Lunar and Planetary Institute

Apollo 16 Mission

Mission Overview

Apollo 16 was the second in the series of lunar landing missions designed to optimize the capability for scientific return. Primary objectives assigned were (1) to perform geological inspection, survey, and sampling of materials and surface features in a preselected area of the Descartes region; (2) to emplace and activate surface experiments; and (3) to conduct inflight experiments and photographic tasks.

Mission Event List and Timeline

Launch       April 16   12:54:00 pm 00:00:00
Translunar injection       03:27:37 pm 02:33:37
CSM-LM docking       04:15:53 pm 03:21:53
Lunar orbit insertion       April 19   03:22:28 pm 74:28:28
CSM-LM separation       April 20   01:08:00 pm 96:14:00
Lunar landing       09:23:35 pm 104:29:35
First EVA       April 21   11:47:38 am 118:53:38
Second EVA       April 22   11:33:35 am 142:39:35
Third EVA       April 23   10:25:28 am 165:31:28
Lunar liftoff       08:25:48 pm 175:31:48
LM-CSM docking       10:35:18 pm 177:41:18
Trans-Earth injection       April 24   09:15:33 pm 200:21:33
Splashdown       April 27   02:45:05 pm 265:51:05


Apollo 16 Launch

The space vehicle was launched from Kennedy Space Center Launch Complex 39A at 12:54:00 p.m. EST on April 16, 1972. The launch was normal, and the spacecraft, the launch vehicle third stage (S-IVB), and the instrument unit were inserted into Earth orbit for systems checkout before the vehicle was committed to translunar flight.


The Apollo 16 spacecraft was modified to essentially the same configuration as Apollo 15 to carry out a greater range of lunar orbital science activities and to increase the lunar surface stay and return a larger scientific payload. Many minor changes were made because of problems that occurred during the Apollo 15 mission. The mass spectrometer and gamma ray spectrometer booms in the Scientific Instruments Module (SIM) on the service module were modified to improve extension and retraction. Some minor changes were also made to the lunar roving vehicle (LRV) on this mission.

The Command Service Module Casper The Command Service Module Casper
The spacecraft consisted of three modules, a lunar module (LM), command module (CM), and a service module (CSM). After the spacecraft orbited the Moon, the LM and CSM separated. Two astronaunts in the LM landed on the lunar surface, while the CM pilot remained in lunar orbit in the command module.
The Lunar Module Orion The Lunar Module Orion
The lunar module was a two-stage vehicle designed for space operations near and on the Moon. The lunar module stood 7 meters high and was 9.4 meters wide (diagonally across the landing gear). The ascent and descent stages of the LM operated as a unit until staging, when the ascent stage functioned as a single spacecraft for rendezvous and docking with the command module (CM). The on-orbit dry mass of the LM was 4240 kilograms.
The Lunar Roving Vehicle The Lunar Roving Vehicle
The lunar roving vehicle (LRV), used for the first time on Apollo 15, was a four-wheeled manually controlled, electrically powered vehicle that carried the crew and their equipment over the lunar surface. The increased mobility and ease of the travel made possible by this vehicle permitted the crew to travel much greater distances than on previous lunar landing missions. The vehicle was designed to carry the two crewmen and a science payload at a maximum velocity of about 16 kilometers per hour (8.6 mph) on a smooth, level surface and at reduced velocities on slopes up to 25°. It could be operated from either crewman's position, as the control and display console was located on the vehicle centerline. The deployed vehicle was appoximately 10 feet long, 7 feet wide, and 45 inches high. Its chassis was hinged such that the forward and aft sections fold back over the center portion, and each of the wheel suspension systems rotated so that the folded vehicle fit in quadrant I of the lunar module. The gross operational weight was approximately 1535 pounds, of which 455 pounds was the weight of the vehicle itself. The remainder was the weight of the crew, their equipment, communications equipment, and the science payload.


John W. Young, Mission Commander, was born on September 24, 1930, in San Francisco, California. He received a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952. He was chosen with the second group of astronauts in 1962. He was pilot of Gemini 3, backup pilot for Gemini 6, command pilot on Gemini 10, backup command module pilot for Apollo 7, command module pilot for Apollo 10, and backup commander for Apollo 13. As a member of the Apollo 16 crew, he became the ninth man to walk on the Moon. Following this mission, he was backup commander for Apollo 17 and flew on STS-1 and STS-9.

John W. Young, Mission Commander

Thomas K. Mattingly II, Command Module Pilot, was born on March 17, 1936, in Chicago, Illinois. He received a B.S. in aeronautical engineering from Auburn University in 1958. He was chosen in the fifth group of astronauts in 1966. Scheduled to be command module pilot on Apollo 13, he was replaced by his backup becuse he had been exposed to measles. After flying on Apollo 16, he headed the astronaut office ascent/entry group from December 1979 to April of 1981, after which he served as backup commander for space shuttle flights 2 and 3 and was the commander for STS-4 and STS 51-C.

Thomas K. Mattingly II, Command Module Pilot

Charles M. Duke Jr., Lunar Module Pilot, was born on October 3, 1935, in Charlotte, North Carolina. He received a B.S. from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1957, and an M.S. in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1964. He was chosen with the fifth group of astronauts in 1966. He was backup lunar module pilot on Apollo 13 and Apollo 17 and was the tenth man to walk on the Moon. He resigned from NASA and the Air Force on January 1, 1976.

Charles M. Duke Jr.

The Backup Crew

The backup crew for this mission were Fred W. Haise Jr., (backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 8 and Apollo 11 and lunar module pilot for Apollo 13), backup for the mission commander; Stuart A. Roosa (command module pilot on Apollo 14) backup for command module pilot; and Edgar D. Mitchell (backup lunar module pilot for Apollo 10 and lunar module pilot on Apollo 14), backup for the lunar module pilot.

Mission Summary

Mission returnThe exploration of the Descartes region by the Apollo 16 crew provided the best look at lunar highlands. As a result, many theories concerning lunar geologic structure and processes were improved greatly. Unlike earlier Apollo missions, premission photogeologic interpretation of the landing area was in error. Far from diminishing the mission, however, discovery of the unexpected enhanced the scientific impact. The surprise at Descartes was the state of the rocks, not their composition. That is, breccias rather than volcanics were dominant. The compositions are near those of anorthositic gabbro and gabbroic anorthosite. This composition is consistent with the hypothesis that highlands are an early differentiate of a primitive lunar mantle. Aluminum-to-silicon (Al/Si) and magnesium-to-silicon (Mg/Si) ratios, as determined by the orbiting X-ray fluorescence experiment, indicated that the Descartes area differs compositionally from previous Apollo sites and that its chemical characteristics are representative of large regions of the lunar highlands. Thus, lessons learned at Descartes supported generalizations potentially applicable to much of the lunar surface.

A continuation of an experiment flown on the Apollo 15 mission, the ultraviolet photography of the Earth and Moon, was to allow comparison of ultraviolet and color photographs under equivalent circumstances. The results were applied to telescopic observations of the planets. A 70-millimeter camera was used with four filters having passbands between 255 and 400 nanometers. A survey of the returned images of the Moon showed little of the loss of detail at the shorter wavelengths observed in telescopic ultraviolet photographs of Mars. The photographs of the Earth show the expected diminution of detail with shorter wavelengths caused by the increased opacity of the atmosphere of the Earth at ultraviolet wavelengths.

The Apollo CM heat shield windows were studied to obtain information about the flux of meteoroids with masses of 1 × 10-7 grams down to the detection limit of 1 × 10-11 grams for optical studies or of meteoroids of much lower masses for electron microscope studies. The resulting estimate of mass flux was in good agreement with Surveyor III data and with models generated from near-Earth studies.

Three biomedical experiments were flown on the Apollo 16 mission. These were the biostack, an experiment to study the biological effects of galactic cosmic radiation; the Apollo light-flash moving emulsion detector, to study the subjective observation of faint light flashes seen by nearly all Apollo crew members while in space; and the microbial ecology evaluation device, to study the response of various microbes to a space environment. All three experiments were executed successfully.

An impressive array of cameras was flown in the Apollo 16 CSM. These ranged from the highly sophisticated 24-inch panoramic camera and the 3-inch mapping camera with its laser altimeter and star-field recorder to the 16-, 35-, and 70-millimeter cameras used for astronomical photography, earthshine lunar photography, and solar corona photography to support crew observations of lunar features.