The Moon is a quarter of a million miles away, and it has a surface area of almost 15 million miles. Yet 40 years ago, astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean guided their Apollo 12 Lunar Module, Intrepid, to a pinpoint landing just a few hundred yards from their target in the Moon's Ocean of Storms.
The goal of the first lunar landing, Apollo 11, was just to get there. But with the Moon Race with the Soviets over, future Apollo missions would concentrate more on the science. To do so, they'd need to make precise landings in some tight spaces.
To prove that such precision was possible, Apollo 12 aimed at an easy-to-verify target: a small crater in which the robotic Surveyor 3 spacecraft had landed two and a half years earlier. As Conrad started his climb down to the lunar surface, he realized they'd hit the mark:
CONRAD: Hey, I'll tell you where we're parked next to. BEAN: Yeah? CONRAD: We're about 25 feet in front of the Surveyor crater. BEAN: That's good. CONRAD: I bet you when I get down to the bottom of the ladder, I can see your Surveyor. CAPCOM: Sounds good, Pete -- just like you wanted.
Conrad and Bean loped down to the Surveyor, took some pictures, and snipped off some parts for analysis back on Earth. They also deployed a nuclear-powered set of instruments, and gathered about 75 pounds of rock and soil.
Most important, though, they made it possible for future missions to conduct more-extensive research -- thanks to a pinpoint landing.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2009
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