Apollo 12 – A Closer Look

On November 14th 1969, Florida’s Kennedy Space Center saw its front move away and NASA launched Apollo 12 without incident. Commander Pete Conrad and Command Module Pilot Dick Gordon settled into their seats to await the Saturn V rocket’s thrust of energy that would propel their capsule.

Two minutes after liftoff, lightning struck twice on the rocket and damaged altitude control indicators and switched power from fuel cells to batteries.


Everyone remembers Apollo 11, with two men walking on the Moon for the first time ever, yet six other crews also ventured onto its surface after that historic mission. Although these subsequent missions weren’t as spectacular – or indeed as successful – than Apollo 11, these missions still managed to land successfully and featured all-Navy crews: Commander Pete Conrad, Command Module pilot Richard Gordon and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean were featured as examples of such efforts.

On November 14th 1969 at Kennedy Space Center in rainy skies, Apollo 12 was launched into rainy conditions and lightning quickly struck twice, creating instrumentation issues and cutting most of its power supply. But thanks to fast assistance from Mission Control, most systems were quickly restored with help from astronauts and quick thinking engineer John Aaron (later instrumental in saving Apollo 13) suggesting they flip an obscure switch back onto auxiliary, restoring power while continuing data transmission back home.

Launch and orbital insertion were conducted successfully, with only one midcourse maneuver necessary to alter the spacecraft’s trajectory for landing in Fra Mauro area of Luna. Two orbits later, an orbit insertion burn was used to circularize spacecraft’s orbit and complete mission success.

After entering lunar orbit, Conrad and Bean successfully made an accurate landing in Oceanus Procellarum on November 19, 1967, within walking distance of Surveyor 3 probe that had landed April 20, 1967. Here they inspected parts of it as well as collecting lunar rocks to study further.

After 10 days on the Moon, the crew made their return via an ocean splashdown in the South Pacific Ocean. Their parachutes successfully deployed and they were picked up by US Navy divers; an hour after their landing they were transported via helicopter back to USS Hornet for transport back to Houston where the Lunar Receiving Laboratory awaits their arrival.

Lunar Orbit Insertion Burn

Lunar Orbit Insertion Burn is an intricate maneuver, fraught with potential complications and risks of error. It requires changing its trajectory in order to enter lunar orbit. Yet Apollo 12 was relatively error-free from launch to landing – marking only the second manned lunar landing and offering Commander Charles Conrad and Lunar Module Pilot Alan Bean ample opportunity to perform scientific work there.

After successfully traversing the translunar coast, S-IVB stage ignition was resumed at 22:35 UTC on November 15, 1969 for a Lunar Orbit Insertion Burn. Lasting around six minutes and setting the spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around 97 miles above Moon surface.

This maneuver is of vital importance because without an ideal lunar orbital trajectory, spacecraft cannot stay in lunar orbit for as long as desired without expending too much fuel to remain moving forward. To prevent this from occurring, the lunar Orbit Insertion Burn ensures that LM is placed into an appropriate trajectory that facilitates landing and other Moon activities.

On November 18, two orbits before initiating its lunar orbit insertion burn, the Lunar Module broadcast a live telecast back to Earth demonstrating the lunar surface, interior of LM, intravehicular transfer between CSM and LM as well as separation of CSM from Lunar Module. A second telecast was also made on this same day to demonstrate this event.

Conrad and Bean began their first EVA at 10:55 p.m. EST on November 19. Their initial lunar excursion took 3 hours 49 minutes during which they collected and examined various samples from the lunar surface such as TV cameras for failure analysis back on Earth, photographic panoramas, trench samples, core samples as well as the ALSEP instrument package ALSEP instrument package – it is claimed they discovered Streptococcus mitis there as well.


Apollo 12 completed its inaugural lunar orbit insertion maneuver on November 18 to prepare for a lunar landing and save fuel, as well as allow Goldstone, California’s tracking antenna to monitor the Lunar Module’s descent and landing. At the conclusion of this maneuver, they separated.

Apollo 12 astronauts Charles “Pete” Conrad and Alan Bean became the second crew to make history by becoming the second to land on the Moon, just four months after Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin became its inaugural inhabitants. Their Saturn V rocket took off from Cape Canaveral on November 14, 1969 to make history.

Trouble soon ensued upon launch, when multiple fault alerts lit up inside the crew capsule. Although Conrad and crew had planned for every possible failure scenario, none expected so many alarms to activate simultaneously. With no time left before impact, Conrad placed his hand atop the abort control button and held tight.

An astute flight controller suggested to his crew to toggle an obscure switch in their command module in order to restore power from their fuel cells and save their mission. By flipping this switch, power was restored back into both command and service modules thereby saving their mission from failure.

Apollo 12 crew successfully reached the Moon on November 20, 1969 after an 11-day flight. Their lunar module Intrepid was parked within walking distance of an unmanned Surveyor III spacecraft which had been stationed there since 1967, which was exactly according to NASA plans.

The first of two moonwalks lasted three hours and 48 minutes, during which astronauts deployed the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP), an array of nuclear-powered scientific instruments including seismometer. Unfortunately, Bean inadvertently pointed his camera towards the Sun and transmission from ALSEP seismometer was temporarily discontinued.

Bean and Conrad conducted their second EVA by collecting 75 pounds of lunar rock samples, including basalt. They visited Surveyor III to retrieve parts for analysis back on Earth before returning to the LM and broadcasting footage of themselves and the vehicle back home via live telecast televised transmission; as part of an amusing prank, Bean let Conrad drive for some time – although in one incident he allowed himself to be driven briefly by Conrad!


Once safely away from the Moon, Apollo 12 began fulfilling its remaining objectives. Commander Charles “Pete” Conrad of Gemini 5 and 11 fame took charge as mission commander while Richard Gordon (Command Module Pilot) and Alan Bean (Lunar Module Pilot) completed its crew.

As Apollo 12 reached lunar orbit from Kennedy’s Pad A on its Saturn V launcher, an extensive inspection was conducted of both LM and CSM to ensure they would function as planned during its lunar landing mission. This inspection was particularly crucial, given that this mission represented a first of-its-kind experience for astronauts on board the launch vehicle.

On November 18th, Apollo 12 conducted its second lunar orbit insertion burn, placing its orbit approximately 76 miles above the Moon. Conrad and Bean then separated from their Yankee Clipper vehicle so they could enter the Lunar Module (LM). A live telecast was broadcast of this separation event which happened 107 hours and 54 minutes into their mission.

Two days later, at 7:14 a.m. on March 28, 2002, the hatch of the Lunar Module (LM) was opened, signaling the start of Conrad and Bean’s 31-hour lunar surface excursion. They landed their lander in Oceanus Procellarum, or “Ocean of Storms,” near Surveyor 3, an unmanned probe which had been orbiting for two years. Conrad and Bean collected various scientific samples including one each for contingency (1.9 kg) and selection (14.8 kg selection sample), an S-band antenna deployment experiment using solar wind composition experiments while conducting photographic surveys using stereophonic cameras; during an EVA they even became victims to an amusing Playboy centerfold prank!

Conrad and Bean remained in the cramped Lunar Module while Gordon orbited 45 times around the Moon in his Yankee Clipper. On their final approach to Earth, the astronauts performed a change-of-plane maneuver from the LM’s 27th revolution using 19 seconds of service propulsion system burn (SPS), in order to conserve fuel while placing an ideal landing site under daylight conditions – while simultaneously permitting Goldstone tracking antenna to monitor descent and landing of their spacecraft.

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