Apollo 14 Mission Overview
Apollo 14 was launched on January 31, 1971 and successfully completed the third human landing on the Moon. Despite problems with a potential short circuit in an abort switch on the Lunar Module Antares, and also with the landing radar coming on very late in the landing sequence, Commander Alan Shepard and Lunar Module Pilot Edgar Mitchell landed less than 30 meters from the target point near Cone Crater in the Fra Mauro region of the Moon. The Fra Mauro Formation consists of rocks that were ejected and emplaced during the asteroid impact that formed the Imbrium basin. The Imbrium basin, more than 1100 km in diameter, is the second largest and one of the youngest impact basins on the Moon. The formation of the Imbrium basin was a major event in lunar history, and obtaining rocks from the Fra Mauro Formation would enable geologists to determine when the Imbrium impact occurred. The Fra Mauro Formation was originally planned to be the landing site for Apollo 13. After an oxygen tank explosion caused the Apollo 13 mission to be aborted, the Fra Mauro landing site was considered a sufficiently important geological objective that Apollo 14 was designated to land there.
Shepard and Mitchell spent a total of 33.5 hours on the Moon and performed two extra-vehicular activities (EVAs, or “moonwalks”), totaling 9 hours and 23 minutes. Much of the first EVA was used to deploy a set of experiments, some of which continued to radio data back to Earth until September 1977. Among these was a seismometer, which detected thousands of moonquakes and helped to determine the structure of the Moon’s interior. Other instruments measured the composition of the solar wind and the Moon’s tenuous atmosphere and plasma environment. Shepard and Mitchell also collected rock and soil samples up to 200 meters west of the landing site.
On the second EVA, the crew made a round-trip traverse of 3.0 km toward the rim of Cone Crater, east of the landing site. The crew used the Modular Equipment Transporter, or MET, during the traverse to Cone Crater. The MET was a small two-wheeled trailer designed to be pulled by the astronauts as a means of carrying geologic sampling tools and samples during the EVA. However, the MET proved difficult to use and for part of the EVA the crew resorted to picking the MET up and carrying it rather than pulling it. Near the rim of Cone Crater, the rough, hummocky topography and numerous large boulders made it difficult for the astronauts to determine their precise location on the surface. Although the crew never actually saw the interior of the crater, post-mission comparison of boulder locations in surface and orbital photos demonstrated that the astronauts were within 20-30 meters of the crater rim at the time that they were directed to return to the Lunar Module.
During the two EVAs combined, Shepard and Mitchell collected 42 kilograms of lunar samples. Most of the rocks collected by Apollo 14 are breccias and impact melt rocks formed during the extreme temperature and pressure of the Imbrium impact event and other crater-forming events. Studies of these rocks indicate that the Imbrium impact occurred approximately 3.93 billion years ago. A few of the rocks found at Apollo 14 are basalts. They are volcanic rocks and are generally similar to basalts found at most of the other Apollo landing sites, although the Apollo 14 basalts are older than basalts from other Apollo landing sites. Some of the Apollo 14 basalts have ages of 4.0 to 4.3 billion years.
During the moon landing, Command Module Pilot Stuart Roosa remained in lunar orbit in the Command Module, Kitty Hawk. Roosa’s very high resolution photography of the Moon’s Descartes region played a crucial role in certifying the landing site safety and planning rover traverses for the Apollo 16 mission. Altogether, Apollo 14 spent 2.8 days in lunar orbit, circling the Moon 34 times. The crew returned safely to Earth on February 9, 1971, landing in the Pacific Ocean near Samoa after a flight of 9 days and 2 minutes.