Apollo 16 – Rover driving in top gear

A member of Apollo 10’s crew, John Young, took command of NASA’s next moonshot, Apollo 16, which launched from Florida on April 16, 1972.

Astronaut John Young, commander of the Apollo 16 lunar landing mission, surrounded by Apollo experiments during the first Apollo 16 spacewalk. Image credit: NASA

His crew were Ken Mattingly, pilot of Command Module Casper, and Charlie Duke, in charge of Lunar Module Orion. They were sent to investigate the lunar highlands in the Descartes region.

The crew encountered a couple of annoying snags with the Command Service Module, particularly in lunar orbit where Casper’s propulsion system was found to oscillate after Orion had undocked. The problem threatened to see the Moon landing aborted, but after a patient wait of nearly six hours, Young and Duke were finally given a go to descend.

They touched down on the Descartes plain on April 20 where they unloaded their Moon buggy and set up an ultraviolet camera to image the Earth and astronomical targets in the sky.

Lunar experiments were set up, but one to measure heat flow in the Moon was destroyed when Young tripped on its cable. Sensors were planted in the lunar soil, or regolith, and explosive charges fired to learn more about the subsurface.

Young and Duke then boarded the rover to drive and inspect two craters and collect samples. A portable device also measured the strength of the Moon’s magnetic field.

Some hard driving was done to put the rover through its paces on rough terrain and see how well it performed. In all the astronauts drove 4 km during an EVA lasting 7 hours 11 minutes.

The crew of Apollo 16, from left, Tom Mattingly, John Young and Charlie Duke. Image credit: NASA

After resting back in Orion, the two men began their second excursion by heading south to inspect a crater a little way uphill. Six stops were made to collect rock samples. After 7 hours 23 minutes and 11 km of driving, the astronauts returned to Orion.

The third and final EVA saw the astronauts visit a large crater with steep walls, and two big boulders during an 11.5 km drive. They also collected samples and retrieved film and date from surface experiments.

Lift-off of the ascent stage on April 24 was again broadcast by a TV camera left on the Moon. Orion docked with Casper, and on the flight home, Mattingly made a spacewalk to collect film canisters while Duke stood in the hatch.

Casper splashed down close to recovery ship USS Ticonderoga in the Pacific.

Next: Apollo 17 – America’s farewell to the Moon