Launch

At 6:00 a.m. on the morning of 16 April 1972, John Young, Charlie Duke and Ken Mattingly received the knock on their door from the flight surgeon in the crew quarters of the Manned Spacecraft Operations building. It was launch day for Apollo 16. The first order of business was the medical examination, which took half-an-hour. Then it was off to the traditional astronaut breakfast. While the prime and backup crews devoured their steak and eggs, Slayton went over the important milestones for the morning. The prime crew astronauts then went to suit up. At 9:45, John Young, Charles Duke and Ken Mattingly walked from the MSO building to the nearby transfer van, waving to photographers and well-wishers. The weather was perfect for launch, with clear skies, temperature in the mid-80s and virtually no wind.

Once at the pad, the astronauts took the elevator cage up the Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) to the ninth and last swing arm. Young led his crew across the swing arm to the White Room that enclosed the Command Module. Waiting for them, as with Apollo 15, was Guenter Wendt and his team. Tony England was among the close-out crew and would be the CapCom when Young and Duke were on the lunar surface. Young put down his portable air conditioning unit, and Wendt helped him through the open capsule hatch and into the Commander's couch on the left. Wendt transferred the hose connections from the portable A/C unit to those in the capsule and secured the safety belts. Duke went in next and slid into the couch on the right. Wendt then helped Mattingly into the center couch designated for the Command Module Pilot. Wendt and his crew worked to complete their tasks and close out the Command Module. As he always did, Wendt wished the crew good luck, then closed and locked the hatch. The remaining part of the boost protective cover was secured in place over the hatch and then Wendt and his team left the Launch Umbilical Tower and the pad.

The countdown proceeded smoothly to Apollo 16's liftoff at 12:54 p.m. At engine ignition, Duke's heart rate reached 140 beats per minute, while Young's remained at an amazingly calm 70 beats per minute. With the five F-1 engines at maximum thrust, Duke was startled at the shaking he was experiencing. All the training and briefings had not prepared him for this. Young, meanwhile, a veteran of two Gemini launches and Apollo 10, was unperturbed. Finally, the Saturn V cleared the tower in a matter of seconds. All the F-1 engines burned perfectly until, at just over 2 minutes and 40 seconds, the first stage shut down. The five J-2 engines of the second stage ignited seconds later and the astronauts continued their headlong race toward orbit. At 3 minutes 20 seconds, Young punched the button to jettison the Launch Escape System, or tower, and the CM protective cover. The S-II second stage burned for

The LRV's batteries were installed several days before launch from the Mobile Service Structure (right) through an access panel in the tapered Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter (SLA). A battery monitor box and cables were installed on a Launch Umbilical Tower (left) service arm to monitor the batteries' condition until launch day. (NASA)

another five minutes, reaching an altitude of 58 km and 112 km downrange, then shut down and dropped away. The S-IVB third stage then fired, putting the crew into their proper orbit. Young, Mattingly and Duke completed one-and-a-half orbits of Earth in preparation for the Trans-Lunar Injection burn. The crew received the welcome "You are go for TLI'' message and the single J-2 engine of the third stage fired once more to push the Apollo 16 crew to escape velocity. They were now headed for a place in space where the Moon would be in three days time.

Less than ten minutes after this second and final third-stage burn, the astronauts prepared for Lunar Module extraction. Mattingly performed the command that released the Command and Service Module (CSM) from the Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter, or SLA. He fired the Service Module thrusters to take it out several hundred feet, turned the spacecraft around and moved back toward the SLA that housed the Lunar Module. With practiced ease, Mattingly docked the Command Module Casper with the Lunar Module Orion. He then issued the command to release the Lunar Module holding clamps in the SLA and fired the Service Module's thrusters to extract the LM. The S-IVB stage was no longer required and certainly not desired in proximity to the crew's spacecraft, so the crew performed an evasive maneuver to take them a safe distance from the S-IVB stage. Houston then issued a command to the third stage to fire its engine, sending it to impact on the Moon. This planned stage impact occurred before the lunar landing, far removed from the landing site. Seismometers left by the previous Apollo 12, 14 and 15 missions would record the impact.

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