Apollo 14 Splashed Down 40 Years Ago Today: Six Odd Things About It
Apollo 14 -- the safely numbered one after that, um, other one -- splashed down 40 years ago today.
A collectible version of the only Apollo 14 moment most people remember
Since there were no dancing-on-the-edge death-defying dramatic escapes on this one, the mission is largely lost to history. It did get NASA back on track, of course, and paved the way for as many additional moon landings as the budget could afford (three).
But there were some oddities attached to Apollo 14. Here are six:
6. The astronauts got lost on the moon
Al Shepard and Ed Mitchell were supposed to explore and get geologic samples from the lip of the "cone" crater, about two-thirds of a mile from where they landed. They got disoriented, however, and eventually gave up (No GPS available). It turns out when they made their decision that they were irretrievably lost, they were about 30 yards from where they needed to be.
5. It took six tries and two hours to dock
If you've seen Apollo 13, you know all about the docking, where the lunar module separates and then is rejoined with the main rocket ("Come on rookie, park that thing"). It was always a tense moment, but with Apollo 14 it was an incredibly, long tense moment -- it took six attempts before the two ships were successfully locked together. "A worrisome anomaly, to say the least," says NASA's official history of the mission.
4. Astronaut Ed Mitchell became a raving UFO loon
Mitchell had always been attracted to the paranormal, although that was the kind of thing you wanted to keep on the down low during astronaut-selection time. On Apollo 14, he conducted private ESP missions on the way to the moon; in the years since, he's gone very public with how NASA has covered up evidence of UFOs visiting earth since the 1940s. He also believes in telepathic healing over great distances.
3. REM could have sang "If you belieeeeve...they played golf on the moon (on the moon)"
Alan Shepard was the oldest man to walk on the moon -- at 47, he was six years older than the second-oldest -- so naturally he played golf. It's the only thing most people remember about the mission. It also might have sped up the program's demise -- critics used the stunt as an easy metaphor for moon missions being boondoggles.
2. Shepard: Least-liked Apollo astronaut?
Shepard's tale of overcoming a rare disease that had grounded him in order to fly on Apollo 14 was inspiring to much of America -- a Mercury 7 astronaut reaching the moon, and all -- but not all of NASA was so enamored. Shepard was a Machiavellian, cold, arrogant guy whose utter lack of people skills turned many off. Hard-partying Gordo Cooper (Dennis Quaid in The Right Stuff) was supposed to make the flight, even as he annoyed higher-ups with his less-than-ideal work ethic. When Shepard again became medically cleared to fly, those higher-ups decided they'd had enough of Cooper's ways.
1. Apollo 14 was the last to protect Earthlings from the horror of Moon germs
Unsure what unspeakable horrors might be brought back from the Moon -- scientists really couldn't think of anything that list might include, but they didn't know for sure -- astronauts on moon missions were quarantined after splashdown. The Apollo 11 crew spent three weeks isolated from their potentially fragile planet-mates. By Apollo
15 14 the time spent in an Airstream trailer was cut to 15 days.