50 Years In the past: Apollo 15 Astronauts Discover the Moon – Sky & Telescope

At present marks the fiftieth anniversary of an area mission that can’t be described as something lower than spectacular.

Apollo 15 was the primary of NASA’s manned lunar “J” missions — Moon landings that equipped astronauts with a strong lunar lander able to staying on the floor for 3 days. (The prior landings of Apollo 11, 12, and 14 topped out at about half that point).


The additional gasoline and consumables carried by the superior lunar lander allowed for 3 separate moonwalks (EVAs), every lasting 4 to 7 hours. NASA additionally up to date the orbiting command module with further cameras and tools.

Apollo 15 launched on July 26, 1971, and returned to Earth on August seventh, with spaceflight veteran and mission commander Dave Scott, command module pilot Al Worden, and lunar module pilot Jim Irwin. The three astronauts met all of their mission targets and prolonged scientific data of the Moon. Along with intensive geology work, the Apollo 15 moonwalkers pioneered using the Lunar Rover, a small electrical automobile that prolonged their exploration vary.

Regardless of a few jammed cameras that restricted a few of the deliberate images, the Apollo 15 astronauts returned a whole bunch of nonetheless pictures (each shade and black and white), together with some 16mm motion pictures and hours of shade TV protection.

In celebration of the mission’s fiftieth anniversary, listed below are greater than 20 wonderful pictures from Apollo 15 — some acquainted, many hardly ever seen — together with quotes from the boys who, fairly actually, referred to as the Moon “residence” for 3 days in 1971. (All photographs are credited to NASA.)

Goodbye, Earth!

Someday after launch whereas on the way in which to the Moon, the astronauts took a sequence of pictures of Earth receding within the distance.

“We have been taking turns trying on the Earth by means of the telescope,” Scott radioed to Houston. “It is a implausible sight.”

Touchdown Web site in View

ridges on the lunar surface as seen from above from Apollo
Apollo 15’s touchdown web site was on the foot of the Apennine mountains, close to two options each named Hadley: a close-by peak and a slim winding canyon, often known as a rille. This {photograph} was taken shortly earlier than touchdown.

“Man should discover”

Astronaut in suit facing the camera right near the lander, which is shown in the reflection of his helmet
A shade TV digital camera captured Scott’s first steps on the Moon shortly after he climbed down the lander’s ladder. (The TV picture is tilted because of the orientation of the digital camera on the time.)

“As I stand out right here within the wonders of the unknown at Hadley,” Scott mentioned, “I form of understand there is a basic fact to our nature. Man should discover. And that is exploration at its best.”

Astronaut stands to the left of American flag on the lunar surface, with hills in the background
Later, Irwin photographed Scott close to the American flag.

Like a Trampoline

astronaut places tool into ground on lunar surface
The Moon has a mass — and gravity — about one-sixth that of Earth, so people strolling on the floor are likely to really feel gentle and buoyant, even with the load of the go well with.

“Strolling on the Moon feels identical to strolling on a trampoline,” Irwin later wrote in his autobiography, To Rule The Night time. “The identical lightness, the identical bouncy feeling.” Irwin descended to the lunar floor shortly after Scott.

Working in Lunar Orbit

Image of craters on the lunar surface as seen from the command module
Whereas Scott and Irwin explored the lunar floor, Al Worden was laborious at work within the orbiting command module — sustaining the spacecraft, performing experiments, and particularly taking footage.

Worden later defined: ““[For] common images throughout the spacecraft…I had inserted within the Flight Plan at first of every day’s exercise these [film] magazines that may be required for that day’s actions. That labored very properly in serving to me set up the images for the day.”

Deploying the Rover

The lunar rover, an open vehicle with four wheels, two seat and a receiver that resembles an upturned umbrella
The lunar roving automobile was saved on the surface of the touchdown craft, and each moonwalkers labored collectively to take away it from storage.

“We every had our explicit factor to do on the rover,” mentioned Scott. “I suppose one man may have achieved all of it with teaching from the opposite, however we had divided the duties, and the timeline labored out properly.”

Lunar Geology

an astronaut walked the lunar surface in the distance, with a crater in the foreground
Scott’s description of a boulder demonstrates the thoroughness that the astronauts dropped at their geology duties.

“There’s one boulder!” Scott reported. “Very angular, very tough floor texture. Seems prefer it’s partially . . . properly, it is acquired glass on one facet of it with a number of bubbles; and so they’re a couple of centimeter throughout. And one nook of it’s got all this glass overlaying on it; looks like there is a linear fracture by means of one facet. . . . It appears to be like like now we have possibly a breccia on prime of a crystalline rock.”

The astronauts typically used a geology hammer to take away small items of a giant rock for sampling.

Rake Samples

the imprints of a rake used to gather rocks from the lunar soil, next to an astronaut's footprint
Along with amassing stones, mission geologists additionally inspired the astronauts to take rake samples to gather effective regolith materials.

“The operation of the rake went identical to our simulations,” Irwin famous. “It labored good for amassing the rock fragments in addition to for transferring the soil. I believed it went actual properly.”


A bright glare shown as an astronaut walks the lunar surface with the sun visor down on his suit
The shortage of an environment implies that the Solar’s gentle is extra intense on the Moon than it’s on Earth. Each astronauts used visors on their helmets to assist cut back the intense gentle.

“After EVA-1, I had a headache due to the glare,” Irwin later remembered. “On the second EVA, I pulled the glare defend down to guard my eyes and I felt good from then on.” Scott agreed: “With the visor up, it’s fairly robust going driving into the Solar.”

Smile, Jim!

The lander to the left of the image with the rover to the right. An astronaut looks toward the camera from behind the rover.
Lots of the Apollo photographs are utilitarian or technical in nature, however the males weren’t against taking, and even directing, a human-interest photograph when the event arose.

At one level, Scott observed a great photograph composition and shortly directed his companion to make it even higher.

Scott: “Hey, Jim?”
Irwin: “Sure?”
Scott: “Flip round a minute…look over right here.”

The end result? A photograph exhibiting the lunar lander, the rover, and a — presumably smiling? — Jim Irwin.

Working within the Fits

An astronaut on the lunar surface faces the camera and leans to the side to pick up a tool.
Apollo-era lunar fits might be troublesome to bend when pressurized, making it a problem to retrieve objects from the bottom. Right here, Scott flexes the go well with to achieve for a device close to the experiment web site.

Laser Reflector

an image of a device resting on the lunar surface, that appears as a white square gridded with circles.
Among the many many experiments deployed by the astronauts was the laser ranging retroreflector, additionally referred to as the LRRR, or “LR cubed.” This passive machine merely displays laser gentle again within the course it got here from. So, by putting the LRRR with a laser from Earth and measuring the time it takes for the sunshine to return, scientists can acquire exact measurements of the Earth-Moon distance.

Naturally, it was necessary to maintain lunar mud off of the retroreflector experiment. “I took the LRRR farther south than we had deliberate in an effort to attempt to maintain it out of the trajectory as we took off, to maintain the mud off of it,” Scott recalled. He then took pictures of the assembled machine. “Okay, Joe. I acquired the LR cubed footage, and it is nonetheless tremendous clear.”

Double Shadows

The shadows of two astronauts, one to the left and right, seem to be facing one another
Whereas each moonwalkers present up ceaselessly within the TV photos, there are not any nonetheless pictures that present each on the similar time. Nonetheless, one {photograph} did seize the shadows of Scott and Irwin working facet by facet.

Making Tracks

With the rover in the background, the lunar soil is shown with many boot prints and rover tracks. The rover tracks appear to be less deep.
A lot of the Moon’s soil could be very effective; Neil Armstrong described it as “virtually like a powder.” With no environment to disturb imprints, the tracks of each man and machine ought to stay preserved within the soil for ages to return.

The Apollo 15 astronauts took many pictures of the tracks; at one level, Dave Scott remarked, “Take a look at the rover tracks; I’ll take some footage of the rover tracks right here. And our boots — our boot prints, each. Take a look at the distinction. That previous rover is gentle.”

Zodiacal Gentle from Lunar Orbit

a burst of light appears in the center of the image, reflecting off of dust, over the lunar horizon to the right
Right here is one among Worden’s zodiacal gentle photos with the lunar horizon within the foreground.

In the meantime, Worden continued his work in lunar orbit, and he radioed his standing to Houston: “Sure, to this point all the pieces — significantly the zodiacal gentle and the gegenschein calibration and that form of factor — has been going simply as per Flight Plan.”

A Lunar Canyon

Two astronauts in the foreground appear to be standing at a boundary of rocks.
Towards the tip of their third day of exploration, the 2 moonwalkers carried out some geology work close to the sting of Hadley Rille — the lunar canyon close to the touchdown web site. However Mission Management started to grow to be a bit alarmed by what they have been seeing on the TV.

“And out of sheer curiosity, how far again from what you’ll name the sting of the rille are the 2 of you standing now?”

Scott was initially a little bit confused by the query, till Houston clarified: “It appears to be like like you’re standing on the sting of a precipice on TV; that is why we’re asking.”

The attitude of the rover’s digital camera and using a telephoto setting had mixed to current the optical phantasm that the astronauts have been standing a lot nearer to a cliff then they actually have been.

Scott shortly eased their minds. “Oh, gosh, no, Joe. It slopes proper on down right here.” In reality, the preliminary slope was so light that Scott couldn’t even see the underside of the canyon from the place they stood.

Boulders on the Fringe of the Canyon

One astronaut leans over a rock and tools while another is reflected in his visor.
On this photograph, Scott collects geology samples close to the rim of the rille. Irwin’s reflection could be seen within the visor.


Two astronauts face away from the camera. The astronaut to the left appears to be holding a tube pressed into the lunar surface
One floor experiment concerned drilling a number of ft into the lunar floor to extract a core pattern. The rover’s TV digital camera monitored the progress.

The Moon’s floor could be fairly dense a couple of inches down, and one of many core samples proved troublesome to extract, requiring each moonwalkers to take part.

“We lastly extracted the core stem,” Scott remembered. “Every of us had a deal with of the drill below the criminal of our elbow, and we acquired it as much as the purpose the place we may put our shoulders below it. Then with every of us with one deal with of the drill on prime of our shoulders, we pushed as laborious as we may — it will need to have been at the least 400 kilos — and at last acquired it to maneuver and acquired it out.”

“Every part ran simply fantastically”

The command module centered orbiting over the lunar surface, cylindrical in shape with a pointed nose.
Right here, Al Worden pilots the command module in lunar orbit with the Moon’s floor within the background. “The…spacecraft ran simply fantastically the entire time,” Worden mentioned. “The gasoline cells ran with out a drawback. In reality, all the pieces ran simply fantastically, and I actually had no concern for the operation of the spacecraft throughout the lunar orbit operations.”

One Final Drive

The lunar surface with rover trails and a hill in the background, which stands out drastically against the black background of space.
Whereas returning to the touchdown web site throughout their ultimate rover trip, Scott and Irwin took a second to understand the great thing about the Moon round them.

Scott: “Oh, take a look at the mountains right now, Jim, after they’re all sunlit; is not that lovely?”
Irwin: “Actually is.”
Scott: “By golly, that is simply tremendous! It is — you already know — unreal.”
Irwin: “Dave, I am reminded of a favourite Biblical passage from Psalms. ‘I look unto the hills, from whence cometh my assist.’ However after all, we get fairly a bit from Houston, too.”

Return to Earth

After a profitable liftoff from the lunar floor with 170 kilos of moon rocks on board, the 2 moonwalkers rendezvoused with Worden within the command module and returned to Earth.

Jim Irwin handed away in 1991, adopted by Al Worden in 2020. Dave Scott is one among 4 residing moonwalkers. Apollo 15 stays an enchanting mission, and a extremely profitable one — a real instance of human ingenuity, coaching, bravery, and curiosity.

Completely happy fiftieth anniversary, Apollo 15!


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