Launched less than four months after Apollo 11 put the first astronauts on the Moon, Apollo 12 was more than a simple encore. After being struck by lightning on launch – to no lasting damage, fortunately – Apollo 12 headed for a rendezvous with a spacecraft that was already on the Moon. The mission would expand the techniques used to explore the Moon and show the coordination between robotic and human exploration, both of which continue today as we get return to return astronauts to the Moon by 2024.
Barely 40 seconds after liftoff, lightning struck the spacecraft. Conrad alerted Houston that the crew had lost telemetry and other data from the mission computers. As the Saturn V engines continued to push the capsule to orbit, ground controllers worked out a solution, restarting some electrical systems, and Apollo 12 headed toward the Moon.
Cameras at the Kennedy Space Center captured this image of the same lightning bolt that struck Apollo 12 striking the mobile platform used for the launch.
On the Moon
Apollo 12 landed on the Moon on Nov. 19, and on the second moonwalk Conrad and Bean walked approximately 200 yards to the Surveyor 3 spacecraft. One of seven Surveyor spacecraft sent to land on the Moon and to gather data on the best way to land humans there, Surveyor 3 had been on the Moon for more than two years, exposed to cosmic radiation and the vacuum of space. Scientists on the ground wanted to recover parts of the spacecraft to see what effects the environment had had on it.
Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad examines the Surveyor 3 spacecraft before removing its camera and other pieces for return to Earth. In the background is the lunar module that landed Conrad and lunar module pilot Alan Bean on the Moon.
Apollo 12 splashed down on Nov. 24. When Artemis returns astronauts to the Moon in 2024, it will be building on Apollo 12 as much as any of the other missions. Just as Apollo 12 had to maneuver off the standard “free return” trajectory to reach its landing site near Surveyor, Artemis missions will take advantage of the Gateway to visit a variety of lunar locations. The complementary work of Surveyor and Apollo – a robotic mission preparing the way for a crewed mission; that crewed mission going back to the robotic mission to learn more from it – prefigures how Artemis will take advantage of commercial lunar landers and other programs to make lunar exploration sustainable over the long term.
We call it a spacesuit, almost as if it’s something an astronaut pulls out of the closet. It’s more accurate to think of it as an astronaut’s personal spacecraft: self-contained and functional, with a design focused on letting astronauts work safely in space. Just as we’ve been able to improve rockets, satellites and data systems over 60 years, we’ve made great improvements to spacesuits.
When the first woman and next man step foot on the Moon in 2024, they will be wearing the next generation of spacesuit, called the Exploration Extravehicular Mobility Unit, or xEMU for short. The new suit can be used under different conditions for various tasks, including walking, driving rovers or collecting samples. The design will also allow the suits to be used for spacewalks on the space station, or Gateway – our upcoming spaceship that will orbit the Moon. Future missions to Mars can build on the core suit technologies with additional upgrades for use in the Martian atmosphere and greater gravity.
60 Years of Improvements
Even before we had astronauts, pilots were using pressurized suits to fly at high speeds at altitudes where the air was too thin to breathe. Our first spacesuits – shown here worn by the first NASA astronauts in 1959 – were variations of the suit used by Navy test pilots.
The Gemini spacesuit – shown here in a photo of astronaut Ed White making the first American spacewalk in 1965 – added a line that could connect the astronaut to the spacecraft for oxygen, and which also served as a tether when they left the capsule for a spacewalk.
The Apollo astronauts had to completely separate themselves from the lunar module, so we added a portable life support unit, which the astronauts carried on their backs. The photo above shows the life support system on the suit of Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin as he deploys lunar experiments in 1969.
Though the bulky suits weren’t exactly easy to maneuver, astronauts still managed to get their jobs done and enjoy themselves doing it.
A Great Moment in Spacesuit History: Singing on the Moon
What, you wouldn’t sing if you were on the moon?
Different Suits for Different Functions
We have used different suits for different purposes. During the Space Shuttle program, astronauts inside the shuttle wore these orange “pumpkin” suits, which were designed to be worn within the cabin.
On spacewalks, special suits – made to be worn only outside the spacecraft – provided high mobility, more flexibility and life support as the astronauts worked in zero gravity.
During construction of the International Space Station, we should have issued a hard hat and a pair of steel-toed boots with each suit. Astronauts conducted more than 200 spacewalks as part of building the station, which took place from 1998 until 2011. Above, an astronaut at the end of the shuttle’s robotic arm is maneuvered back into the shuttle’s payload bay with a failed pump during the shuttle’s final flight in 2011.
Spacesuits are rarely the story themselves, but they make it possible for our astronauts to get their jobs done, even when they have to improvise. In the picture above, astronauts on a 1992 space shuttle mission are conducting a spacewalk they hadn’t originally planned on. The crew was originally supposed to use a specially designed grab bar to capture the INTELSAT VI satellite. Two attempts to use the grab bar on two-person spacewalks failed, so we improvised a plan to add a third spacewalker and have all three go outside and literally grab the satellite.
August 26 is celebrated in the United States as Women’s Equality Day. On this day in 1920, the Nineteenth Amendment was signed into law and American women were granted the constitutional right to vote. The suffragists who fought hard for a woman’s right to vote opened up doors for trailblazers who have helped shape our story of spaceflight, research and discovery. On Women’s Equality Day, we celebrate women at NASA who have broken barriers, challenged stereotypes and paved the way for future generations. This list is by no means exhaustive.
These women were trailblazers at a time when most technical fields were dominated by white men. Janez Lawson (seen in this photo), was the first African American hired into a technical position at JPL. Having graduated from UCLA with a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, she later went on to have a successful career as a chemical engineer.
Mathematician Katherine Johnson, whose life story was told in the book and film “Hidden Figures,” is 101 years old today! Coincidentally, Johnson’s birthday falls on August 26: which is appropriate, considering all the ways that she has stood for women’s equality at NASA and the country as a whole.
Morgan’s career at NASA spanned over 45 years, and she continued to break ceiling after ceiling for women involved with the space program. She excelled in many other roles, including deputy of Expendable Launch Vehicles, director of Payload Projects Management and director of Safety and Mission Assurance. She was one of the last two people who verified the space shuttle was ready to launch and the first woman at KSC to serve in an executive position, associate director of the center.
Oceola Hall worked in NASA’s Office of Diversity and Equal Opportunity for over 25 years. She was NASA’s first agency-wide Federal Women’s program manager, from 1974 – 1978. Hall advanced opportunities for NASA women in science, engineering and administrative occupations. She was instrumental in initiating education programs for women, including the Simmons College Strategic Leadership for Women Program.
When those first six women joined the astronaut corps in 1978, they made up nearly 10 percent of the active astronaut corps. In the 40 years since that selection, NASA selected its first astronaut candidate class with equal numbers of women and men, and women now comprise 34 percent of the active astronauts at NASA.
"A couple of firsts here all make me smile,” Blackwell-Thompson said. “First launch director for the world’s most powerful rocket — that’s humbling. And I am honored to be the first female launch director at Kennedy Space Center. So many amazing women that have contributed to human space flight, and they blazed the trail for all of us.”
As we move forward as a space agency, embarking on future missions to the Moon, Mars and beyond, we reflect on the women who blazed the trail and broke glass ceilings. Without their perseverance and determination, we would not be where we are today.
The Vehicle Assembly Building, or VAB, at our Kennedy Space Center in Florida, is the only facility where assembly of a rocket occurred that carried humans beyond low-Earth orbit and on to the Moon. For 30 years, its facilities and assets were used during the Space Shuttle Program and are now available to commercial partners as part of our agency’s plan in support of a multi-user spaceport. To celebrate the VAB’s continued contribution to humanity’s space exploration endeavors, we’ve put together five out-of-this-world facts for you!
1. It’s one of the largest buildings in the world by area, the VAB covers eight acres, is 525 feet tall and 518 feet wide.
Aerial view of the Vehicle Assembly Building with a mobile launch tower atop a crawler transporter approaching the building.
A model of Northrop Grumman’s OmegA launch vehicle is flanked by the U.S. flag and a flag bearing the OmegA logo during a ribbon-cutting ceremony Aug. 16 in High Bay 2 of the Vehicle Assembly Building.
Whether the rockets and spacecraft are going into Earth orbit or being sent into deep space, the VAB will have the infrastructure to prepare them for their missions.
“I felt I was an accepted team member. It was a great experience and a unique opportunity.”
Ruth Ann Strunk, a math major, was hired in 1968 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center as an acceptance checkout equipment software engineer. She monitored the work of contractors who wrote the computer programs designed to check out the command module, lunar module and the Apollo J mission experiments. These experiments were conducted aboard the service modules on Apollo 15, 16 and 17 by the command module pilots.
“I am proud of the advancement and the number of women who are working and enjoy working here,” Strunk said. “It was a wonderful opportunity NASA afforded me during Apollo that I have been able to use ever since.”
As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first Apollo Moon landing, remember that many Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, the first person on the Moon, were test pilots who flew experimental planes for NASA in our earliest days. Since long before we landed on the Moon, aeronautics has been a key piece of our mission.
The U.S. founded the National Advisory Committee on Aeronautics (NACA), our predecessor, in 1914. NACA, collaborating with the U.S. Air Force, pioneered the X-1 aircraft, the first crewed plane to achieve supersonic speeds. NACA was largely responsible for turning the slow, cloth-and-wood biplanes of the early 1900s into the sleek, powerful jets of today.
When NACA was absorbed by the newly formed NASA in 1958, we continued NACA’s mission, propelling American innovation in aviation. Today, our portfolio of aeronautics missions and new flight technologies is as robust as ever. Below are seven of our innovations flying out of the lab and into the air, getting you gate-to-gate safely and on time while transforming aviation into an economic engine!
Our X-59 Quiet SuperSonic Technology (QueSST) flies faster than the speed of sound without the window-shattering sonic boom. This innovation may kick off a new generation of quiet, supersonic planes that can fly over land without disturbing those below. Once adopted, QueSST’s technologies could drastically reduce the time it takes to fly across the U.S. and even to other countries worldwide!
Our X-57 Maxwell will be the first all-electric X-plane, demonstrating the benefits distributed electric propulsion may have for future aviation. The Maxwell is named for Scottish physicist James Clerk Maxwell, who is known for his theories on electricity and electromagnetism. The name is also a play on words because, as X-57 engineer Nick Borer said, “It has the maximum number of propellers.”
Our airborne science program provides Earth scientists and astrophysicists with the unique insights that can be gleaned from the air and above the clouds. By flying aircraft with Earth science instruments and advanced telescopes, we can gather high resolution data about our changing Earth and the stars above. Airborne science outreach specialist (and champion aerobatics pilot) Susan Bell highlights Fire Influence on Regional to Global Environments Experiment – Air Quality (FIREX-AQ), a joint mission with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).
“FIREX-AQ will investigate the impact of wildfires and agricultural fires on air quality,” Susan said. “Living in the Western U.S., I witness firsthand the impact that smoke can have on the communities we live in and up in the air as a pilot.”
Our Search and Rescue (SAR) office serves as the technology development arm of the international satellite-aided search and rescue program, Cospas-Sarsat. Recently, the Federal Aviation Administration adopted SAR’s guidance regarding the testing and installation of the NASA-developed beacons required for planes. These recommendations will greatly improve aviation beacon performance and, ultimately, save more lives.
SAR developed the recommendations through crash test research at our Langley Research Center’s gantry in Hampton, Virginia, where Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin trained for the Apollo Moon landing!
Our Mission Adaptive Digital Composite Aerostructure Technologies (MADCAT) team at our Ames Research Center in California’s Silicon Valley uses strong, lightweight carbon fiber composites to design airplane wings that can adapt on the fly. The composite materials are used to create “blocks,” modular units that can be arranged in repeating lattice patterns — the same crisscrossing patterns you might see in a garden fence!
Our Revolutionary Vertical Lift Technology (RVLT) project leverages the agency’s aeronautics expertise to advance vertical flight capabilities in the U.S. The RVLT project helps design and test innovative new vehicle designs, like aircraft that can take off like a helicopter but fly like a plane. Additionally, the project uses computer models of the complex airflow surrounding whirring rotors to design vehicles that make less noise!
We’re with you when you fly — even on Mars! The 1958 law that established the agency charged us with solving the problems of flight within the atmosphere… but it didn’t say WHICH atmosphere. We’re applying our aeronautics expertise to the thin atmosphere of Mars, developing technologies that will enable flight on the Red Planet. In fact, a small, robotic helicopter will accompany the Mars 2020 rover, becoming the first heavier-than-air vehicle to fly on — err, above — Mars!
The Apollo 11 Command Module “Columbia” is hoisted onto its recovery ship the USS Hornet, following splashdown on July 24, 1969. Credit: NASA
Four days after their historic achievement, Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins splashed down in the Pacific Ocean at 12:49 p.m. EDT, about 900 miles from Hawaii. The crew was recovered by the crew of the USS Hornet where President Richard Nixon was waiting to greet them.
Armstrong took one small step on the lunar surface, but the Moon
landing led to a giant leap forward in innovations for humanity.
Here are five examples of technology developed for the Apollo program that we’re still using today:
1. Food Safety Standards
As soon as we started planning to send astronauts into
space, we faced the problem of what to feed them — and how to ensure the food was
safe to eat. Can you imagine getting food poisoning on a spacecraft, hundreds
of thousands of miles from home?
We teamed up with a familiar name in food production: the
Pillsbury Company. The company soon realized that existing quality control
methods were lacking. There was no way to be certain, without extensive testing
that destroyed the sample, that the food was free of bacteria and toxins.
Pillsbury revamped its entire food-safety process, creating what
became the Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point system. Its aim was to prevent food safety problems from
occurring, rather than catch them after the fact. They managed this by analyzing
and controlling every link in the chain, from the raw materials to the
processing equipment to the people handling the food.
Today, this is one of the space program’s most far-reaching
spinoffs. Beyond keeping the astronaut food supply safe, the Hazard Analysis
and Critical Point system has also been adopted around the world — and likely reduced
the risk of bacteria and toxins in your local grocery store.
2. Digital Controls for
Air and Spacecraft
The Apollo spacecraft was revolutionary for many reasons.
Did you know it was the first vehicle to be controlled by a digital computer?
Instead of pushrods and cables that pilots manually adjusted to manipulate the
spacecraft, Apollo’s computer sent signals to actuators at the flick of a
Besides being physically lighter and less cumbersome, the
switch to a digital control system enabled storing large quantities of data and
programming maneuvers with complex software.
Before Apollo, there were no digital computers to control
airplanes either. Working together with the Navy and Draper Laboratory, we
adapted the Apollo digital flight computer to work
on airplanes. Today, whatever airline you might be flying, the pilot is
controlling it digitally, based on the technology first developed for the
flight to the Moon.
3. Earthquake-ready Shock
A shock absorber descended from
Apollo-era dampers and computers saves lives by stabilizing buildings during
Apollo’s Saturn V rockets had to
stay connected to the fueling tubes on the launchpad up to the very last
second. That presented a challenge: how to safely move those tubes out of the
way once liftoff began. Given how fast they were moving, how could we ensure
they wouldn’t bounce back and smash into the vehicle?
We contracted with Taylor
Devices, Inc. to develop dampers to cushion the shock, forcing the company to
push conventional shock isolation technology to the limit.
Shortly after, we went back to
the company for a hydraulics-based high-speed computer. For that challenge, the
company came up with fluidic dampers—filled with compressible fluid—that worked
even better. We later applied the same technology on the Space Shuttle’s
The company has since adapted
these fluidic dampers for buildings and bridges to help them survive
earthquakes. Today, they are successfully protecting structures in some of the
most quake-prone areas of the world, including Tokyo, San Francisco and Taiwan.
4. Insulation for Space
We’ve all seen runners draped in silvery “space blankets” at
the end of marathons, but did you know the material, called radiant barrier
insulation, was actually created for space?
Temperatures outside of Earth’s atmosphere can fluctuate
widely, from hundreds of degrees below to hundreds above zero. To better
protect our astronauts, during the Apollo program we invented a new kind of effective, lightweight
We developed a method of coating mylar with a thin layer of vaporized metal particles. The resulting material had the look and weight
of thin cellophane packaging,
but was extremely reflective—and pound-for-pound, better than anything else available.
Today the material is still used to protect astronauts, as
well as sensitive electronics, in nearly all of our missions. But it has also
found countless uses on the ground, from space blankets for athletes to
energy-saving insulation for buildings. It also protects essential components
of MRI machines used in medicine and much, much more.
Image courtesy of the U.S. Marines
5. Healthcare Monitors
Patients in hospitals are hooked up to sensors that send
important health data to the nurse’s station and beyond — which means when an
alarm goes off, the right people come running to help.
This technology saves lives every day. But before it reached
the ICU, it was invented for something even more extraordinary: sending health
data from space down to Earth.
When the Apollo astronauts flew to the Moon, they were
hooked up to a system of sensors that sent real-time information on their blood
pressure, body temperature, heart rate and more to a team on the ground.
The system was developed for us by Spacelabs Healthcare,
which quickly adapted it for hospital monitoring. The company now has telemetric
monitoring equipment in nearly every hospital around the world, and it is
expanding further, so at-risk patients and their doctors can keep track of
their health even outside the hospital.
Only a few people have ever walked on the Moon, but the
benefits of the Apollo program for the rest of us continue to ripple widely.
In the years since, we have continued to create innovations
that have saved lives, helped the environment, and advanced all kinds of technology.
Now we’re going forward to the Moon with the Artemis program and on to Mars — and
building ever more cutting-edge technologies to get us there. As with the many
spinoffs from the Apollo era, these innovations will transform our lives for
generations to come.
Just after the spacecraft safely touched down on the lunar surface, Charlie Duke said to the crew, “Roger, Tranquility. We copy you on the ground. You got a bunch of guys about to turn blue—we’re breathing again. Thanks a lot.” The hard work and preparation of the men who stayed back on Earth was what made John F. Kennedy’s dreams of space exploration come true.
It took the restoration crew roughly six years to return the Apollo Mission Control Room to its original retro appearance. Every inch of the room was cleaned and restored by workers, enhancing the 1960s pistachio palette seen on the consoles, as well as ridding the room of 50-year-old gum stuck in places people thought would never be found. Let that be a lesson to us all.
From the artifacts sitting on the consoles to the displays projected at the front of the room, every detail has been carefully put in its proper place. Peep the American flag hanging in the back of the room—this flag went to the Moon on Apollo 17, was planted in the ground, then returned home as a souvenir. Next to the flag, a duplicate of the plaque placed on the Moon hangs on the wall.
Perhaps the only aspect of the room that wasn’t preserved was the thick stench of smoke, burnt coffee, banana peels and pizza boxes. But the ashtrays, pipes, cigarettes and coffee mugs sit in the room as reminders of the aroma. And yes, the Styrofoam cup is authentic to the ‘60s—it’s not an original artifact, but we’re certain this one will last for years to come.
In case you’re worried we didn’t get detailed enough, check the binders in the room. Each one is filled with authentic documents that would’ve been used during the Apollo missions. Some of the documents have been recreated, but many of them were copied from originals that employees had saved for 50 years.
Each console was rigged to send tubes throughout the building, often filled with important documents, but also stuffed with sandwiches and cake (all of the essentials to send men to the Moon).
Several of the surviving Apollo alumni visited mission control for the grand opening of the room at the end of June. Except for the smoke, they say the room looks just as they remember it did 50 years ago. It’s one giant leap—back in time.
This week, you can watch us salute our #Apollo50th heroes and look forward to our next giant leap for future missions to the Moon and Mars. Tune in: https://go.nasa.gov/Apollo50thEvents
In honor of this historic launch, the National Air and Space Museum is projecting the identical rocket that took our astronauts to the Moon on the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C.
This week, you can watch us salute our Apollo 50th heroes and look forward to our next giant leap for future missions to the Moon and Mars. Tune in to a special two-hour live NASA Television broadcast at 1 p.m. ET on Friday, July 19. Watch the program at www.nasa.gov/live.