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It was February 5, 1971 when the Apollo 14 moon landing was completed with commander Alan Shepard, the veteran chosen by NASA, the first American in Space (Mercury Program, May 5, 1961), the command module (CM-110) Kitty Hawk, pilot Stuart Roosa and the lunar module Antares pilot Edgar Mitchell.
But let’s start from the beginning.
After the averted tragedy of Apollo 13, with Apollo 14 NASA was “gambling” the whole program. A new failure would have resulted in the cancellation of all remaining lunar feats.
With this incredible pressure, three men were preparing to return to the Moon and for the first time to land on the lunar plateaus.
It is January 31, 1971, the Apollo 14 mission is about to officially begin.
The take-off with rocket Saturn-V AS-509 takes place from Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida, shortly after 4 pm, with a delay of more than 40 minutes on the schedule due to adverse weather conditions.
During the mission, the crew must resolve a series of technical failures and difficulties that could have led to the second mission aborted and the premature end of the Apollo program.
The destination of the mission is Fra Mauro highlands, the same as the one of the unfortunate Apollo 13 mission.
During the descent phase, distant voices arrive in Houston (Credit NASA, the most important phrases):
Shepard: It's a beautiful day to land at Fra Mauro. We're in good shape.
Mitchell: Going by Cone Crater right outside to my right.
Shepard: There's Cone Crater.
Mitchell: And there it is.
Shepard: Right on the money!
Mitchell: That's it. Right on the money.
Haise, Houston: Okay, Antares; Houston. You're go for landing.
Mitchell: Okay. Here we go.
Shepard: (to Haise) Thank you, Sir.
Mitchell: Okay. 50 feet down, 50 feet.
Shepard: We're in good shape, troops.
Mitchell: 3 feet per second (down), 40 feet (altitude); 3 feet per second, 30; 3 feet per second, looking great, 20 feet; 10, 3 feet per second.
Mitchell: Contact, Al.
Shepard: Stop. Great.
Mitchell: We're on the surface.
Shepard: Okay, we made a good landing.
Haise, Houston: Roger, Antares.
It is 09:18:11 UTC on February 5, 1971, 3:18 in Houston, 10:18 in Italy, for the third time a man is on the Moon.
“It’s been a long way, but we’re here”, are the first words spoken by Alan Shepard once he arrived on the Moon.
On the morning of Friday 5 February Stuart Roosa is now alone in the command module, his companions have entered the Antares spacecraft and are about to begin the descent towards the lunar surface. His 34 solitary hours in lunar orbit are now beginning, used to carry out scientific experiments and photograph the Moon, including the landing site of the future Apollo 16 mission. He carries on mission many hundreds of seeds, many of which germinated on return; they would become the so-called Moon trees, widely distributed in the following years.
At 8:56 am, Houston time, on February 5, 1971, Alan Shepard takes his first step on lunar soil, becoming the 5th man to walk on the Moon. Edgar Mitchell follows him immediately after becoming the 6th man.
Almost 34 hours have passed during the two extra vehicular activities of 5 and 6 February on the lunar surface and many experiments successfully completed, including the application of sensors that will allow to detect earthquakes over time and better understand the internal composition of our satellite.
Three geophones are installed to record the waves caused by the explosions, and, mounted with some effort in the shadow of the LM, is the M.E.T. vehicle (Modularized Equipment Transporter), which is the main feature, elected as a symbol, that differentiates Apollo 14 from all other missions. (Credit NASA)
The A.L.S.E.P. complex (Apollo Lunar Surface Experiment Packages) is part of the scientific instrumentation, a small nuclear power unit running on plutonium that will transmit data to Earth for about one year.
But more. Thanks to Apollo 14, the effects of the solar wind begin to be studied on the field, and during the two walks on the lunar surface 94.35 pounds (42.80 kg) of lunar rocks are collected, and many scientific experiments are set up. Despite not being able to explore the Cone Crater, the scientists on the ground are satisfied: the material collected is interesting and the descriptions of the Fra Mauro area are as detailed as possible.
But the twists are not over!
With a few minutes left to return to the LM, as Mitchell finishes arranging the equipment to be brought back to Earth, Shepard says, “Here’s something Americans know very well”.
Mitchell turns around and in disbelief sees Shepard with a golf club in one hand and golf balls in the other! Shepard throws the balls onto the lunar ground.
Meanwhile in Houston they are surprised, but not too surprised, given the character.
After a first unsuccessful attempt to hit the ball, Shepard doesn’t give up and this time he hits the ball straight and exclaims: “Go miles and miles!”
On February 6, the upper section of the LM detaches from the lower section which also served as a launch pad, at a speed of 5 metres per second. At 20:35:42 UTC, finally and without any docking problem, the two spacecrafts are once again joined.
They carry out the transfer of lunar samples and experiments to be brought back to Earth and abandon the LM projecting it in the direction of the Moon, where it crashes.
At dawn on February 7, when Apollo 14 is behind the Moon, the engine of the service module is turned on to make the return journey.
On 9 February at 21:05:00 UTC the spacecraft lands in the Pacific Ocean, after a perfect descent, just eight kilometres from the USS New Orleans aircraft carrier.
The mission lasted 216 hours, 1 minute and 58 seconds (Credit NASA).
The third lunar mission with landing of men on the Moon had improved all the records obtained with the Apollo 11 and 12.
And space mail, like the space covers carried to the Moon during Apollo missions, is true human evidence of “living in Space”.