Where No Man Has Gone Before: A History of Apollo Lunar Exploration Missions



Lunar exploration began in earnest with the launch of the first "H" mission, Apollo 12. Successful in all respects, Apollo 12 crowned the accomplishments of 1969 by establishing the ability to put the lunar module down on the moon within walking distance of a desired spot. That done, the next mission was planned for a landing on the Fra Mauro Formation, the site highest on the scientists' priority list. Apollo 13 was targeted to land there, but an equipment failure forestalled a lunar landing and came close to costing three lives. Real-time improvisation saved NASA from calamity and demonstrated the versatility of the Manned Spacecraft Center's mission planning and mission control teams. [see appendix 8] After a thorough investigation that delayed subsequent missions by almost a year, Apollo 14 was assigned to land at the same site.

Not long after Apollo 12 returned, scientists gathered in Houston to present the results of their investigations of the first lunar samples. In what was surely one of the most exciting scientific conclaves of the century, practically all existing theories of the moon's origin were thrown into doubt in one respect or another, and scientists were more eager than ever for data. Shortly after that conference, management at MSC sat down with lunar investigators and worked out ways of increasing the amount and quality of the data to be returned by future Apollo missions.

Their expectations, however, were soon reduced when the pressures of a tightening federal budget forced cancellation of one of the planned Apollo missions. Faced with drastic reductions in funding, NASA managers chose to allot more of the available money to post-Apollo programs on which continuation of the manned space flight program depended. Apollo 11 had ushered in an era of hard choices, not expanding horizons.