July 26 sees the 50th anniversary of the launch of the Apollo 15 mission. This was one of the most complex and daring Moon missions as it was all about the science. But first, let’s meet the crew.
Commander Dave Scott had been on the Gemini 8 mission with Neil Armstrong in 1966 in which they both nearly lost their lives when their spacecraft started spinning out of control. Armstrong’s cool head and skill saved the day.
Apollo 15 was to provide a number of firsts for the Apollo programme. It was the first of the “J” missions, which were to focus more on the science and geology of the lunar trips, and coolest of all, it was the first to take along the Lunar Roving Vehicle! This meant Scott and Irwin could cover a larger distance on the Moon than previous missions.
The Command Module would have a scientific bay on the side to carry out experiments and observations as it orbited the Moon with Al Worden on board.
The landing site of Hadley Rille in the Appenine Mountain range of the Moon was considered quite dangerous, but was important in a geographical sense…the lunar module touched down on a bit of a slope so was a little squint!
“Galileo was right”
One of the many experiments that Scott and Irwin performed on the surface was Galileo’s theory that all objects in a given gravity field will fall at the same rate. He proved this by dropping a hammer and a feather at the same time. You can watch the experiment here.
It was during one of the Moon walks that Jim Irwin’s drinking tube malfunctioned and he became quite dehydrated. Add to the fact he’d had very little sleep and both he and Scott had performed some strenuous activities, that Mission Control noticed his heartbeat was irregular. The doctors felt that things would calm down when he got back to the lunar module. As it turned out, he’d suffered a mild heart attack.
When Scott and Irwin blasted off from the lunar surface and rendezvoused with the Command Module, the work wasn’t over. Al Worden had to perform a spacewalk to retrieve the large cassettes and experiments form the side of the command module. Worden still holds the record for the deepest space EVA (extra vehicular activity), 196,000 miles away from Earth.
After a brilliant and successful mission, the astronauts came back down to Earth with a bump in more ways than one. What no-one knew was that they had made a deal to secretly carry postal covers to the Moon. They were each to be paid $7000 which they would put in a trust fund for their children. However, the dealer decided to start touting the stamps for sale for a huge price before the crew returned. When NASA found out the astronauts were reprimanded and removed form flight duty. None of them would ever fly in space again.
Apollo 15 was an exceptional mission. It had science, scandal and deep space EVAs! What an adventure!