Encyclopedia Astronautica
1969.11.21 - Apollo 12 heads for home


At 3:49 p.m. EST November 21, the crew fired the service propulsion system engine, injecting the CSM into a transearth trajectory after 89 hours 2 minutes in lunar orbit. During the transearth coast, views of the receding moon and the interior of the spacecraft were televised, and a question and answer session with scientists and the press was conducted.

Yankee Clipper stayed in lunar orbit for 11 more revolutions, finishing up the "bootstrap" photography and landmark tracking, looking at sites being considered for Apollo 14 and 15. Then the crew boosted their spacecraft out of lunar orbit and settled in for the three-day voyage home. Now and then they chatted with the duty CapCom about something that crossed their minds concerning their exploration. Once in a while scientists wanted to debrief them concerning details of their lunar surface activity. For most of the time, however, they relaxed.

At one point both Conrad and Bean passed along some reservations they had about the field geology exercise. They had found the lunar surface a particularly difficult one for classical field-geological techniques. Bean commented,

... we talked with [the geologists], before we went, about [the fact that] the main objectives of the geology wasn't to go out and grab a few rocks and take some pictures, but to try to understand the morphology and the stratigraphy... of the vicinity you were in. Look around and try to use your head along those lines. Well, I'll tell you, there [were] less than ten times I stood in spots... and said, "Okay now, Bean,... is it possible to look out there and try to determine... which is first, which is second, and all that?"... That whole area has been acted on by these meteoroids or something else so that all these features that are normally neat clues to you on earth are not available for observation.

Conrad concurred: "I think even a trained geologist would have trouble doing a whole lot of field geology that way on the moon." Long afterward, Bean still felt that astronauts could be most effective on the lunar surface by selecting and documenting as many apparently different kinds of samples as possible rather than attempting on-the-spot geologizing. During a press conference on the last day out, Conrad was asked whether he thought it would be desirable to have a geologist as a member of the crew. He did indeed think so, but pointed out that landing Intrepidhad required all the piloting skill he had - implicitly echoing Deke Slayton's contention that landing on the moon was not yet a job for a novice.

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