Lightning Struck Apollo 12... Twice, Here’s How Mission Control Reacted | Apollo

Lightning Struck Apollo 12... Twice, Here’s How Mission Control Reacted | Apollo
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    There's a lot that can go wrong during a spacecraft launch.
    And shortly after Apollo 12 left the ground, the mission was struck with an electrifying complication.
    Not once… but twice.
    [Astronauts] I don't know what happened here. We had everything in the world drop out.
    I'm not sure we didn't get hit by lighting.
    1969 was a milestone year for NASA.
    [Armstrong] The Eagle has landed.
    The space agency achieved its goal of getting to the moon and back by the end of the decade.
    But Apollo 11 almost didn't make it there.
    During their descent to the moon, the Lunar Module threw a fit and the astronauts missed their target
    landing spot by a good six kilometers.
    So the next mission, Apollo 12, would have to prove that a precision lunar landing was possible.
    The crew consisted of close friends: commander Pete Conrad, command module pilot Dick Gordon
    and lunar module pilot Al Bean.
    Aside from perfecting landing techniques, their primary objectives were to perform detailed
    scientific lunar exploration and deploy the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package or
    ALSEP for short.
    This was a collection of geophysical instruments designed to monitor the environment of each
    Apollo landing site for the period of at least a year.
    Conrad and Bean would be the astronauts to put this science into action in the moon's
    mysterious region known as the Ocean of Storms.
    On the morning of the launch, ominous clouds blanketed the sky above the Kennedy Space Center.
    But the rain was dying down and conditions were within the minimums of what was considered adverse.
    So Apollo 12 took off.
    About 36 seconds in, things got weird.
    The crew didn't realize it, but a powerful electrical surge had shot through the Saturn V.
    And about 20 seconds later, mother nature would prove that lightning can and will strike
    the same place twice.
    The crew was in the dark.
    Several major systems went offline, including all three fuel cells,
    the spacecraft's main source of power.
    If they didn't find a solution in the next 90 seconds, Apollo 12 would have to abort.
    On the ground at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, mission control was just as confused.
    The flight controller consuls were reading nonsensical telemetry data from the spacecraft, giving the team
    no sign of a solution.
    This was a nightmare scenario for flight director Gerry Griffin.
    Just over a minute into his first mission as lead flight director, he was facing a potential disaster.
    But if Griffin learned anything from his mentors, there were a lot of options
    and failure wasn't one of them.
    Throughout the Apollo Program, the mission control team was faced with do or die decisions.
    It was by no means a low stress work environment.
    Many of the Apollo flight controllers joined NASA with no relevant
    experience and some were fresh out of college.
    But in a very short period of time, they had to become masters of spaceflight.
    NASA's first flight director, Chris Kraft, was essentially the brainchild
    of Apollo's mission control system.
    At the helm of each crewed mission was a flight director.
    He was supported by a team of flight controllers who were responsible for specific spacecraft functions.
    For example, GUIDO watched over the primary guidance, navigation and control systems,
    while EECOM handled the electrical, environmental and communications systems.
    The Apollo mission control teams ran thousands of flight simulations to anticipate every
    possible scenario that could unfold in space.
    And during Apollo 12, a memory from one of these simulations saved the team from an abort.
    SCE to Aux was the answer to their problems, and 24-year old EECOM John Aaron was the only
    one who knew it.
    A year earlier, he was in Mission Control during a simulation in which the spacecraft's
    voltage was accidentally dropped.
    The change affected the Signal Conditioning Equipment or SCE which was a small power supply
    that provided voltage to critical instrumentation points in various systems
    including the fuel cells.
    If the power supply failed, an auxiliary supply could be switched on.
    All the crew had to do was find the right switch, which wasn't a simple task given
    the complexity of the spacecraft's display.
    Astronaut Al Bean was the only member of the crew who knew which switch to flip.
    And just like that, the spacecraft's systems came back online and the flight controllers
    were able to read the data again.
    Rookie Flight Director Gerry Griffin escaped the near abort.
    They found no other damage from the lightning strike,
    so Griffin decided to continue to the Moon.
    The astronauts, still in disbelief, laughed uncontrollably until they reached orbit.
    Once settled in lunar orbit, Conrad and Bean embarked on the most crucial part of the mission.
    They had to perfect a pinpoint landing on the lunar surface.
    But first, they had to find their targeted touchdown point.
    As they approached, Conrad recognized a familiar crater from a map of their landing site.
    He steadied the Lunar Module and touched down in a cloud of dust within close range of their
    target, demonstrating that a precision lunar landing with the Apollo system was possible.
    Once on the surface, the astronauts conducted several experiments and deployed the ALSEP.
    They also collected and returned components from the nearby Surveyor 3 spacecraft, which
    landed on the Moon in 1967.
    After over 30 hours, Conrad and Bean flew back to the Command-Service Module where their
    buddy Dick Gordon was waiting.
    Apollo's three best friends splashed down in the Pacific just 62 seconds later than planned.
    Apollo 12 didn't get as much attention as Apollo 11, in part, because it wasn't televised.
    Shortly after landing on the moon, Bean fried the camera when he pointed it directly at the Sun.
    But all that aside, Apollo 12 turned out to be a pioneering mission for the Apollo Program.
    The pinpoint touchdown of the Lunar Module enabled all of the targeted landings to follow.
    And the near abort showed the capabilities of mission control, proving that the team
    was prepared to work through unexpected problems under extreme pressure.
    And that would become incredibly important for the next mission - Apollo 13.
    Like Mission Control, the Apollo astronauts went through extensive training, learning
    how to do a job that had never been done before.
    If you want to get a look inside their extreme spaceflight preparations, check out this video.
    And, if you want more, be sure to watch the entire Apollo series.
    Thanks for watching!
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