Overjoyed

"Hello, Houston, the Endeavour's, on station with cargo, and what a fantastic sight." David Scott could not contain his delight at his close-up view of the Moon as soon as Apollo 15 came back into communications with Houston on emerging around the eastern limb.

Capcom Karl Henize in mission control empathised: "Beautiful news. Romantic, isn't it?"

"Oh, this is really profound; I'll tell you. Fantastic!" enthused Scott.

Not everyone thought Scott's outpouring appropriate. On hearing this exchange, the no-nonsense Alan Shepard, commander of the previous mission, Apollo 14, was heard to grumble: "To hell with that shit, give us details of the burn.'' But Scott's ship was sound. Everything was going well, and they were merely greeting their friends on Earth. Data about the burn was indeed about to be relayed. As soon as the LOI burn had finished, Endeavour's crew had interrogated their DSKY (display and keyboard, the computer's terminal) to find out what it reckoned their new orbit was. They had also written down the residuals - numbers that represented the difference between what they had asked of the engine, and what it actually gave them.

Engineers were keen to know how well the precious engine with its troubled A bank had worked, and the raw burn data from the crew was the first indication of its health. Another was the tone of the crew; however, the meat and drink for the engineers was stored on the DSE tape recorder, which, after each far-side pass was wound back and transmitted to Earth. Its engineering data revealed every nuance of the engine's performance along with the crew's voices from before, during and after the burn. If there had been some glitch, the ground wanted to understand it before the engine was again called into action.

The next task for the flight controllers was to determine the path the spacecraft was following. With the crew's burn report, they had preliminary confirmation that the engine had achieved the LOI burn as planned, and this was also confirmed by the precise moment that the antenna on Earth reacquired a signal. This preliminary information included what the spacecraft's computer believed to be the perilune and apolune of the orbit. Now that they had a radio signal to work with, the engineers at the remote station began to track the spacecraft and measure its new orbit in order to provide a determination that was separate to that given by the onboard computer. If all was well, their figures would compare closely to those from the crew, showing an orbit whose low point around the far side was 110 kilometres in altitude, but which, on the near side, rose to around 300 kilometres.

The crew of Apollo 12, the chummiest ever to fly on Apollo, didn't hold back their awe once they had entered lunar orbit. Although Alan Bean possessed an artistic talent that would come to the fore later in his life, he expressed the 'gee whiz -look at that' reaction that matched his friends' simple ebullience. ''Look at that Moon," he said in awe. His commander Pete Conrad agreed: ''Son of a gun. Look at that place.''

''Gosh! Look at the size of some of those craters,'' continued Bean, their conversation sounding like a B-movie script. The direction of the Moon's lighting on this flight was quite different from that encountered by previous crews. As the landing site was well to the west of the near side, the Moon appeared to be nearly full to observers on Earth. As a result, the far side was largely unlit and the crew hadn't had a glimpse of the Moon prior to LOI.

After they had cleared up more of the spacecraft's configuration post-LOI, Bean had time to look out the window again: ''Man! Look at that place.'' Lunar module pilots always seemed to have a little more time available to them when in the CSM -although, of course, the situation would change when they were in the lunar module. Bean was later reminded of old science fiction serials when thinking about how his friend, Richard Gordon, had looked after the CSM that had brought them from the Earth: ''Outstanding effort there, Dick Gordon. Flash Gordon pilots again!''

Among the crews, there was a fascination with the Moon's colour up close, as if it would be any different from being viewed across 400,000 kilometres of hard vacuum.

''Look at that Moon bugger! I'll tell you,'' said Bean. ''I may be colour blind, but that looks grey as hell to me.''

Conrad chimed in again: ''Good Godfrey! That's a God-forsaken place; but it's beautiful, isn't it? Look how black the sky is.'' ''That's grey and something else,'' said Bean.

Conrad expanded on the description: ''Chalky white - those craters have been there for...'' Bean interrupted him, ''a few days.'' ''Yes.''

At last, Gordon threw his opinion into the pot: ''Man, this is good to be here - is all I can say.''

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