Real Astronauts Don't Drink Pee
It's a bit of a comedown from the moon days.
As it turns out, at this time in 1969 NASA was just getting ready to launch Apollo 12 -- which, sandwiched between the adrenaline-filled missions of Apollo 11 and 13, may just be the least remembered space mission of all time (Unless you count Apollos 14-17, inclusive).
There won't be a lot of 40th anniversary celebrations of the second-ever moon mission next year, we're guessing. But Apollo 12 doesn't deserve to be forgotten.
A bunch of reasons.
1. Its commander was Pete Conrad, a Princeton-educated prankster who was Apollo's gift to the journalism industry. Conrad is widely believed to have been the main source for Tom Wolfe as he wrote The Right Stuff. (As a wide-eyed cub reporter in awe of the book, I was crushed when I interviewed one of the Mercury 7, Deke Slayton, and learned Wolfe had never talked to him. On further review, however, it's clear Conrad gave Wolfe a boatload more insight into the astronaut mind than the tactiturn Slayton.)
2. The ever-so-dignified First Word On The Moon, as Conrad stepped out of the Lunar Module: "Whoopie!!" He followed it up with "Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that's a long one for me." Conrad later said he had bet the famous Italian reporter Oriana Fallaci he would say those words, since she insisted NASA scripted the astronauts. He also claimed to never have been able to collect the $500 bet.
3. Things were looser then. On the very last simulation of the moon landing before the mission launch, Lunar Module pilot Alan Bean threw the absolute wrong switch at the wrong time. If it had happened in real life, he and Conrad would be dead. "It was a big mistake, a big disaster," Bean later said. "But they [the simulator workers] protected us and no one at Mission Control knew."
4. They launched the Saturn V during a thunderstorm, and were hit by lightning. None of this namby-pamby check-the-Weather-Channel stuff. Let's light this candle and deliver the mail, boys. The onboard computers went on the fritz, but quick thinking by Bean and Mission Control restored things and prevented an aborted mission. Although aborting from a flying Saturn V would have been quite the spectacle to watch.
5. The dramatic Tuna Fish incident. As they raced through space, the astronauts of Apollo 12 get news updates (Louie Welch elected mayor of Houston!) and had this conversation:
57:24:46 Bean: Hello, Houston; Apollo 12.
057:24:50 Lind: Go ahead, 12.
057:24:56 Bean: How about asking the food experts down there, we had a can of tuna fish spread salad last night, and there's about a half a can left today, and that stuff's still good to eat, isn't it?
057:25:10 Lind: We'll check. I'll be right back with you.
057:25:15 Bean: Thank you. [Long pause.]
057:25:32 Lind: 12?
057:25:36 Bean: Go ahead.
057:25:37 Lind: The surgeon suggests you try a new one. New can. [Pause.]
057:25:52 Bean: Well, Dick has this one in his hot hand, and we just opened it last night. You sure that one isn't all right?
057:29:42 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston.
057:29:46 Bean: Go ahead.
057:29:48 Lind: We're still checking with some people down here whether there's, any problem over that tuna fish, but why don't you hold off eating it until we get a better answer for you?
057:29:56 Bean: Okay.
[Long comm break.]
057:39:25 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston. [Long pause.]
057:40:12 Lind: Apollo 12, Houston.
057:40:18 Conrad: Go ahead.
057:40:20 Lind: You can't imagine what consternation your tuna fish question has raised down here. We have a wide diversity of opinion.
057:40:26 Conrad: I decided it was...
057:40:29 Lind: The...
057:40:30 Gordon: I decided it was okay.
057:40:32 Lind: Well, we have a vote that it's okay. The majority says throw it away; there's a minority report that says everybody can eat it except Dick Gordon.
057:40:41 Conrad: Okay. That's done.
057:40:43 Lind: Roger. They recommend that you probably throw it away.
057:40:50 Conrad: Okay.
Pete Conrad died in a motorcycle accident at the age of 69; Alan Bean became a born-again painter who specializes in moon scenes, and the third member of the crew, Dick Gordon, went into the oil industry, became an executive with the New Orleans Saints, and sells space memorabilia online.