6 Feb 2016

Celebrates Astronaut Edgar Dean Mitchell

Apollo 14 was originally targeted for Taurus-Littrow but was diverted by the Apollo 13 abort to Fra Mauro. The mission was delayed for forty minutes by weather resembling the conditions for Apollo 12, and it surprised some observers to see the liftoff going ahead in very murky skies at 16:03 hrs local time. The parking orbit was 186 km (116 miles) and 32.4° inclination. The all-rookie crew in terms of orbital space flight, with only commander Alan Shepard having any space flight experience (a mere sub-orbital lob in 1961), were placed on their trans-lunar coast with no difficulty. CMP Stuart Roosa closed in for the transposition and docking but couldn't dock. A drama unfolded as Roosa tried six times, at last succeeding after 106 minutes. If the docking mechanism was faulty, the Moon landing would have to be cancelled. Once the Lunar Module Antares and Command Module Kitty Hawk were joined up, Shepard and his crew inspected the docking probe, but could not explain the earlier difficulty. NASA deliberated for a while before announcing that the Moon landing attempt would proceed.

Apollo 14 entered lunar orbit quietly, lowering its perilune to the lowest ever for the complete Apollo combination at just 16 km (10 miles). Manned by the steely-eyed Shepard and burly Edgar Mitchell, Antares separated and just before the PDI burn hit trouble. First, a short circuit in the LM computer abort switch meant the computer could not be persuaded not to abort the landing attempt. The crew just finished reprogramming themselves out of this problem when the landing radar failed. With an abort just seconds away, at which point the PDI could not bring them into the landing site, Mitchell's desperate switch flicking succeeded. Shepard brought Antares on to Fra Mauro with 40 seconds of fuel left, some 26.5 m (87 ft) off target, and at a tilt angle of 6°, at 30°40'27" south 17°27'58" west.
On 5 February, Shepard set foot on the Moon at T + 114 hours 31 minutes and was joined by Mitchell. The television camera was pointed at the sloping LM, with the sun very low in the sky, and it was not possible to follow the crew all the time as they set to work laying out the ALSEP instruments and collecting samples using the Modular Equipment Transporter. This was a lunar "wheelbarrow", which some of the less interested press reports suggested was to carry the aging Shepard when he got tired. The EVA lasted 4 hours 49 minutes and the second, on 6 February, lasted 4 hours 35 minutes and featured a thwarted and tetchy attempt to climb the 45 m (147.5 ft) high rim of Cone Crater. Although Shepard was convinced that they were nowhere near the rim and decided to abort the attempt, Mitchell had in fact been right in his assertion that they had nearly reached it. Shepard won the argument.
During the EVAs the crew had travelled about 2.72 km (2 miles) on foot, and at the end of the second EVA Shepard played his famous televised game of lunar golf, using a proper ball and a club made from the head of a 6-iron with an attachment to fit the handle of the contingency sample collector A passionate golfer, Shepard drew the ball out of his suit leg pocket and dropped it on the surface. Being limited in his mobility he sliced more lunar soil than ball in his first one handed "swing" barely moving the ball (something he was ribbed about back at the Astronaut Office after the mission). For the second attempt, a new ball was taken from the suit pocket and this time he hit it into a crater about 15 metres away. Not to be out done in this demonstration of lunar sports, Mitchell threw the staff from the solar wind composition experiment into the same crater. After 33 hours 39 minutes on the Moon, Antares lifted off and docked with Kitty Hawk, which itself leapt out of lunar orbit after a stay of 66 hours 39 minutes. The Command Module came home 6.4 km (4 miles) from the recovery ship USS New Orleans in the Pacific Ocean at 27° south 172° west at T + 9 days 0 hours 1 minutes 57 seconds - the most accurate splashdown, 600 m (1950 ft) from the predicted target. The crew was the last to have to endure the quarantine container.

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