Space & Innovation

When Apollo 14 Landed on the Moon: The 'Forgotten' Photos

Explore some of the more unusual pictures of Apollo 14, 45 years after it landed on the moon.

Apollo 14, which landed on the moon on Feb. 5, 1971, is well-known for a few stories. Commander Al Shepard played golf on the moon. Ed Mitchell, the lunar module pilot, carried out an ESP experiment during the mission (without NASA's knowledge or permission) and radar problems cropped up during the otherwise successful landing. But in the nearly half-century since, more information about the mission has emerged. A recent example was the Project Apollo Archive, an independent effort that put thousands of "forgotten" photos from the Apollo missions up on the photo-sharing service Flickr. Here are a few of the gems pulled from those archives.

Update: On the eve of the 45th anniversary of his landing on the moon, Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell has died.

The Apollo astronauts were so far from Earth that they could cover over the entire planet with their thumb. Fun fact: the crescent Earth (1/4 full) you see here hovering above the lunar module displays the opposite phase that the moon would have appeared to Earth at that time (3/4 full). Also, the Earth does not move across the sky in the same way that the moon does.

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You can see here the Portable Life Support System (PLSS) that was used to keep astronauts alive on the surface by providing pressure, oxygen and water. The amount of cool air being sent to the astronaut could be changed at the flick of a switch, allowing astronauts to get a little air conditioning when they were moving around vehemently. The Apollo Lunar Surface Journal says this was quite effective; Apollo 16 commander John Young later said he was "freezing" while resting with the cooling at an intermediate setting.

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From the lunar module window, the astronauts could see the Modular Equipment Transporter (left) -- a little cart affectionately called "the rickshaw." The 26-pound (Earth weight) cart could carry more than four times its weight, which made it fairly useful for rocks and the equipment the astronauts needed to explore the surface. However, the rough lunar terrain sometimes made the wheels get stuck, forcing Mitchell and Shepard to occasionally carry it across the surface.

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The Apollo 14 astronauts took a series of pictures showing how their lunar module, Antares, was positioned on the lunar soil. This let engineers back on Earth know how well the lunar module was performing, which would be crucial given that the LM was expected to carry a heavier load starting with Apollo 15 (the astronauts were staying longer and bringing a lunar buggy with them). Here you can see dust piling up around one of the legs of the LM. While the surface was powdery, the astronauts discovered that the regolith (lunar soil) packed down quickly a few inches below.

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In the foreground of this photo you can see a part of the package of experiments Apollo 14 brought to the moon. Called the Suprathermal Ion Detector Experiment (SIDE), it was intended in part to watch how the solar wind -- the constant stream of particles from the sun -- interacted with the moon as the moon orbited through Earth's magnetic field. SIDE experiments on the moon sometimes detected ions after micrometeroite impacts, which is believed to be gas released by the crash.

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When astronauts head back to the moon, one of their primary concerns will be the dust. No matter how much they tried to brush off the powder when they came back inside the shelter of the LM, some still stuck. Then it tended to get everywhere -- hair, experiments, even in astronauts' mouth. On Apollo 17, one astronaut reported getting a sort of hay fever from the powder. Several astronauts have reported that the dust smells like gunpowder, but the chemical reactions causing this are under debate.

This is one of a series of shots that Stu Roosa, pilot of the command module, took of Antares flying away with his two crewmates inside. Roosa was expected to spend several days alone in the command module Orion, taking pictures of the moon and standing by in case his crewmates needed to make an emergency exit from the surface. Like most other command module pilots, Roosa said he didn't mind the solitude -- and probably in the cramped Apollo spacecraft, room to stretch your legs and go to the bathroom in privacy was a nice luxury.

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Here is a view of the command module as Shepard and Mitchell made their way back from the lunar surface. The command module had undergone some redesigns following a near-fatal explosion on the Apollo 13 spacecraft that damaged the oxygen tank and other vital parts of the spacecraft, and Shepard said he had confidence in what NASA and contractors had done to fix the problem. "It gave us a little higher level of comfort with that extra training time," he said in an oral history interview in 1998. "I think obviously the changes to the spacecraft were good ones; not only the changes which related directly to the explosion but others that were made as well. There was a lot of confidence."

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