Preparations for the Next Mission

Scientists had been reasonably well satisfied with the way the Apollo 11 samples were processed, although there was considerable waste motion and some confusion attributable to inexperience in the first real exercise of the lunar receiving laboratory. The most serious complaint concerned the long delay in releasing samples to principal investigators. However, many deficiencies in equipment and procedures had shown up during the first mission that required correction before Apollo 12, scheduled for mid-November. So, while completing their tasks following Apollo 11, scientists in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory were also preparing to incorporate necessary changes.

In early September the Lunar Sample Analysis Planning Team forwarded to Anthony J. Calio, MSC's new Director of Science and Applications, a fist of recommended changes concerning matters such as weighing of samples, procedures for transferring samples during quarantine, and photography. They also suggested improving the display of information on sample history, status, and location, since it had proved difficult during Apollo 11 to keep everyone informed of where the individual samples were and what had been done to them.64

Also in need of improvement was the vacuum system into which the returned sample containers were first admitted to the laboratory. Problems had been foreseen in handling the samples under high vacuum, and indeed problems had developed during simulations and during the first mission. [see Chapter 9] Members of the analysis planning team now felt it was mandatory to open the lunar sample container in an atmosphere of dry nitrogen rather than in vacuum. If two containers were returned, one could be opened in the vacuum system; but rather than conduct the preliminary examination there, the contents should immediately be canned and stored under vacuum for the few investigators who required vacuum-preserved specimens. The vacuum facility posed too many problems, such as rupture of the gloves and contamination by organic materials from the vacuum pumps, to allow continuation of its use for all the lunar samples.65

Others who had been involved in handling the Apollo 11 samples offered suggestions for reducing the number of people in the laboratory, separating the functions of the preliminary examination team and the analysis planning team, and eliminating the preparation of two samples for quarantine testing. All these changes would speed up the release of samples to outside investigators.66

A meeting in late September settled many of these questions, deciding that a single "biopool" sample would be prepared for the biological tests rather than the two that had been used on Apollo 11 and that the two sample return containers would be processed simultaneously: one in the vacuum system in the physical chemistry laboratory and the other under sterile nitrogen in the biological preparation laboratory. Among other procedural changes adopted at this meeting was a provision that the analysis planning team would begin work only after the preliminary examination team had completed its tasks.67

The Interagency Committee on Back Contamination continued to press for the installation of a bacterial filter on the command module postlanding ventilation system. MSC was unyielding although engineers continued to evaluate solutions to the problem.68 Agreement was reached to discontinue using the biological isolation garments, provided no crew member was ill on return. Recovery teams would provide clean flight suits and respiratory masks for the astronauts to put on before they left the command module.69

For the crews, August, September, and October were packed with simulations, briefings, and field trips. In mid-August they got their first briefing on the Surveyor at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory. A month later they spent a day with the geologists in the lunar receiving laboratory, examining the Apollo 11 rocks and discussing plans for collecting samples.70

Geologists had high hopes for the Apollo 12 crew. They had been the first to go through a revised geology training program that stressed basic principles of site exploration rather than minutiae such as identification of rocks. By the time they were ready for launch, Pete Conrad and Alan Bean and their backups had well over 200 hours of field work under their belts. Their last field trip, to the volcanic fields of Hawaii, was extremely satisfying to their training officers. They handled every problem put to them, their descriptions and photographs were excellent, and their sampling of the terrain was first-rate. Everyone looked forward to superior results from the first real lunar scientific expedition.71

At Kennedy Space Center, preparations for the launch of Apollo 12 went smoothly. The first complete lunar surface experiments package arrived at KSC in late March. Spacecraft and Saturn V were mated on July 1, and the vehicle was moved to launch complex 39A on September 8. A week before launch the recovery quarantine equipment and mobile quarantine facility were ready for shipment to the recovery ship, U.S.S. Hornet. From then on, the only hitch in launch preparations occurred two days before launch, when discovery of faulty insulation on a liquid hydrogen tank in the service module required exchanging the tank for one on the Apollo 13 spacecraft. As launch day dawned, the only portent of possible delay was a cold front approaching the Cape from the north.72

64. James R. Arnold to A. J. Calio, "Apollo 12 Recommendations," Sept. 5, 1969; Arnold to Calio, "Display of Sample Information in the LRL," Sept. 6, 1969.

65. Paul W. Gast to Calio, "Dry N2 Facility as a primary ALSRC Receiving and Handling System," Sept. 8, 1969; LSAPT to W. N. Hess, "Minutes of LSAPT dated March 13, 1969," Mar. 21, 1969; Gast to LRL Management and Mission Review Board, no subject, Aug. 8, 1969.

66. E. C. T. Chao and R. L. Smith to Hess, "Recommendations and Suggestions for Preliminary Examination of Apollo 12 Returned Lunar Samples," Sept. 8, 1969.

67. R. S. Johnston to P. R. Bell and W. W. Kemmerer, Jr., "Apollo 12 Sterile Nitrogen Processing," Sept. 22, 1969.

68. Johnston to NASA Hqs., attn.: Maj. Gen. J. W. Humphreys, "Apollo 12 Back Contamination Program Plan," Oct. 7, 1969; Johnston to Mgr., Command and Service Modules, Apollo Spacecraft Program, "Requirement for Installation of a Postlanding Vent Valve Back Contamination Filter on CM's 108 and Subsequent," Sept. 18, 1969.

69. Johnston to the record, "Apollo 12 Back Contamination Program," Sept. 17, 1969.

70. Apollo 12 Crew Training Summaries, Aug. 15, Sept. 15, Nov. 14, 1969, folder in box 081-14, JSC History Office.

71. Harrison H. Schmitt interview, May 30, 1984.

72. Manned Space Flight Weekly Reports, Apr. 1, July 1, Sept. 15, Nov. 10, 1969; Charles D. Benson and William Barnaby Faherty, Moonport: A History of Apollo Launch Facilities and Operations, NASA SP- 4204 (Washington, 1978), pp. 480-81.

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