Who remembers the big space news of 40 years ago today? (Children under 50 need not guess.)
It was the launch of Apollo 14, the third crewed expedition to the surface of the moon, carrying astronauts Alan Shepard, Ed Mitchell and Stuart Roosa. The gigantic Saturn V rocket blasted off from Cape Kennedy, Fla., at 4 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (2 p.m. MST), Jan. 31, 1971. Shepard was the commander and Mitchell the pilot of the Lunar Module; Roosa flew the Command Module “Kitty Hawk” when it orbited the moon.
[Apollo 14 soars from Cape Kennedy on Jan. 31, 1971. NASA photo]
They reached the vicinity of the moon five days later.
According to a NASA history site, the LM, called Antares, separated from the Command Module about 4:50 a.m. EST (2:50:44 a.m. MST) on Feb. 5. In 4 1/2 hours it had settled onto the lunar highlands near the crater Fra Mauro.
At the Delmarva News of Selbyville, Del., where I was a reporter/photographer, I suddenly realized that Shepard and Mitchell were about to go on their first moon walk, that afternoon of Feb. 5. I remember yelling for a TV. Someone located a portable TV and set it up in the backshop, where several of us watched the drama.
[Where we watched the Apollo 14 moon walk. I took the photo Feb. 5, 1971]
There it sat on a light table, above containers of chemicals used to develop and fix the newspaper’s big page negatives. The TV was a black-and-white Motorola, which was unfortunate, because this was the first lunar visit that was covered live from the surface in color.
Walter Cronkite, the most trusted newsperson on television, walked the world through the events. Our first glimpse from the surface came as Shepard removed the lens cap from a TV camera he had set up 50 feet from the LM. Meanwhile, Mitchell was working closer to Antares.
[My Feb. 5, 1971, view of an astronaut setting up the antenna on the moon]
Spellbound, I shot several views as they set up a more powerful transmitter. CBS ran two different captions at the bottom of the images: “LIVE FROM THE SURFACE OF THE MOON” and “LIVE COLOR TELEVISION FROM THE MOON.”
[Antenna in place, an astronaut works beyond the LM — my photo from Feb. 5, 1971]
The astronauts performed a pair moon walks, Feb. 5 and 6, for a total duration of 9 hours, 23 minutes. They gathered almost 100 pounds of samples, took scores of photographs and set up scientific instruments. I don’t remember much about those excursions, but I do recall that during the second, Shepard hit a golf ball from the surface. He said it was sailing for “miles and miles and miles” in the low gravity.
[An astronaut bounces near the TV camera in my view from Feb. 5, 1971]
They lifted off the afternoon of Feb. 6 after a 33 1/2 hours on the moon. Following a rendezvous with Kitty Hawk, they touched down in the Pacific Feb. 9, 1971, on target.
Thinking back on the glory days of our crewed space program brings a special sadness — and a feeling of betrayal.
Today Space Shuttle Discovery began its slow drive from the Kennedy Space Center Vehicle Assembly Building to Launch Pad 39A.
Discovery is to lift off on Feb. 24. That 11-day flight will be its last. Space Shuttle Endeavor is scheduled to leave the launch pad on April 19 on its final flight. On June 28, it will be turn of the Shuttle Atlantis.
After that, there are no further scheduled flights of American astronauts aboard U.S. spacecraft.