50 years ago this week, the Apollo 14 crew flew their mission to the Moon. Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell were the third pair of astronauts to walk on the lunar surface. They conducted two moonwalks in the Fra Mauro highlands, collecting rocks and setting up science experiments, as well as broadcasting the first color TV images from the Moon.
Meanwhile, Stuart Roosa remained in orbit as the Command Module pilot. But Roosa wasn’t alone while circling above the Moon.
For decades, scientists have been of the belief that the Moon, Earth’s only natural satellite, was four and a half billion years old. According to this theory, the Moon was created from a fiery cataclysm produced by a collision between the Earth with a Mars-sized object (named Theia) roughly 100 million years after the formation of primordial Earth.
But according to a new study by researchers from UCLA (who re-examined some of the Apollo Moon Rocks), these estimates may have been off by about 40 to 140 million years. Far from simply adjusting our notions of the Moon’s proper age, these findings are also critical to our understanding of the Solar System and the formation and evolution of its rocky planets.
These fragments were of a compound known as zircon, a type of silicate mineral that contains trace amounts of radioactive elements (like uranium, thorium, and lutetium). As Kevin McKeegan, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry and a co-author of the study, explained, “Zircons are nature’s best clocks. They are the best mineral in preserving geological history and revealing where they originated.”
By examining the radioactive decay of these elements, and correcting for cosmic ray exposure, the research team was able to get highly precise estimates of the zircon fragments ages. Using one of UCLA’s mass spectrometers, they were able to measure the rate at which the deposits of uranium in the zircon turned into lead, and the deposits of lutetium turned into hafnium.
In the end, their data indicated that the Moon formed about 4.51 billion years ago, which places its birth within the first 60 million years of the Solar System or so. Previously, dating Moon rocks proved difficult, mainly because most of them contained fragments of many different kinds of rocks, and these samples were determined to be tainted by the effects of multiple impacts.
However, Barboni and her team were able to examine eight zircons that were in good condition. More importantly, these silicate deposits are believed to have formed shortly after the collision between Earth and Theia, when the Moon was still an unsolidified mass covered in oceans of magma. As these oceans gradually cooled, the Moon’s body became differentiated between its crust, mantle and core.
Because zircon minerals were formed during the initial magma ocean, uranium-lead dating reaches all the way back to a time before the Moon became a solidified mass. As Edward Young, a UCLA professor of geochemistry and cosmochemistry and a co-author of the study, put it, “Mélanie was very clever in figuring out the Moon’s real age dates back to its pre-history before it solidified, not to its solidification.”
These findings have not only determined the age of the Moon with a high degree of accuracy (and for the first time), it also has implications for our understanding of when and how rocky planes formed within the Solar System. By placing accurate dates on when certain bodies formed, we are able to understand the context in which they formed, which also helps to determine what mechanisms were involved.
And this was just the first revelation produced by the research team, which hopes to continue studying the zircon fragments to see what they can learn about the Moon’s early history.
It feels like a real stargazing session watching this video. You head out at dusk, waiting for the first few stars to emerge. Then there’s a moment when — if you’re in the right spot — whammo. The Milky Way pops out. The sky turns into a three-dimensional playground.
Combine that feeling with the Apollo 14 launch audio from 1971, and this timelapse is a lot of fun.
Forty-five years ago yesterday, the Sea of Tranquility saw a brief flurry of activity when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin dared to disturb the ancient lunar dust. Now the site has lain quiet, untouched, for almost half a century. Are any traces of the astronauts still visible?
The answer is yes! Look at the picture above of the site taken in 2012, two years ago. Because erosion is a very gradual process on the moon — it generally takes millions of years for meteors and the sun’s activity to weather features away — the footprints of the Apollo 11 crew have a semi-immortality. That’s also true of the other five crews that made it to the moon’s surface.
In honor of the big anniversary, here are a few of NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter’s pictures of the landing sites of Apollo 11, Apollo 12, Apollo 14, Apollo 15, Apollo 16 and Apollo 17. (Apollo 13 was slated to land on the moon, but that was called off after an explosion in its service module.)
Editor’s note:We posted this yesterday only to find that the original video we used had been pulled. Now, we’ve reposted the article with a new and improved version of the video, thanks to Spacecraft Films.
To the moon! The goal people most remember from the Apollo program was setting foot on the surface of our closest neighbor. To get there required a heck of a lot of firepower, bundled in the Saturn V rocket. The video above gives you the unique treat of watching each rocket launch at the same time.
Some notes on the rockets you see:
Apollos 4 and 6 were uncrewed test flights.
Apollo 9 was an Earth-orbit flight to (principally) test the lunar module.
Apollo 8 and 10 were both flights around the moon (with no lunar landing).
Apollos 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 safely made it to the moon’s surface and back.
Skylab’s launch was also uncrewed; the Saturn V was used in this case to send a space station into Earth’s orbit that was used by three crews in the 1970s.
You don’t see Apollo 7 pictured here because it did not use the Saturn V rocket; it instead used the Saturn IB. It was an Earth-orbiting flight and the first successful manned one of the Apollo program. (Apollo 1 was the first scheduled crew, but the three men died in a launch pad fire.)
Book review by David Freiberg: Universe Today Book Reviewer
Most of us get up in the morning, shower, eat breakfast and sleepily make our way to work. Whether we work in an office, outdoors, with the public or in any number of exciting Earth-based careers, our daily commute can hardly compare to that of a moon astronaut! In Earthrise: My Adventures As An Apollo 14 Astronaut, Edgar Mitchell shares his personal story of how he came to share a career with a scarce 11 other people in history.
This new book tells the story Mitchell’s life; he started out as a farm boy from a small town in New Mexico who grew up in a normal family and lived a normal life but he worked hard enough and got lucky enough to go to the Moon. He wasn’t born into it, and he wasn’t so supremely gifted that he aced everything he tried in his life. He had the willpower to work through years of training, and he had the courage to get into a gigantic rocket that would launch him a quarter of a million miles through space, even though the last people who had tried to go to the Moon were lucky to get back alive.
And, being a real person doing an extraordinary thing, he came back changed by the experience.
Despite the trials and tribulations of training, of flying there, of a close call with a malfunctioning “abort” button, and of the moonwalk itself, Edgar details how the ride home was the most life-changing part of the entire journey. As he saw the Earth shining in front of him, he described a sensation he called metanoia that was to shape the rest of his life. He’d explored as much of outer space as current technology would allow: now he wanted to do the opposite and explore the mind. Though he’d always been interested in topics like ESP (he even conducted his own ESP experiment with a few doctors on Earth during the mission), it was easy to see how it changed his perspective on everything. And, from his descriptions, he’s not the only Apollo astronaut to have a different perspective on life after the mission: they were real people, after all, and if you went to the Moon, you’d probably be changed as well.
That’s where “Earthrise” really shines: you get the idea that you too could do the same thing if you were willing to work for it. This book is strongly recommended for all children who are interested in space; as Edgar Mitchell was inspired by stories of Roswell and of Buck Rogers when he was young, perhaps a child who reads this very book will someday fly around the Moon and watch the Earth come up.
About the authors:Dr. Edgar Mitchell was a pilot in the historic 1971 Apollo 14 mission and the sixth man to ever walk on the Moon. He is the author of “Paradigm Shift,” “The Space Less Traveled,” and “The Way of the Explorer,” and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, three NASA Group Achievement Awards and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005. He is the founder of the renowned Institute of Noetic Sciences and lives in Lake Worth, Florida. Ellen Mahoney has worked for Walt Disney Imagineering and produced radio features for the BBC Science in Action show. She is an instructor of journalism at Metro State University of Denver and lives in Boulder, Colorado. Dr. Brian Cox is a professor of particle physics at the University of Manchester School of Physics and Astronomy, Manchester, England. He presents space and science programs on BBC radio and television, including “Wonders of the Universe.”
Universe Today and Chicago Review Press are pleased to be able to offer three free copies of “Earthrise: My Adventures as An Apollo 14 Astronaut” to our readers. This contest is open to US and Canadian residents only. In order to be entered into the giveaway drawing, just put your email address into the box at the bottom of this post (where it says “Enter the Giveaway”) before Wednesday, April 30, 2014. If this is the first time you’re registering for a giveaway, you’ll receive a confirmation email immediately where you’ll need to click a link to be entered into the drawing. For those who have registered previously, you’ll receive an email later where you can enter this drawing.
If you are not lucky enough to win one of our three free copies, or if you don’t want to wait, you can purchase the book from Amazon.com.
During that heady time when NASA was sending people to the moon, Apollo astronaut Al Shepard — so the story goes — was showing comedian Bob Hope around a NASA center. Hope went into a simulator for the lighter lunar gravity and swung a golf club around (a habit of his) as he bounced around.
“That was the inspiration, I guess,” said Michael Trostel, the curator and historian at the United States Golf Association Museum in Far Hills, New Jersey. In other words, the inspiration for Al Shepard to bring a golf club to the moon and hit a couple of balls. The golf club, in fact, is at the USGA Museum today.
Of course, it wasn’t so easy just to bring a six-iron on board — there were science experiments and other payloads for the Apollo 14 crew. According to the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, the golf club was actually “a contingency sample extension handle with a No. 6 iron golf club head attached.”
Unusually, as space artifacts tend to head over to the Smithsonian after missions, this particular one ended up at the USGA Museum itself. In 1972, when singer Bing Crosby (also a friend of Hope’s and Shepard’s) was a member of the board, he wrote to Shepard on behalf of the museum and asked for the club. Shepard agreed and handed it over during a special ceremony in 1974.
“The reason that it’s not in this museum was that it was personal property of Alan Shepherd. In other words, he took it to space, he brought it back, it was still his personal property he donated it and it was his. That’s the reason,” said Claire Brown, the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum’s communications director.
“Things were a little different back then. You could take a certain amount of personal property. There are different rules now, but at the time that he did it, he was able to bring his own personal club.”
On this day in 1971 Apollo 14 astronauts Alan Shepard, Jr., Stuart Roosa and Edgar Mitchell returned to Earth, splashing down in the Pacific Ocean at 21:05 UT (4:05 p.m. EST). They were recovered by the USS New Orleans, and returned to the U.S. by way of American Samoa. But the three men weren’t the only living creatures to come back from the Moon on Feb. 9, 1971… in fact, human astronauts were in the minority that day.
Al, Stu and Ed shared their lunar voyage with nearly 500 trees.
As Shepard and Mitchell gathered samples near their landing site in a region named Fra Mauro, Apollo 14 pilot and ex-smoke jumper Stuart Roosa orbited above in “Kitty Hawk”, the mission’s Command Module. It may sound like a lonely job, but he was far from alone. Within his personal kit were small containers containing 400-500 seeds, part of a joint NASA/USFS project to examine the effects, if any, of space travel on such organisms.
The seeds were selected from a variety of tree species: redwood, loblolly pine, sycamore, Douglas fir, and sweetgum seeds were all chosen to accompany Roosa on his 34 orbits around the Moon.
A control group of the same seed varieties were kept on Earth for comparison.
Stuart Roosa had worked for the Forest Service in the 1950s before becoming an Air Force test pilot and then eventually an Apollo astronaut. Being charged with the care of the seeds was a particularly symbolic assignment for Roosa, who had once fought wildfires as a smoke jumper.
Even though there was a mishap during the decontamination process after return to Earth, wherein some containers burst open and seeds were inadvertently mixed together, many of the seeds successfully germinated at Forest Service stations in Mississippi and California. The seedlings were eventually sent to locations around the country and around the world to commemorate the success of the Apollo program.
There was even a second generation, called half-moon trees.
Many of these “Moon Trees” and their descendants still stand today. In some instances they are marked with a plaque or a sign… in others, no special marking denotes their significance. Those unmarked trees stand as silent reminders of an earlier and perhaps even bolder era of human space flight.
Read more about the Moon Trees on this page by David Williams of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center. And if you know of a Moon Tree that is not on Mr. William’s list, please contact him to have it included. Williams has endeavored to locate the whereabouts and status of these trees since 1996, as there had been no systematic records previously kept of them.
“I think when people are aware of the heritage of the trees, they usually take steps to preserve them,” said Williams in recollection of one tree that was nearly knocked down during a building renovation. “But sometimes people aren’t aware. That’s why we want to locate as many as we can soon. We want to have a record that these trees are — or were — a part of these communities, before they’re gone.”
Imagine you’re an astronaut. You have what it takes to be selected to fly a mission to the Moon. You train, make the trip, and become one of literally a handful of humans ever to have walked on the lunar surface. And when you leave the desolate beauty of the Moon behind in your Landing Module, and are just about to re-enter the Lunar Orbiter and head for home, you see one of the cameras that you used on the surface. If you leave it where it is it’s going to be lost forever, crashing into the lunar surface with the rest of the lander. If you take it, you’ll be going against standard NASA operating procedure since you hadn’t filled out the proper paperwork beforehand for official mission items appropriated by astronauts. Leave a piece of history behind to be destroyed or salvage it as a souvenir… what do you do?
Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell decided to bring the camera back, and now, 40 years later, his decision is going to land him in court.
Last June, the U.S. government brought a case against the 81-year-old moonwalker after he offered the 16-millimeter Data Acquisition Camera (DAC) up for sale at New York’s Bonhams auction house as part of their May “Space History Sale”. While it was common for Apollo astronauts to be able to keep various pieces of equipment and space suits as mementos after their missions, certain paperwork had to be filled out beforehand… it’s just the NASA way.
The late Donald “Deke” Slayton, head of the astronaut corps in 1971, mentioned this during an interview with the Tuscon Daily Citizen in 1972.
“They give me a list of things they’re going to bring back,” Slayton said. “I give it to the program office and they bring ’em back.”
The DAC, it seems, was not on any lists handed in by Mitchell. Yet it was never intended to be on the ride back to Earth, either. Rather its destination was to be in the bottom of a crater made by the landing module when it crashed back onto the Moon.
Must have seemed a rather wasteful end for a historic – and valuable – piece of equipment. Were it to go to auction it could have fetched between $60,000 to $80,000.
“We had an agreement with NASA management, that small items that didn’t exceed our weight limitations, we could bring back.”
– Edgar Mitchell to WPTV
Regardless of its value – sentimental or otherwise – NASA’s lawyer claims that Mitchell was contacted several times about returning the camera but never responded. Mitchell’s attorney, on the other hand, argues that too many years have passed for NASA to now claim the camera as stolen property.
When it was brought before a Florida district court judge to have the case dismissed, however, the judge had no option but to side with the government.
“‘It is well settled that the United States is not bound by state statutes of limitation or subject to the defense of laches in enforcing its rights,'” quoted Judge Daniel Hurley of an appeals court ruling. “Defendant’s allegations that NASA intended the camera to be destroyed after the mission or that it routinely awarded used mission equipment to astronauts do not preclude as a matter of law Plaintiff’s contrary allegation that Defendant impermissibly converted the camera.”
Bottom line: the case goes in front of a jury in October 2012.