Fifty Years Ago in Photos: Apollo 15 Astronauts Explore the Moon – Sky & Telescope

Today marks the 50th anniversary of an area mission that can not be described as something lower than spectacular.

Apollo 15 was the first of NASA’s manned lunar “J” missions — Moon landings that provided astronauts with a sturdy lunar lander able to staying on the floor for 3 days. (The prior landings of Apollo 11, 12, and 14 topped out at about half that point).

The further gasoline and consumables carried by the superior lunar lander allowed for 3 separate moonwalks (EVAs), every lasting four to 7 hours. NASA additionally up to date the orbiting command module with extra cameras and tools.

Apollo 15 launched on July 26, 1971, and returned to Earth on August seventh, with spaceflight veteran and mission commander Dave Scott, command module pilot Al Worden, and lunar module pilot Jim Irwin. The three astronauts met all of their mission targets and prolonged scientific data of the Moon. In addition to in depth geology work, the Apollo 15 moonwalkers pioneered the use of the Lunar Rover, a small electrical automobile that prolonged their exploration vary.

Despite a few jammed cameras that restricted a few of the deliberate pictures, the Apollo 15 astronauts returned tons of of nonetheless pictures (each coloration and black and white), together with some 16mm films and hours of coloration TV protection.

In celebration of the mission’s 50th anniversary, listed below are 20 wonderful pictures from Apollo 15 — some acquainted, many hardly ever seen — together with quotes from the males who, fairly actually, known as the Moon “home” for 3 days in 1971. (All photographs are credited to NASA.)

Goodbye, Earth!

Sometime after launch whereas on the option to the Moon, the astronauts took a collection of pictures of Earth receding in the distance. “We’ve been taking turns looking at the Earth through the telescope,” Scott radioed to Houston. “It’s a fantastic sight.”

Landing Site in View

Apollo 15’s touchdown web site was at the foot of the Apennine mountains, close to two options each named Hadley: a close-by peak and a slim winding canyon, often called a rille. This {photograph} was taken shortly earlier than touchdown. “Man must explore”

A coloration TV digital camera captured Scott’s first steps on the Moon shortly after he climbed down the lander’s ladder. (The TV picture is tilted as a result of the orientation of the digital camera at the time.)“As I stand out here in the wonders of the unknown at Hadley,” Scott stated, “I sort of realize there’s a fundamental truth to our nature. Man must explore. And this is exploration at its greatest.”

Later, Irwin photographed Scott close to the American flag.Like a Trampoline

The Moon has a mass — and gravity — about one-sixth that of Earth, so people strolling on the floor are likely to really feel gentle and buoyant, even with the weight of the go well with. “Walking on the Moon feels just like walking on a trampoline,” Irwin later wrote in his autobiography, To Rule The Night. “The same lightness, the same bouncy feeling.” Irwin descended to the lunar floor shortly after Scott.

Working in Lunar Orbit

While Scott and Irwin explored the lunar floor, Al Worden was exhausting at work in the orbiting command module — sustaining the spacecraft, performing experiments, and particularly taking footage. Worden later defined: ““[For] general photography within the spacecraft…I had inserted in the Flight Plan at the beginning of each day’s activity those [film] magazines that would be required for that day’s activities. That worked very well in helping me organize the photography for the day.”

Deploying the Rover

The lunar roving automobile was saved on the exterior of the touchdown craft, and each moonwalkers labored collectively to take away it from storage. “We each had our particular thing to do on the rover,” stated Scott. “I guess one man could have done it all with coaching from the other, but we had divided the tasks, and the timeline worked out well.”

Lunar Geology

Scott’s description of a boulder demonstrates the thoroughness that the astronauts dropped at their geology duties. “There is one boulder!” Scott reported. “Very angular, very rough surface texture. Looks like it’s partially . . . well, it’s got glass on one side of it with lots of bubbles; and they’re about a centimeter across. And one corner of it has got all this glass covering on it; seems like there’s a linear fracture through one side. . . . It looks like we have maybe a breccia on top of a crystalline rock.”

The astronauts usually used a geology hammer to take away small items of a giant rock for sampling.

Rake Samples

In addition to gathering stones, mission geologists additionally inspired the astronauts to take rake samples to gather tremendous regolith materials. “The operation of the rake went just like our simulations,” Irwin famous. “It worked good for collecting the rock fragments as well as for transferring the soil. I thought it went real well.”


The lack of an environment implies that the Sun’s gentle is extra intense on the Moon than it’s on Earth. Both astronauts used visors on their helmets to assist cut back the brilliant gentle. “After EVA-1, I had a headache because of the glare,” Irwin later remembered. “On the second EVA, I pulled the glare shield down to protect my eyes and I felt good from then on.” Scott agreed: “With the visor up, it’s pretty tough going driving into the Sun.”

Smile, Jim!

Many of the Apollo photographs are utilitarian or technical in nature, however the males weren’t against taking, and even directing, a human-curiosity photograph when the event arose. At one level, Scott observed a superb photograph composition and rapidly directed his companion to make it even higher.

Scott: “Hey, Jim?” Irwin: “Yes?” Scott: “Turn around a minute…look over here.”

The outcome? A photograph exhibiting the lunar lander, the rover, and a — presumably smiling? — Jim Irwin.

Working in the Suits

Apollo-era lunar fits might be troublesome to bend when pressurized, making it a problem to retrieve objects from the floor. Here, Scott flexes the go well with to achieve for a device close to the experiment web site. Laser Reflector

Among the many experiments deployed by the astronauts was the laser ranging retroreflector, additionally known as the LRRR, or “LR cubed.” This passive system merely displays laser gentle again in the course it got here from. So, by placing the LRRR with a laser from Earth and measuring the time it takes for the gentle to return, scientists can receive exact measurements of the Earth-Moon distance. Naturally, it was vital to maintain lunar mud off of the retroreflector experiment. “I took the LRRR farther south than we had planned in order to try and keep it out of the trajectory as we took off, to keep the dust off of it,” Scott recalled. He then took pictures of the assembled system. “Okay, Joe. I got the LR cubed pictures, and it’s still super clean.”

Double Shadows

While each moonwalkers present up often in the TV pictures, there aren’t any nonetheless pictures that present each at the identical time. However, one {photograph} did seize the shadows of Scott and Irwin working aspect by aspect.Making Tracks

Much of the Moon’s soil may be very tremendous; Neil Armstrong described it as “almost like a powder.” With no environment to disturb imprints, the tracks of each man and machine ought to stay preserved in the soil for ages to return. The Apollo 15 astronauts took many pictures of the tracks; at one level, Dave Scott remarked, “Look at the rover tracks; I’m going to take some pictures of the rover tracks here. And our boots — our boot prints, both. Look at the difference. That old rover is light.”

Zodiacal Light from Lunar Orbit

Here is one in all Worden’s zodiacal gentle pictures with the lunar horizon in the foreground.Meanwhile, Worden continued his work in lunar orbit, and he radioed his standing to Houston: “Yes, so far everything — particularly the zodiacal light and the gegenschein calibration and that sort of thing — has been going just as per Flight Plan.”

A Lunar Canyon

Toward the finish of their third day of exploration, the two moonwalkers carried out some geology work close to the fringe of Hadley Rille — the lunar canyon close to the touchdown web site. But Mission Control started to develop into a bit alarmed by what they have been seeing on the TV. “And out of sheer curiosity, how far back from what you would call the edge of the rille are the two of you standing now?”

Scott was initially somewhat confused by the query, till Houston clarified: “It looks like you are standing on the edge of a precipice on TV; that’s why we’re asking.”

The perspective of the rover’s digital camera and the use of a telephoto setting had mixed to current the optical phantasm that the astronauts have been standing a lot nearer to a cliff then they actually have been.

Scott rapidly eased their minds. “Oh, gosh, no, Joe. It slopes right on down here.” In truth, the preliminary slope was so light that Scott couldn’t even see the backside of the canyon from the place they stood.

Boulders on the Edge of the Canyon

In this photograph, Scott collects geology samples close to the rim of the rille. Irwin’s reflection might be seen in the visor.Drilling

One floor experiment concerned drilling a number of toes into the lunar floor to extract a core pattern. The rover’s TV digital camera monitored the progress.The Moon’s floor might be fairly dense a couple of inches down, and one in all the core samples proved troublesome to extract, requiring each moonwalkers to take part.

“We finally extracted the core stem,” Scott remembered. “Each of us had a handle of the drill under the crook of our elbow, and we got it up to the point where we could put our shoulders under it. Then with each of us with one handle of the drill on top of our shoulders, we pushed as hard as we could — it must have been at least 400 pounds — and finally got it to move and got it out.”

“Everything ran just beautifully”

Here, Al Worden pilots the command module in lunar orbit with the Moon’s floor in the background. “The…spacecraft ran just beautifully the whole time,” Worden stated. “The fuel cells ran without a problem. In fact, everything ran just beautifully, and I really had no concern for the operation of the spacecraft during the lunar orbit operations.”One Last Drive

While returning to the touchdown web site throughout their remaining rover experience, Scott and Irwin took a second to understand the fantastic thing about the Moon round them. Scott: “Oh, look at the mountains today, Jim, when they’re all sunlit; isn’t that beautiful?” Irwin: “Really is.” Scott: “By golly, that’s just super! It’s — you know — unreal.” Irwin: “Dave, I’m reminded of a favorite Biblical passage from Psalms. ‘I look unto the hills, from whence cometh my help.’ But of course, we get quite a bit from Houston, too.”

Return to Earth

After a profitable liftoff from the lunar floor with 170 kilos of moon rocks on board, the two moonwalkers rendezvoused with Worden in the command module and returned to Earth.

Jim Irwin handed away in 1991, adopted by Al Worden in 2020. Dave Scott is one in all 4 residing moonwalkers. Apollo 15 stays a captivating mission, and a extremely profitable one — a real instance of human ingenuity, coaching, bravery, and curiosity.

Happy 50th anniversary, Apollo 15!


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