50 years ago this night, a spaceship lands

The Apollo 12 landing site, Surveyor crater center right.

*

Silent.  Dead. It’s waited 

on the inner slope of a 630-ft.-wide, 50-ft.-deep crater 

for more than thirty-one months,

there on the moon’s Ocean of Storms 

And were coming for it, 

for Surveyor III

which landed on the moon, April 20, 1967,

made two hops when its engines failed to shutdown,

then settled on the crater slope,

sending 6,315 television images to Earth,

digging six small trenches with a mechanical arm,

and after nearly two weeks, when the lunar night descended,

succumbing the the cold.

Silent.  Dead.

And now a target

for a try at a pinpoint landing,

by Apollo 12’s

the Lunar Module Intrepid,

aiming to open the way for precise landings.

*

Apollo 11 landed four miles beyond their target,

partly due to small disturbances in orbit induced by undocking,

also due to mascons, “mass concentrations,” underneath the lunar surface

that tug and distort a spacecraft’s orbit.  With refined tracking, using

the Doppler shift of the lander’s radio to calculate updates,

we — Apollo 12 — hope to land 1,118 ft. from Surveyor

in “Pete’s Parking Lot,” 

named for our commander, Pete Conrad,

an area that looks smooth

short of the crater and to the right side,

there on the Snowman’s shoulder,

the Snowman a pattern of craters

with Surveyor Crater as it’s belly

that vaguely resembles a snowman,

a visual tick of the eye to help us 

pick out our target amid a myriad of shallow craters,

our landing set for 1:53 a.m. EST,

November 19, 1969.

*

Who knows what we’ll see when we pitch over

for a good look at High Gate, 7,000 feet up.

We just hope we find that old Snowman

And then find a smooth spot to land.

Photographs of the site can only resolve

features larger than five feet across.

It could be endless boulders down there.

Powered Descent Initiation — PDI — and we’re on our way down.

We’ll know if we can find that old Snowman in less than nine minutes.

*

We’re coming in hot and fast.   

High Gate and pitchover

tilts our windows down to the surface.

“I think I see my crater.  I’m not sure.”

Indeed, it’s a field of craters.  The scene is

like a black and white painting, 

the shadows a deep black, nothing fitting into a pattern.

The computer gives a Landing Point Designator number, LPD — 40,

meaning to sight along the 40-degree scribe mark

etched in our window.  

“Hey, there it is.”  There’s the Snowman!

“There it is!”   

“Son of a gun — right down the middle of the road!”

*

Down the middle of the road we go,

headed dead-on for Surveyor Crater.

We hit the targeting to move the landing spot

to the right of the crater, towards the Parking Lot

But damn, the surface looks rough as a cob.

We hit the targeting to move the landing point

downrange.  

Low Gate — 500 ft. up — and we go full manual,

still coming in hot and fast.

We kill our forward speed by tilting the ship back

to direct the engine fire forward.  But we’re not quick enough.

“Gosh.  I flew by it.”  By old Surveyor, to the right of the crater.

Looking left, we see a smooth spot between Surveyor

and Head crater, the Snowman’s head.

We bank left, around Surveyor Crater.

“Come on down, Pete!”

We level off at 200 feet and start straight down,

and it’s a good thing we leveled off when we did,

higher than planned, because our engine

soon kicks up a storm of dust,

blowing out in streaks. a thick fog of dust.

It becomes an instrument landing

*

Suddenly the contact light comes on.

We cut the engine.

“Outstanding!”  Can you believe it?

We’re down, somewhere beyond Survey crater,

how close we cannot tell,

but with a lot of help from the ground, we showed

it can be done.  

Future flights will be able to land

in tighter spots than this.

That’s the future.  For now,

it’s time to say hello to little ol’ Surveyor.

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