Apollo 12

Apollo 12Apollo 12 lifts off, with astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean set to become the next pair of human moonwalkers aboard the lunar module Intrepid, while Dick Gordon observes from orbit in the command/service module Yankee Clipper. The Intrepid crew is also assigned to deploy an instrument package called ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package) which will be left on the surface even after their departure. The mission lasts ten days.

This mission is dramatized in the That’s All There Is episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 12: more footprints on the moon

Apollo 12Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean land on the moon in the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, a mere 600 feet away from the 1967 landing site of the unmanned Surveyor 3 probe. Pieces of Surveyor 3 are gathered for return to Earth to study the effects of prolonged exposure to the lunar environment. Conrad and Bean conduct two moonwalks, each lasting nearly four hours.

This mission is dramatized in the That’s All There Is episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 20 hardware reassigned to Skylab

SkylabNASA formally cancels the planned Apollo 20 mission to the moon’s Copernicus crater in order to begin converting the upper stage of the mission’s Saturn V rocket into the Skylab space station, to be launched in the early 1970s. Construction of the Apollo command/service module and lunar module scheduled to fly this mission was halted before either vehicle was completed. The crew would have consisted of Stu Roosa, Paul Weitz and Jack Lousma; ironically, Weitz was transferred to the first Skylab crew, while Lousma was part of the second Skylab crew. Both later flew on shuttle missions.

Apollo 13

Apollo 13The third planned lunar landing mission, Apollo 13, lifts off. Astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise are scheduled to walk in the Fra Mauro region of the moon. Command module pilot Ken Mattingly falls victim to a medical condition, leaving NASA to make a rare substitution, rotating the backup crew’s command module pilot, Jack Swigert, to the prime crew prior to launch.

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 13: “Houston, we’ve had a problem”

Apollo 13Halfway between Earth and the moon, a fuel cell rupture in the Apollo 13 service module causes a massive explosion. The crew has to activate the landing module, Aquarius, to use it as a “lifeboat”; the oxygen and power reserves of the command module, Odyssey, have been compromised by the explosion and must be preserved for re-entry. The crew endures extreme cold and must ration consumables to survive. Fortunately, there’s enough fuel in Aquarius’ descent stage to put the combined vehicle on a free-return trajectory, looping it around the far side of the moon for an immediate return to Earth.

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 returns home

Apollo 13Having become the stuff of round-the-clock news coverage (though few media outlets bothered to cover any aspects of the mission before the emergency took place), the reactivated Apollo 13 command module Odyssey successfully reenters Earth’s atmosphere and returns its crew safely. (The lunar module, Aquarius, has been discarded in Earth orbit, where it eventually disintegrates, upon reentry; rather than landing on the moon, its fuel and air reserves have served the much more important function of keeping the crew alive.)

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 18 & 19 cancelled

ApolloAfter the Congressional budget for the fiscal year of 1971 delivers a major blow to the budget for continued space exploration, NASA cancels Apollo 18 and 19, having already taken Apollo 20 off the schedule to use its Saturn V to launch a space station into Earth orbit. Both lunar landing missions are scrapped purely due to budgetary concerns, rather than to repurpose their hardware for other missions. The Saturn V rockets constructed to send these two missions to the moon become very large, expensive museum pieces. Barring any changes to crew rosters or destination, Apollo 18 would have taken Dick Gordon, Vance Brand and Harrison Schmitt to Copernicus crater, while Apollo 19 would have seen astronauts Fred Haise, William Pogue and Gerald Carr exploring the Hadley Rille, which became Apollo 15’s destination.

Luna 16

Luna 16The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 16 toward the moon, the first success in the Soviet space program’s ongoing attempt to mount a robotic sample return mission. The lander’s drill-equipped sample collection arm gathers a 35 millimeter, 100-gram core sample of lunar soil, which is then packed into a shielded return capsule for direct return to Earth (seen here after landing). Now claiming that they advocate robotic sample return missions without putting human lives at risk, the Soviets can at last claim a lunar first – the first robotic return to Earth of a soil sample from another body in the solar system.

Zond 8

Zond 8The Soviet Union launches Zond 8, the final Zond flight and the final flight of the Soyuz 7K-L1 capsule which was intended to be the command & service module of the Soviet manned lunar effort. Again, the vehicle orbits the moon and returns to Earth unmanned after a week in space. For only the second time, the 7K-L1 vehicle performs every phase of the flight flawlessly – though the Soviet Union, trying to downplay the space race, now retroactively denies that it was ever interested in sending men to the moon.

Luna 17 and Lunokhod 1

Luna 17The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 17 toward the moon, carrying with it the first automated moon rover, Lunokhod 1. Solar-powered and deployed to the surface via a pair of ramps, the wheeled rover operates for eleven months, more than double the expected operational life span. Unlike Luna 16, Luna 17 and Lunokhod perform their studies of the lunar surface without returning any soil samples to Earth.

Apollo 14: back in business

Apollo 14After nearly a year of examining the problems that nearly doomed the crew of Apollo 13, the third lunar landing is achieved by the crew of Apollo 14, commanded by Alan Shepard, the only one of the seven original Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon; lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell joins him on the surface while Stu Roosa orbits in the command module Kitty Hawk. The Apollo 14 lunar module, Antares, makes the most accurate landing of the Apollo program in the Fra Mauro highlands (the landing site originally assigned to Apollo 13), where soil samples are collected, instruments are deployed, and Shepard becomes the first human being to hit a golf ball on the moon.

Apollo 15

Apollo 15The Apollo 15 mission lifts off, carrying astronauts David Scott, James Irwin and Al Worden on a 12-day mission to the moon and back. Aboard the lunar module Falcon, Scott and Irwin become, respectively, the seventh and eighth men to walk on the moon, exploring the mountainous Hadley Rille region, while Wordon pilots the command/service module Endeavour. The service module for this mission is equipped with a suite of sensors and instruments designed to be exposed to space in lunar orbit. Scott and Irwin become the first men to drive on the moon, covering over seven miles in the first lunar rover “moon buggy.”

This mission is dramatized in the Galileo Was Right episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Luna 18

Luna 18The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 18 toward the moon, intended to repeat Luna 16’s feat of gathering and returning a sample of lunar soil to Earth. After spending nearly a week in orbit, Luna 18 descends to the surface, but ground controllers have directed it toward a hazardous mountain region, and contact is lost at the moment the vehicle signals contact with the ground – very likely a sign of a crash landing. No further communication is received from Luna 18, nor is the sample container ever sent back to Earth.

Luna 19

Luna 19The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 19 toward the moon, a return to orbital-only missions. Over the course of a year, Luna 19 conducts an extensive mapping campaign of the lunar surface, as well as measuring gravitational anomalies in lunar orbit.

Luna 20

Luna 20The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 20 toward the moon, another robotic lunar lander with the capability of gathering a lunar soil sample and returning it to Earth. Over 50 grams of lunar material, including rocky material from the mountainous region near Luna 20’s landing site, are returned to Earth in a shielded re-entry capsule. The lander continues to operate for three days after the sample container is launched back to Earth.

Apollo 16

Apollo 16NASA launches the Apollo 16 mission to the moon, lasting 11 days total. Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke descend to the lunar surface in the lander Orion, while Ken Mattingly pilots the command/service module Casper in orbit. Again, a lunar rover is tucked into one side of the lunar module, allowing Young and Duke to reach distances of 16 miles from their landing site. They spend a total of 20 hours walking on the moon’s surface, collecting over 200 pounds of soil and rock samples from the Descartes highlands region.

This mission is dramatized in the Original Wives’ Club episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 17: the last man on the moon

Apollo 17The final manned lunar landing mission lifts off atop a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 17 is the first mission to include a qualified geologist, Harrison Schmitt, in its crew; Gene Cernan and Schmitt descend to the surface aboard the lunar lander Challenger, where the last two men to walk on the moon spend a total of 22 hours exploring the Taurus-Littrow valley. For the third mission in a row, a lunar rover is stowed into one side of the lander. Astronaut Ron Evans orbits overhead in the command/service module America. The astronauts return on December 19th, bringing home nearly 250 pounds of lunar soil and rock samples.

This mission is dramatized in the La Voyage Dans La Lune episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Luna 21 and Lunokhod 2

Luna 21The Soviet Union launches unmanned space probe Luna 21 toward the moon, carrying the Lunokhod 2 robotic rover. Like Lunokhod 1, this rover is solar-powered and can operate independently of its lander, though ground controllers push this vehicle further. Five months into its mission, Lunokhod is driven into a crater from which it is unable to escape; the mission is declared over a month later. This mission is not intended to return lunar soil samples to Earth.

Luna 22

Luna 22The Soviet Union launches the unmanned space probe Luna 22 toward the moon, the last of the moon-orbiting Luna missions (the remaining vehicles in the series will be attempted landings). Luna 22 remains operational in lunar orbit for 17 months.

Luna 23

Luna 23The Soviet Union launches the unmanned space probe Luna 23 toward the moon, intended to gather surface samples from the Mare Imbrium region for return to Earth. The sample collection hardware is unable to complete its task after landing, and ground controllers are only able to receive partial scientific data from the lander, whose batteries run out within three days of landing. It won’t be until 2012, when NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter photographs Luna 23’s landing site from orbit, that the truth will be learned: the lander tipped over on its side during a descent mishap, leaving it intact but unable to gather a soil sample.

Luna 24: the last lunar lander

Luna 24The Soviet Union launches the robotic lunar lander and sample return mission, Luna 24. Touching down safely in the Mare Crisium region two weeks after its launch, Luna 24 drills a two-meter core sample of lunar soil for return to Earth in a small reentry capsule. Luna 24 is the final Soviet mission to the moon, and is the last vehicle from Earth to land on the moon in the 20th century. NASA and the Soviet space agency exchange samples of lunar soil later in 1976, since Luna 24 landed in a region unexplored by the Apollo manned landing missions.

Galileo visits a small blue planet

Earth and moonNASA/JPL’s Galileo space probe reaches the second destination on the lengthy “VEEGA” (Venus/Earth/Earth Gravity Assist) flight path that will eventually take it to Jupiter. This leg of Galileo’s journey brings it back to its home planet, Earth, where crystal-clear images of the planet are obtained from the perspective of a passing spacecraft. Galileo will loop past Earth once more at a later date en route to Jupiter.

Galileo’s last visit home

Galileo at EarthCatching the last gravity assist on its four-year “VEEGA” tour of the inner solar system, NASA/JPL’s Galileo spacecraft swings past Earth one last time, conducting further tests of its imaging system and other instruments by examining Earth and its moon. Galileo now sets its sights on the outer solar system, where it will take up an orbit around giant planet Jupiter in 1995, studing the planet and its atmosphere, its moons, and its unfriendly-to-spacecraft radiation environment. Efforts to release the vehicle’s stuck high-gain antenna continue, though NASA admits that, within a few months, they will have to begin planning for a mission that can only make use of the low-bit-rate medium-gain antenna.

Clementine lifts off

ClementineNASA’s Clementine unmanned spacecraft is launched from Vandenberg Air Force Base toward Earth’s moon, the first American spacecraft to aim at that destination since the 1970s. Intended to map the moon with multispectral cameras and obtain a fresh gravity map, Clementine is a huge technological advance over NASA’s last lunar vehicle, featuring a 32-bit image processing system with solid state data storage. Clementine takes a leisurely trajectory to reach its destination, flying by Earth twice before reaching the moon a month after launch.

Clementine goes off course

ClementineNASA’s Clementine lunar orbiter, its moon mapping mission complete, is directed to fire its engines to put it on a trajectory for asteroid 1620 Geographos, a near-Earth asteroid named for the National Geographic Society (which sponsored a sky survey that led to its discovery). But one of Clementine’s thrusters stays on too long, firing for 11 minutes and revving the vehicle up to an unrecoverable spin of 80 revolutions per minute, exhausting its entire fuel supply in the process. Clementine’s secondary mission to Geographos is abandoned, and its batteries are exhausted a month later.