Down among the rocks

"Well, we don't have to walk far to pick up rocks, Houston,'' Young radioed. "We're among 'em!'' Young and Duke had successfully navigated through one of the most rugged landing sites encountered during the entire Apollo program, strewn with blocks and countless craters.

''The Descartes region was pervasive in the number of craters it had,'' Young said in an interview with this author. ''We landed, fortunately, in the middle of a big, flat

John Young stands on the rim of Plum Crater during the Station 1 stop, with hammer in hand to break off a sample of the rock in front of him. Young and Duke avoided venturing inside steep-walled craters like Plum. (NASA)

75-meter diameter crater, and landed about as flat as you could land. We landed about three or four meters away from the side of a 10-meter crater. If we had landed in that we would have been in real trouble.''

The crew spent the next few hours going through their check list of the Lunar Module, describing the landing site visible through the LM windows to Mission Control, charging up their PLSS, eating, and reviewing their EVA duties for the next day. Due to the extended delay in landing, the crew concurred with Houston that they should get sufficient sleep and make the first EVA the following day. Both astronauts took off and stowed their suits and Young unstowed his hammock, stretched it over the ascent engine cover and attached it to the sides of the instrument panel and the aft bulkhead. He then unrolled his sleeping bag on top of the hammock and climbed in. Duke stretched his hammock left to right just above the LM floor and placed his sleeping bag on top. One-sixth gravity was a nice change from three days of weightlessness. Too overcome with excitement to get to sleep, Duke took a Seconal sleeping pill. The Lunar Module was not a quiet machine, with valves opening and closing periodically and the cabin heater turning on and off throughout the night. Nevertheless, both astronauts slept well for the next seven hours.

Duke got a rude awakening when Houston dropped the uplink during the communication handover, with a loud blast of static. Duke almost came out of his hammock from a dead sleep. Physicians later confirmed he had pegged the EKG. Young, however, slept through the racket. He got a gentle wakeup call from Duke. Together, they went through the first day's checklist with Mission Control and ate their breakfast. Duke was eager to get going and start their first EVA. After a quick breakfast, both astronauts suited up, and prepared the cabin for depressurization. Young opened the egress door and slowly backed out on his hands and knees. On the porch of the lander, he lowered necessary equipment to the lunar surface, and then pulled the pin that released the upper chassis of the LRV. He then went down the ladder to the lunar surface.

"There you are, mysterious and unknown Descartes... Highland Plains,'' Young said, surveying the landing area. "Apollo 16 is gonna change your image.'' One of the first things Young did after stepping onto lunar firma was to reach down and pick up a rock to verify the ease of mobility in the pressurized EVA suit. Duke followed his Commander down the ladder several minutes later and together, the two astronauts prepared to deploy the Rover.

"At that point we started pulling on the lanyards for the pulleys to deploy the rover,'' recalled Duke. "That whole sequence probably took no longer than fifteen minutes. Then we continued lowering it to the surface. Once the rear wheels were on the surface, we had to release the pins for the front chassis, then put it on the surface and check the locking pins. Then, we picked it up and walked out with it and turned it around so John could drive it off. We then mounted the TV and movie cameras, various antennas, put the geological experiments on the back, raised the seats, and checked it out. The next three to four hours were involved with placing the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments Package (ALSEP) near the landing site, planting the United States flag and taking photos. After that, we climbed into the Rover and our objective was a place called Plum Crater, about a mile west of our landing site. We aligned our navigation system and off we went.''


Although Young had managed to pick the rock up off the lunar surface without too much difficulty, this was their first experience of getting into the rover's seats in /g G. As David Scott and Jim Irwin had told them during the debriefings, the stiffness of the pressure suit on the Moon made getting into and out of the rover seats somewhat difficult. A certain technique was required to accomplish this.

Charles Duke works beside the Lunar Rover at Station 4 during EVA-2 near Stone Mountain, 22 April 1972. Young has parked the rover on a small plateau overlooking Cayley Plain in the distance. Note the size of the blocks Young had to drive over. (NASA)

''Getting into the rover in 1-G was easier than up on the Moon,'' Duke explained. ''Down here you had the weight of the backpack that made it easier to bend the suit. Up on the Moon, the way I found to get into the rover was to reach over and hold onto one of the antenna posts, bend my knees as much as I could, then jump up and pull hard to get into the seat. The suit was so stiff you couldn't just sit down on the seat and then swing your legs in. It just didn't work that way.''

The astronauts soon discovered that the EVA would be slow-going in the LRV, due to the many impact craters and other obstructions that lay along their path. Young was concerned about what these obstructions might do to the rover.

''There were block fields that would rise from these new craters,'' Young related. ''What I was worried about while driving the rover at Descartes was that we would run across one of these block fields and take out the suspension system. We were very careful in going around all the blocks with the rover. Fortunately, it had Ackerman [front and rear] steering, so it could turn within its own length. It was very maneuverable. It did exactly what we wanted it to in terms of getting us around fast and to places we could never have gotten to walking."

During their first EVA, Young and Duke had followed a procedure of driving out to the furthest destination and then working their way back toward the LM, in the unlikely event the rover had a breakdown and they found themselves having to walk back. Thus, they could never travel further in the rover than the limits of oxygen and water in the Personal Life Support System (PLSS) would allow. They set their course for Plum Crater and a much larger crater nearby identified as Flag Crater. Their traverse took them past Buster Crater on the right, Spook Crater on the left and then the small Halfway Crater on the right, with Plum and Flag Crater dead ahead. Young estimated the diameter of Buster at 45 m and Spook at more than 300 m. Duke observed large boulders in the bottom of Buster Crater. They stopped at the rim of each crater and took photos and samples before finally reaching the relatively small Plum Crater on their left. Flag was estimated to be over 120 m in diameter. Positive identification proved difficult at first, due to overshooting their landing site by several hundred meters, and having the low angle of the Sun at their backs, known as zero phase. This created considerable concern for Young. While he could make out the blocks and avoid the larger ones, the craters were nearly impossible to see. After thorough discussions with Dave Scott who drove the rover on Apollo 15, Young voiced concerns about having to drive the first traverse at Descartes in the zero phase condition. But it was unavoidable at that time on the lunar surface and in the direction they had to drive to get to their ultimate destination, Flag Crater. Young drove cautiously at 4 to 5 kph.

"Driving down-sun in zero phase is murder," Young admitted to CapCom Tony England.

"It is, isn't it?" Duke responded honestly.

"It's really bad,'' Young emphasized.

Young and Duke made their Station 1 stop at Plum Crater and began their photography and sample collection.

"We found out real quick that we couldn't match the craters on our maps with the ones on the surface,'' Duke told this author. "We finally found Plum Crater, spending about an hour there. Then we drove back to the vicinity of the experiments package. I got off the rover with the movie camera and John did what we call the Grand Prix, which gave the engineers an idea of what the Rover looked like as it bounced across the Moon. That was the only movie clip from the Apollo missions of the full rover under way. The rest of the time, we had the movie camera mounted on the rover. You could see yourself driving and bouncing across the Moon but you couldn't see the operation of the whole vehicle.

"During the training and actual mission, "Duke continued, "John was the driver and my job was to navigate and be what I call the travel guide. While we were under way, we couldn't have the TV picture on because the High-Gain Antenna was not stabilized and could not always point at the Earth. When we were driving, I kept a running commentary going to Mission Control and the science teams about what we were seeing. We didn't feel on the lunar surface that the rover would ever present us with a life-threatening situation, but it was 'squirrelly'. The steering was sensitive.

We would be sitting there, bouncing along, and my elbow would hit John's elbow, which would cause him to move the T-handle, and the rover would tend to fishtail. It was like driving on ice with rear-wheel drive. We actually spun out one time, but even then it never felt like it was going to turn over.''

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