Give yourself a gold star if you recognized this iconic image of the Apollo 12 Lunar Module known as “Intrepid” sitting upon the Ocean of Storms. (Apollo 11, of course, landed in the Sea of Tranquility.)
Aboard Apollo 12, Commander Pete Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean swung open that hatch and descended to the dusty surface. Make no mistake, their accomplishment marked the second stunning success for NASA’s Moon missions coming just four short months after the first Moon landing on July 16, 1969.
Yeah, we all know, the second of anything doesn’t get even half the love of the first. More’s the pity in this case. Consider:
- Apollo 12 landed in more challenging terrain than the Sea of Tranquility, where Apollo 11 set down.
- Apollo 12 stayed on the Moon’s surface longer than Apollo 11, permitting the astronauts to spent more time making scientific observations and performing experiments.
- The Apollo 12 astronauts collected 75 pounds of Moon rocks as compared to the 48 pounds of rocks collected by the Apollo 11 astronauts
- Even though Apollo 12 was struck by lightning twice when it launched, the mission was a stunning success.
Apollo 12 was intended, in part, to serve as a backup in case Apollo 11 did not come off without a hitch. President John F. Kennedy had famously kicked off the “Moon Race” in 1961 when he announced the plan for the United States to “send a man to the Moon and bring him safely to Earth by the end of the decade.”
While the Apollo Space program assuredly fired the imaginations of many science fiction writers half a century ago, I’m here to tell you that it still does! In looking back at the 50+ years of the space program, I can’t help but wonder what if things had gone a little bit differently? How might the subsequent exploration of the Moon, Mars, Venus, comets, asteroids, the Sun, and the outer planets have played out?
So I’ve written a story that’s due to come out next year. Ah, but I’m getting ahead of myself. I’ll tell you more from time to time as we get closer to publication. I’ll talk about how I got the idea, the times I kicked around some thoughts with other writer buddies, how long it took me to actually write that story (hint: longer than you might expect), and my process for doing research and finding experts who could check my science and history. I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
Pete Conrad also (infamously) pointed the video camera at the Sun early in the mission, so there’s not much video. Not sure if I qualify as an expert, but I followed each launch in detail all the way through Apollo-Soyuz, so happy to be a resource if appropriate.
(Just tell me there are no dinosaurs watching Apollo 12 from behind the next rock to the left.)