While Apollo 11 is the most well-known mission to the moon, the subsequent Apollo missions were also highly valuable missions. Few know of the Apollo 12 mission, but according to Teasel Muir-Harmony, the curator of the Apollo Collection at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum in Washington D.C., it was quite the trip.
The mission had a rocky start due to launch-day thunderstorms. While ascending, the space ship was hit twice by lighting which resulted in a host of electrical problems. But thanks to Mission Control, it was able to overcome these problems and restore power to all systems.
And the crew consisted of a unique cast of characters. The mission commander, Pete Conrad, brought a tape deck on board and set his own playlist that included Dusty Springfield and Elvis. He was joined by Alan Bean and Richard Gordon. All three were friends due to their time serving as pilots in the Navy.
While Apollo 11’s primary challenge was to prove that a moon landing was possible, Apollo 12 aimed to improve the process. “The major focus of Apollo 12 was the pinpoint landing,” Harmony said. “Conrad was considered one of the best pilots, if not the best pilot of the Apollo astronauts.”
Conrad successfully landed the ship on the edge of a crater. The landing site was 600 feet away from a robotic probe called Surveyor II, which the team visited during their time on the moon.
The crew’s hijinks are apparent from Conrad’s first words on the moon: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.” This was actually a part of a bet with Harmony, who had asked Conrad if the U.S. government-dictated Armstrong’s first words. This was his response to prove that they are allowed to say anything they want.
They also had a binder guide strapped to their arm that was meant for checklists but they instead filled with funny cartoons. They also included Playboy models with instructions to “survey – her activity.”
Transcripts also show that Conrad sang frequently during his walks on the moon. Unfortunately, there isn’t a lot of footage of the mission itself. Bean ruined the footage in the camera by accidentally pointing it directly at the Sun.
While the crew members of Apollo 12 received the same honors as those of Apollo 11, they didn’t receive as much attention. When they returned, the Vietnam War was in full swing. “It’s hard to feel optimistic and excited and focused on exploration when these horrible atrocities are happening on earth,” said Harmony.