Apollo 11 was pretty much one of the most seminal moments in all of human history, so it’s not likely to be forgotten. And everyone knows about Apollo 13. But what about the mission sandwiched in between? On one level, Apollo 12 was extremely important: it showed that our ability to land humans on the Moon was not exceptional. Rather, we could repeat this feat with regularity, doing it twice in less than a single year. But there’s more to that mission. Not many people know the details of Apollo 12. But, simply put, Apollo 12 was awesome.
Here are a few reasons why Apollo 12 was so amazing. First, this mission didn’t just land on the moon. It landed several hundred meters from Surveyor 3, an unmanned probe that landed on the moon in 1967, two years earlier. And this meant that Surveyor 3 was within walking distance from the Apollo 12 landing site! Pete Conrad and Alan Bean actually visited this probe that had been sitting unchanged for years. The camera, retrieved from Surveyor, was initially thought to even contain bacteria that had been dormant for years on the moon, but still alive. However, more recently, this intriguing possibility has encountered some resistance.
But Apollo 12 gets even better. Think the first words of Apollo on the moon had a bit too much gravitas? Then you’ll love what Pete Conrad said. In reference to his height as compared to Neil Armstrong’s, upon jumping down to the landing pad, Conrad uttered the less famous words: “Whoopee! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.” And when he set foot on the lunar surface, he said: “Oooh, is that soft and queasy.” Now that feels a bit more properly improvised.
But Apollo 12, even upon splashdown, wasn’t done being interesting. In 2002, an amateur astronomer discovered an asteroid. While this is a normal occurrence, he was soon astonished to find that it wasn’t orbiting the sun, like a normal asteroid, but the Earth! This would mean the discovery of a second natural moon of Earth, the only one after our regular moon. Unfortunately, the excitement was short-lived. The actual identity of the minor planet? The third stage of the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 12.
While each lunar mission had something special (we can’t forget Alan Shepard’s lunar golf during Apollo 14), Apollo 12 is definitely something to remember.