Friday, November 14, 11:53am Florida
The cool November rain is still falling when Astronaut Gene Cernan helps Mom, my brother, Clay, and I into the backseat of the black NASA station wagon. I climb over the seat to look out the rear window. The launch pad is empty now, the rocket engine smoke has melted into the mist. Photographers are folding up their tripods, damp spectators walk back to the visitor buses. The countdown clock clicks forward 000:31:06, 000:31.07, 000:31.08. Mr. Cernan says it will not stop till Dad is back home.
Mom is concerned about the lightning strikes on the rocket yet she is calm and brave. A Navy wife, a Test Pilot’s wife, an Astronaut wife, she understands the risks. In a letter my father wrote to her before liftoff, “ if I don’t return know I died doing what I loved. ” Papa Bean’s letter says it best. “We watched the launch at home in Fort Worth. My heart fell into my boots when Pete said he thought lightning had struck-and I could see them having to abort the mission soon after reaching earth orbit. After waiting so long I knew that decision would crush Alan. We knew that he was alright as we could hear their conversations with Control. After they had recovered their bearings, and were given their go ahead for injection into the lunar path, we breathed again.”
Later when Dad returned from the moon he told us there was concern the lightning strike knocked out the pyrotechnics on the splashdown parachutes. But that problem would exist whether they flew to the moon or not. So Apollo 12 was off to the moon!
Meanwhile down on earth, from liftoff to splashdown, our Nassau Bay house is “the place to be”. TV cameras and reporters are set up on the front lawn and in the street. Sitting at the school bus stop or riding my bike in the driveway, the photographers take pictures and I see myself in the next day’s paper. In all hours of the day and night, our home is filled with excitement and laughter. People drop off food (I like the chocolate cookies the best), stop in for coffee, and sit in the kitchen listening to the small, beige squawk box broadcasting the communications between Mission Control and Apollo 12. “We almost wore the front and back doors off the house letting people in and out”, Granny tells a Dallas Morning News reporter after the flight is over.
These 2 weeks of our lives are anything but ordinary. While Dad is 233,000 miles away, Mom keeps us kids grounded. We go to school, we play, walk the dog, Clay delivers the newspapers on his route. At 6pm Mom expects us to be sitting at the dinner table. No sleeping late, no missing classes, and no excuses from chores. Clay and I are not scared. Why would we be? This is our normal life, we are having fun.
Tuesday, November 18, 3pm Houston
The moon landing is 10 hours away. My best friend, Tracy Cernan and I hop off the school bus at her house. Her mom hosted a luncheon today in honor of Jane Conrad, Barbara Gordon and Mom.
My grandmother also attends. Babysitters, cooks, house painters, gutter cleaners, plumbers, my grandparents have done it all since dad became an Astronaut. Grandad happily tells this story, “ I was raking leaves in Alan and Sue’s front yard when a car drives by. The lady rolls down her window and asks ‘Is there where an astronaut lives?’ I answer, I think so, but I’m just the lawn man.” If he was alive today Grandad would say he was the proudest lawn man the Bean family ever had. People say it took 400,000 dedicated Americans to get Apollo to the moon. I say that number is 402,000 for Granny and Grandad.
The squawk box in the kitchen is blasting away. CAPCOM, Jerry Carr give the crew updates on the families.
102:38:04 Carr: Got some words from the families. Dick, I just talked to Barbara and she’s been resting up; they’re taking naps and everything, getting all set for spending the night up with you; and Barbara said to tell you that she thinks you’re just great.
102:38:24 Gordon: Well, tell her thank you. After 16 years, it’s about time.
102:38:29 Carr: [Laughter] Pete, are you listening?
102:38:35 Gordon: Negative, Jer; they’re getting in their LCG’s
102:38:39 Carr: Okay. When they get back up on the hook, give me a call.
102:40:03 Gordon: Hello, Houston; 12. Pete’s back up on the line.
102:40:07 Carr: Okay, Pete; talked to Jane just a few minutes ago, and she said the family’s all doing fine, and they’re …
102:40:12 Conrad: Hold it a minute.
102:40:19 Conrad: Okay; go.
102:40:21 Carr: Roger, Pete. Just talked to Jane a few minutes ago. She said the family’s all doing just fine, and they’re all getting rested up to spend the night up watching you guys.
102:40:34 Conrad: Very good, Jer. Thank you. And will you have the doctors look at the Biomed? I’m in my LCG now. All hooked up.
102:40:40 Carr: Your Biomed looks real good.
102:41:27 Bean: Houston, this is Al. Go ahead and check my biomed now. [Long pause.]
102:43:04 Carr: 12, Houston. We are about 1 minute from a handover from Goldstone. There may be an interruption there.
102:44:32 Carr: Apollo 12, Houston.
102:44:37 Conrad: Go, Houston.
102:44:39 Carr: Roger. Al’s Biomed looks pretty bad there. The medical people suggest that you try on one of your sensors, try a new seal and some new paste under it. We’ll see what that does.
102:45:28 Carr: Al, while you are cutting and pasting there, are you listening?
102:50:05 Gordon: Hello, Houston. Are you looking at the DSKY, so I don’t have to write this down?
102:50:14 Carr: Roger. We copied your star angles.
102:51:13 Gordon: Boy, Jerry, this platform has done real well, in spite of that glitch we gave it at launch.
102:51:23 Carr: Roger, Dick. You recommend that we glitch them like that every time?
102:51:29 Gordon: No, sir. Not at all.
102:57:51 Conrad: Okay, Houston. How does the Biomed look now?
102:58:15 Carr: It seem- to be improving now, Pete. I guess we’ll just have to live with what we can get here.
102:58:23 Conrad: There you go. That’s the words I want to hear. We’re on our way. Bye-bye.
102:59:40 Carr: Al, you listening?
102:59:46 Bean: Yes, Jer.
102:59:48 Carr: Okay, Al. I talked to Sue a little while ago, and they’re also doing fine at home. They’re resting up getting ready for tonight.
102:59:54 Bean: Stand by. Stand by.
102:59:56 Carr: Okay.
103:00:08 Bean: Hey, Houston, I think we found the problem. The one – the one that we just pulled off on the top is all dried out.
103:00:14 Carr: Roger. They’re rejoicing in the streets here.
CAPCOM is right, there is rejoicing in the streets. Clay and I run out the back door, my 68 year old Aunt Julie roars up the driveway in Dad’s custom black and gold Corvette. The Vette had lived with Dad at the Cape for the past 6 months, and Aunt Julie brought it home.
Tuesday, November 18, 8pm Houston
It is a late night for the NASA community. Our house is filled with fellow Astronauts, neighbors and their families. Most of my friends’ fathers; engineers, scientists, pilots, doctors work on the Apollo missions. This is their mission too. Vice-President Agnew’s wife, Judy, who watched the launch with us, drops in. A few miles down the street in the Mission Control viewing room, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, Frank Borman,Dr. Wernher von Braun, NASA Administrators, and dignitaries are standing by.
9:46pm Houston time
107:46:19 Carr: Intrepid, Houston. You’re Go for undocking.
107:46:25 Conrad: Roger-Roger.
Intrepid undocks from Yankee Clipper. The house quiets down as we watch and listen. Every action in Space takes so long, so many checks, so much waiting for us on the ground, it is late for a little 6 year old girl. I fall asleep.
Wednesday, November 19, 12:54am Houston
I wake up to claps and cheering, Pete and Dad have landed on the moon.
Landing from 16mm onboard camera, mounted on the LMP window of Apollo 12’s Lunar Module.
The Apollo 12 moon landing sequence from the HBO mini-series, From the Earth to the Moon.