole program. A new failure would have led to the cancellation of all remaining lunar feats.

With this incredible pressure, three men were preparing to return to the moon and for the first time to land on the lunar plateaus.

It is January 31, 1971, the Apollo 14 mission is about to officially begin. Takeoff with the Saturn-V AS-509 rocket takes place from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, shortly after 4 pm, with a delay of more than 40 minutes on the schedule due to adverse weather conditions.

Over the course of the mission, the crew must resolve a series of technical failures and difficulties that could have led to the second mission being aborted and the premature end of the Apollo program.

The goal of the mission is the plateau of Fra Mauro, the same as the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission.

During the descent phase, distant rumors reach Houston (Credit NASA, the most important steps):

Shepard: It is a beautiful day to land in Fra Mauro. We are perfectly on course.

Mitchell: We are approaching Cone Crater just to my right.

Shepard: Here is the Cone Crater.

Mitchell: There it is.

Shepard: Sensational!

Mitchell: Right. Sensational.

Shepard: Beautiful!

Haise, Houston: Okay, Antares; Houston. Ready for landing.

Mitchell: Okay. Let’s go.

Shepard: (to Haise) thank you, sir.

Mitchell: Okay. 50 feet down, 50 feet.

Shepard: We’re in good shape, guys.

Mitchell: 3 feet per second (down), 40 feet (altitude); 3 feet per second, 30; 3 feet per second, looks perfect, 20 feet; 10.3 feet per second.

Mitchell: Contact, Al.

Shepard: Stop. Great.

Mitchell: We’re on the surface.

Shepard: Okay, we made a good landing.

Haise, Houston: Roger, Antares. It’s 09:18:11 UTC on February 5, 1971, 3:18 am in Houston, 10:18 am in Italy, for the third time man is on the moon.

“It’s been a long way, but we’re here”), are the first words spoken by Alan Shepard once he arrived on the Moon.

Figure 3: The Lunar Module (LM-8) Antares landed on the Moon.

On the morning of Friday 5th February Stuart Roosa he is now alone in the command module, his companions have entered the Antares spacecraft and are about to begin the descent towards the lunar surface. His 34 lonely hours in lunar orbit now begin, used to carry out scientific experiments and photograph the Moon, including the landing site of the future mission Apollo 16. He carries many hundreds of seeds on a mission, many of them germinated on the way back; would become the so-called Moon tree, widely distributed in the following years.

At 8:56 am Houston on February 5, 1971, Alan Shepard takes his first step on lunar soil, becoming the 5th man to walk on the Moon. Edgar Mitchell follows him immediately after becoming the 6th man.

Figure 4: Alan Shepard photographed on the Moon.

Almost 34 hours have passed during the two extravehicular activities of 5 and 6 February on the lunar surface and many experiments successfully completed, including the application of sensors that will allow to detect earthquakes over time and better understand the composition. internal of our satellite.

Three geophones are installed to record the waves caused by the explosions, the MET (Modularized Equipment Transporter) trolley is mounted with some effort in the shadow of the LM, which is the main feature, elected as a symbol, which differentiates the ‘Apollo 14 from all other missions. (Credit NASA)

The ALSEP complex (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Packages) is part of the scientific instrumentation, a small electronuclear unit running on plutonium that will transmit data to Earth for about a year.

But not only. Thanks to Apollo 14, the effects of the solar wind began to be studied in the fieldDuring the two walks on the lunar surface 94.35 pounds (42.80 kg) of moon rocks, and many are set scientific experiments. Despite not being able to explore the Cone crater, the scientists on the ground are satisfied: the collected material is interesting and the descriptions of the Fra Mauro area are as detailed as possible.

But the twists are not over! With a few minutes left to re-enter the LM, as Mitchell finishes fixing the equipment to be brought back to Earth, Shepard says, “Here’s something Americans know very well.”

Mitchell turns and in disbelief sees Shepard with a golf club in one hand and golf balls in the other! Shepard throws the balls on the lunar ground.

Meanwhile in Houston they are surprised, but not too surprised, given the character.

After a first unsuccessful attempt to hit the ball, Shepard doesn’t give up and this time he hits the ball straight and exclaims: “It goes miles and miles!”

Figure 7: Alan Shepard shows the golf club brought to the moon.

On February 6, the upper section of the LM detaches from the lower section which also served as a launch pad, at a speed of 5 meters per second. At 20:35:42 UTC, finally and without any docking problem, the two spacecraft are once again joined.

They carry out the transfer of the lunar samples and the experiments to be brought back to Earth and abandon the LM projecting it in the direction of the Moon, where it crashes.

At dawn on February 7, when Apollo 14 is behind the Moon, the engine of the service module is turned on to make the return journey. On February 9 at21:05:00 UTC the spacecraft lands in the Pacific Ocean, after a perfect descent, just eight kilometers from the aircraft carrier USS New Orleans.

The mission lasted 216 hours, 1 minute and 58 seconds (Credit NASA).

The third lunar mission with landing of men on the moon had improved all the records obtained with the Apollo 11 and 12.

And space mail, like the cosmograms transported to the moon by the Apollo missions, is a true human testimony of “living in space”.

Figure 10: USA – 1971 – APOLLO 14 – cosmogram n.20 of 55 that astronaut Edgar Mitchell brought on the Apollo 14 lunar mission.