Downslope

On Apollo 16, pitch over proved less critical. A pre-mission study had suggested that the commander might be able to see the landing site out the window before the pitch over, so at 20,000 feet Commander John Young looked out the window. He had already seen the site during the two previous orbits so he was not surprised. Young saw Stone Mountain and South Ray Crater, indicating to him that the LM was right on target.72

At 14,000 feet Young saw the entire landing site: ''We're right in there.''73 At pitch over the LPD kicked in, allowing the commanders to redesignate the landing site. Young paused. ''I was just letting the LM float in there until I could see where it was going,'' he said. Between 4,000 and 3,000 feet in altitude, Young made five rede-signations to the south. At about four hundred feet, he noticed they were coming in a bit long. Young redesignated an additional five times, more to the south, and to ''back up a hair.'' They were still going to land north, but having the rover on board eased the need for precision.

After all the redesignations, Young was tempted to let the LPD land automatically, ''to let it do the thing all by itself,'' but saw as he got closer that it was going into a ''pothole.''74 He took over manual control at 257 feet, pitching forward a bit to move along. From then on he never looked back into the cockpit, but concentrated on the rocks. ''It was just like flying the LLTV. Your reference is on the ground outside.''75

When the contact light came on, the astronauts could tell they were still a few feet up. Young counted ''one potato,'' before hitting the button to stop the engine. Duke experienced ''a definite sensation of falling,'' as they dropped for the last three feet.76

Apollo 16 landed about seven hundred feet from the original landing position.77 It turned out they were only a few feet from the lip of a crater. Duke didn't notice it until he went around the back of the LM to retrieve some instruments. ''If we'd have landed like 3 meters back to the east, we'd have been—had one—back leg in the crater.''

In fact, astronauts on the moon had a great deal of difficult judging shallow slopes, and if they had landed a hundred feet in any direction they would have been on a slope of six to ten degrees. Young said afterward that he ''just lucked into'' a flat landing spot. Ironically, the spot had been chosen because the lack of contour lines indicated it was particularly flat, but that data gave no indication of craters or rocks. Young later said that he would have preferred to land in a place they saw on the traverse, near the Palmetto Crater. It didn't look great on the contour map, but when they got there it looked acceptable and had no rocks at all.78

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