Leaving the moon — a second time

Fifty years ago today, Nov. 20, Apollo 12 finished the second exploration of the moon.



“And we’ve got a long day ahead of us.”

        That’s what Pete Conrad says

                   back at the Lunar Module

after the big traverse, that began


hours earlier with a loop around the crown

of Head crater, the snowman’s head, 

a hundred yards west of where Intrepid 

sat in front of Surveyor crater.

Hey, look at that!  Where Pete’s boot

kicked up the dirt.  It’s lighter underneath,

perhaps ray material kicked up from Copernicus

230 miles to the north.

“We could work out here for eight-nine hours!”


On we run — ol’ Pete a stickler for sticking to the timeline.

“You know what I feel like?

        “Did you ever see those pictures of giraffes running in slow motion?”

We reach the southern rim of Bench crater, finding it’s walls steeper

than we’ve seen “I see really different rocks.  What a crater!”

Is that exposed bedrock at the bottom?  “We’ve got to grab samples

of some of these rocks,” but stay along the rim, no time for deeper



Soon time to jaunt over to tiny Sharp crater,

 400 ft. to the southwest.  “If we can find it.”

“There it is.”

“That’s not it.”

“Where is it?”

“It should be right here.”

The moons steep curvature is deceiving, a hint

of a problem that will plague future missions.

“I’ve got it — it’s right in front of me.”

“Holy Christmas — look at the bottom of it.

           Look at that radial spray pattern.”


We are 1,200 feet from Intrepid

           “Come on, Al — we’re wasting time.”

Gotta keep moving — to Halo crater

just off the southwest rim of Surveyor,

our grand goal.  Which we approach cautiously,

careful of the steep crater slope.   But find it 

no problem.  “I’m going to lope right around here,

follow the contours.”

And fears that the ol’ Surveyor might slide

at our touch prove unfounded.  “There’s no way

it could slide down the hill on it, the way

it’s dug in.”

Look at it — once factory white, it looks tan, brown.

“It has weathered a little bit in 31 months, hasn’t it?”

And to investigate just how it’s weathered the Sea of Storms,

we cut off bits of tubing to return to earth, and the big prize,

Surveyor’s TV camera.

“OK, two more tubes on that TV camera, and that baby’s ours.

“There’s one.”  Two! “It’s ours!”

And as a bonus, we swipe Surveyors mechanical scoop.

“It still has dirt in it — original dirt.  A bonus sample for you!”

One last stop on the way home — Block crater 

just inside Surveyor crater’s rim.

“That’s gotta be bedrock there.  We gotta sample that.”


Too soon, time is up — the traverse of nearly a mile

has taken 2 hours, 45 minutes.  We have a half hour extension,

but time is up.  We need to pack up — Mission Control hurries us on.

“We’ve got a long day ahead of us.”


The moonwalk of nearly 4 hours ends and it’s far

from over.  We are due to leave  the moon justin 6.5 hours.  

Still, ol’ Pete is upset — We enter Intrepid

with two hours of oxygen left in our backpacks that

we could have used exploring.  Those two hours —

we just sit around in the Lunar Module, dead time before 

the preparations for lunar liftoff.  It’s a shame but . . .


. . . at 9:25 a.m. EST, November 20, we light the engine 

and lift-off to a spray of dust, our farewell touch of the moon.  

And 7 min. 12 sec. later, we’re back in orbit, 

headed from rendezvous with our command ship Yankee Clipper.  

Three hours later, two dirty moonwalkers, “dirty dirt,” 

as ol’ Pete calls it, dust everywhere, open the hatch 

to the command ship and its pilot, Dick Gordon, 

who calls, “You guys ain’t gonna mess up my nice clean spacecraft!”  

Yep — ol’ Dick couldn’t be happier.

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