A safe return

On 27 April, the Command Module Casper re-entered the Earth's atmosphere traveling at more than 16,000 kph. A picture-perfect splashdown marked the end of the greatest adventure in the lives of John Young, Charlie Duke and Ken Mattingly. Helicopters from the USS Ticonderoga picked up the crew and then the capsule. It was a mission all three men realized they could not surpass. The helicopter landed on the carrier, steps were rolled up to the side and the three astronauts exited and saluted. It was another lunar triumph for the United States.

After introductory comments by the ship's Admiral and a prayer from the carrier's chaplain, John Young stepped up to the microphone and thanked four pivotal groups of people who had contributed to Apollo 16's success. First, he thanked his crew for their professionalism, skill and courage. Next, he thanked the dedicated people at the Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas and those around the United States that supported the Apollo 16 mission.

"The third group of people that nobody ever talks about very much is the American taxpayer,'' Young continued. "I think you taxpayers - we taxpayers - you got your money's worth on this one. You really did. You saw an example of goal-

oriented teamwork in action. The kind of thing that made this country great, and the kind of thing that's going to keep it that way. You also saw - and it's sitting right there in Casper right now - a mission of discovery. There are secrets in that vehicle that nobody knows. There's some basic knowledge and understanding in that vehicle right now. We're going to find those things out, and one of these days it's going to benefit us all, I can guarantee you. I feel that if we hadn't done our mission, we'd have been remiss in not uncovering this basic knowledge. And what I'm saying is that the basic knowledge that's locked in those secrets is pushing back the last real frontier - the frontier of the unknown. And by golly, that's essential to the survival of humanity on this planet.

''And the fourth group of people,'' Young concluded, ''and maybe the people I feel more at home with than anybody, is the good old U.S. Navy.''

The history of the Moon was literally being re-written. Descartes had proved that. The Preliminary Science Report for Apollo 16 revealed that the Descartes region had not been what had been assumed prior to the mission. Nearly ten years of sample analysis was reviewed for the definitive account of the discoveries made there, for Geological Survey Professional Paper 1048 written by George E. Ulrich, Carroll Ann Hodges and William R. Muehlberger and published in 1981. In the Summary of Geologic Results, the authors wrote, in part:

Several hypotheses have been proposed to explain the origin of the terra plains and the hilly and furrowed terra, both of which are non-volcanic according to evidence from the Apollo 16 mission. Orbital and surface results of the mission, together with post-mission photo-geologic investigations, suggest that ejecta from the Imbrium basin constitutes a major part of both plains and mountains at this site.

The Lunar Roving Vehicle had contributed tremendously to the manned lunar exploration to establish the true origins of the Descartes Highlands. Only one more mission remained in the Apollo program before the era of exploring the Moon in the twentieth century would come to a close.

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