50 years ago: The last “H” mission ends

The crew exits Apollo 14, Feb. 9, 1971.


            After a three-day voyage home, our Apollo 14 mission, the third landing on the moon, makes a bullseye splashdown today, February 9, 1971.  We descend on three main parachutes into good seas in the Pacific Ocean, 900 mi. south of American Samoa at 4:05 p.m. (EDT).  With us are 95 lbs. of lunar samples, a record amount amid the records we have set.

            We walked on the moon a total of 9 hr. 19 min. — eclipsing the 7 hr. 35 min. for Apollo 12’s two walks.  We stayed on the lunar surface for 33.5 hours — 2 hrs. more than Apollo 12.  Our haul of lunar samples isn’t much less than the combined total, 123.6 lbs., for Apollos 11 and 12.

            Yet we are a flight of lasts — the last of the short-duration “H” missions. We’ve stretched the system about as far as possible for surface stays of about a day-and-a-half and moonwalks conducted solely by foot.  We experienced a compressed, exhausting 60-hour period from entering lunar orbit to leaving.  The “H” series can do no more.  

            And now we are the last crew to undergo quarantine (until Feb. 26) upon return, the isolation period instituted to guard against bringing lunar microorganisms to earth.  We’re now confident that no form of life exists upon the moon.

            As important as anything we accomplished in our flight of nine days, we’ve restored confidence in the Apollo system and opened the way for the program to continue into its most productive phase.  Starting in late July we will fly a series of three “J” missions — capable of staying three days on the moon, allowing three extended moonwalks that will roam much farther thanks to the electric-powered Lunar Rover they will be have. And they will be visiting more challenging mountainous regions.  

            The golden age of lunar exploration is about to begin.  Alas, it will last only until the end of 1972.  

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