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Fifty Years Ago: Apollo 14 and 15 Preparations

John Uri |
May 7, 2020

… and catching up with the Apollo 13 astronauts after their return

On May 7, 1970, NASA Administrator Thomas O. Paine announced that the next Moon-landing mission, Apollo 14, would launch no earlier than Dec. 3 — the delay from the original October date a result of the ongoing investigation into the explosion aboard Apollo 13 in April. Paine also announced that the mission would target the Fra Mauro highlands region of the Moon, the landing site planned for Apollo 13. The Apollo 14 prime crew of Commander Alan B. Shepard, Command Module (CM) Pilot Stuart A. Roosa and Lunar Module (LM) Pilot Edgar D. Mitchell, as well as their backups Eugene A. Cernan, Ronald E. Evans and Joe H. Engle, continued training for the 10-day mission. The recently announced crew for Apollo 15, Commander David R. Scott, CM Pilot Alfred M. Worden and LM Pilot James B. Irwin, along with backups Richard F. Gordon, Vance D. Brand and Harrison H. “Jack” Schmitt, began training for their mission slated for the summer of 1971. 

Apollo 13 astronauts James A. Lovell, John L. “Jack” Swigert and Fred W. Haise spent the first weeks after returning from their harrowing mission in debriefings, press conferences and other public appearances.

 Left: Apollo 14 prime astronauts Edgar Mitchell (left) and Alan Shepard with the MET during the geology training trip to Hawaii. Right:  Apollo 14 backup astronauts Eugene Cernan (left) and Joe Engle with the MET in Hawaii. Image Credits: NASA

The announcement that Apollo 14 would attempt a landing at Fra Mauro resulted in a change in that crew’s geology training. Since scientists expected their original planned landing site at Littrow to be of volcanic origin, Apollo 14’s early geology sessions took place at volcanically relevant sites, such as the trip to Hawaii in April 1970. The Fra Mauro site included the Cone Crater impact feature, so subsequent training sessions, beginning with the early June trip to Kilbourne Hole, New Mexico, focused on areas with impact craters. The Apollo 14 crew members were the first to use the Modular Equipment Transporter (MET), a golf-cart-like wheeled conveyance as an aid during their two planned lunar traverses, and used it during the training sessions. Since Apollo 14 also emphasized science observations from lunar orbit, Roosa and Evans took part in flyover geology exercises near Flagstaff, Arizona, in mid-June. To rehearse the final 300 feet of the descent to the Moon’s surface, Shepard and Cernan flew training flights in the Lunar Landing Training Vehicle (LLTV) at Ellington Air Force Base near NASA’s Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC). Apollo prime and backup commanders used the LLTV to practice the final 300 feet of the landing on the Moon.

Left: Apollo 14 astronauts Shepard (left) and Mitchell prepare for a simulated altitude test with the LM. Right: Workers in the VAB stack the Saturn V’s second stage onto the first stage. Image Credits: NASA

Workers in the NASA Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) resumed the stacking of the Saturn V rocket for Apollo 14. They had already placed the rocket’s first stage on its Mobile Launcher in January, and then added the second and third stages on May 12 and 13, respectively. Technicians began testing the launch vehicle while engineers implemented modifications to the Apollo spacecraft as a result of the Apollo 13 accident. In Kennedy’s Manned Spacecraft Operations Building (MSOB) on May 26, prime crew members Shepard and Mitchell completed a simulated altitude chamber test with the LM, followed the next day by backups Cernan and Engle. The two teams performed the actual altitude tests on June 16 and 22, respectively, followed by simulated altitude tests with the CM over the next two days. 

Left: LM-9, originally planned for Apollo 15, arrives at Kennedy. Right: Workers inspect the LM-9 ascent stage after its arrival in the MSOB. Image Credits: NASA

In May 1970, mission managers were planning for Apollo 15 to follow Apollo 14 by about six months. At the time, it was planned as the last of the 10-day H-type missions, like Apollo 12 to 14, with the crew completing two lunar traverses using the MET as a tool carrier. LM-9, the lander originally planned for Apollo 15, arrived at Kennedy on June 8, and workers in the MSOB began inspections the next day. 

Apollo 15’s landing site hadn’t been formally chosen, but the Davy Rille, also known as the Davy Crater Chain in the eastern portion of a large, broken-ring depression in the northeastern corner of the Sea of Clouds (Mare Nubium), was of interest to scientists. Apollo 15 mission plans changed significantly in September 1970. Scott, Irwin, Gordon and Schmitt completed geology training exercises in the Orocopia Mountains of California from May 6-13, and in the Mojave Desert in California and the area around Flagstaff, Arizona, including a visit to Meteor Crater from June 3-5. The participation of Schmitt, the only geologist in the astronaut corps, significantly aided the training sessions. Worden and Brand conducted orbital geology training in Menlo Park, California, from May 11-12, making visual sightings and taking photographs from airplanes. Scott completed multiple training flights in the LLTV, adding to the skills he acquired in 1969 when he served as the backup commander for Apollo 12.

Left: Apollo 13 astronauts (in background, wearing white shirts, left to right) James Lovell, Jack Swigert and Fred Haise during a debriefing with Donald K. “Deke” Slayton and Wernher von Braun. Middle: Apollo 13 astronauts (left to right) Lovell, Swigert and Haise during the postflight press conference. Right: At the Senate Committee hearing (left to right) Rocco Petrone, Thomas Paine, Lovell and Swigert. Image Credits: NASA

On April 17, the day the Apollo 13 astronauts successfully splashed down in the Pacific Ocean, Paine established the Apollo 13 Review Board, with Edgar M. Cortright, director of NASA’s Langley Research Center, as its chair. The eight-member panel met for two months and presented its report on June 15. The astronauts began post-mission debriefs the day after they returned to Houston and held a press conference at the MSC, later renamed Johnson Space Center, in Houston. On April 24, Lovell and Swigert, accompanied by Paine and Apollo Program Manager Rocco A. Petrone, appeared before the Senate Aeronautics and Space Committee to discuss their mission. 

Scenes of the parade and welcome reception for the Apollo 13 crew in Chicago.

To celebrate the safe return of Apollo 13 to Earth, on May 1 the city of Chicago threw a parade that Lovell and Swigert attended (Haise was not available). Mayor Richard J. Daley welcomed them at Civic Center Plaza (now Daley Plaza).  

Left: Reception for the Apollo 13 crew in Kennedy’s VAB. Middle: Apollo 13 astronauts (left to right) Lovell, Swigert and Haise at the Grumman plant. Right: Workers shower Lovell with confetti at the North American Rockwell plant.

On May 4, Deputy Director Miles “Mike” Ross welcomed Lovell, Swigert and Haise back to Kennedy, where during a reception in the VAB he presented them with photographs of their launch three weeks earlier. In turn, the astronauts thanked the 7,500 assembled workers for their hard work, presenting them with a signed armrest from the LM Aquarius as a memento from their mission. The next day, Lovell, Swigert and Haise travelled to the Grumman plant in Bethpage, New York, where they thanked the workers for the skill with which they built Aquarius, their lifeboat after the accident. Finally, on May 6, it was on to the North American Rockwell plant in Downey, California, where the astronauts thanked the employees who manufactured their CM Odyssey. The Apollo 13 astronauts’ travel schedule relaxed somewhat during the next few months until they departed for their Presidential Goodwill Tour to Europe in October 1970.

… to be continued.

News events from around the world in May 1970

    • May 2 – Diane Crump becomes the first woman jockey to ride at the Kentucky Derby
    • May 4 – National Guard kills four students at Kent State University in Ohio.
    • May 8 – The Beatles release their "Let it Be" album, the group’s last.
    • May 15 – Elizabeth Hoisington and Anna Mae Mays named first female U.S. generals.
    • May 23 – Grateful Dead's first performance outside the United States (in England).
    • May 26 – The Soviet Tupolev Tu-144 becomes the first commercial transport to exceed Mach 2.
    • May 31 – Magnitude 7.75 earthquake off the coast of Peru kills nearly 70,000 people and sets off the world's deadliest avalanche.