Fifty Years Ago in Photos: Apollo 15 Astronauts Explore the Moon

Today marks the fiftieth anniversary of a space 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 strong 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 gas and consumables carried by the superior lunar lander allowed for 3 separate moonwalks (EVAs), every lasting 4 to 7 hours. NASA additionally up to date the orbiting command module with extra cameras and gear.

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 objectives 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 a whole lot of nonetheless images (each shade and black and white), together with some 16mm motion pictures and hours of shade TV protection.

In celebration of the mission’s fiftieth anniversary, listed here are 20 wonderful images from Apollo 15 — some acquainted, many not often seen — together with quotes from the males who, fairly actually, referred to as the Moon “home” for 3 days in 1971. (All photographs are credited to NASA.)

Goodbye, Earth!

The earth shown in four panels, each more zoomed out than the next
Sometime after launch whereas on the way to the Moon, the astronauts took a collection of images 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

ridges on the lunar surface as seen from above from Apollo
Apollo 15’s touchdown website was at the foot of the Apennine mountains, close to two options each named Hadley: a close-by peak and a slim winding canyon, referred to as a rille. This {photograph} was taken shortly earlier than touchdown.

“Man must explore”

Astronaut in suit facing the camera right near the lander, which is shown in the reflection of his helmet
A shade TV digicam captured Scott’s first steps on the Moon shortly after he climbed down the lander’s ladder. (The TV picture is tilted attributable to the orientation of the digicam 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.”

Astronaut stands to the left of American flag on the lunar surface, with hills in the background
Later, Irwin photographed Scott close to the American flag.

Like a Trampoline

astronaut places tool into ground on lunar surface
The Moon has a mass — and gravity — about one-sixth that of Earth, so people strolling on the floor are likely to really feel mild 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

Image of craters on the lunar surface as seen from the command module
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 photos.

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 rover, an open vehicle with four wheels, two seat and a receiver that resembles an upturned umbrella
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

an astronaut walked the lunar surface in the distance, with a crater in the foreground
Scott’s description of a boulder demonstrates the thoroughness that the astronauts delivered to 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 typically used a geology hammer to take away small items of a big rock for sampling.

Rake Samples

the imprints of a rake used to gather rocks from the lunar soil, next to an astronaut's footprint
In addition to amassing stones, mission geologists additionally inspired the astronauts to take rake samples to gather high quality 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.”


A bright glare shown as an astronaut walks the lunar surface with the sun visor down on his suit
The lack of an environment implies that the Sun’s mild is extra intense on the Moon than it’s on Earth. Both astronauts used visors on their helmets to assist cut back the vivid mild.

“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!

The lander to the left of the image with the rover to the right. An astronaut looks toward the camera from behind the rover.
Many of the Apollo photographs are utilitarian or technical in nature, however the males weren’t against taking, and even directing, a human-interest photograph when the event arose.

At one level, Scott observed a very good photograph composition and shortly 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

An astronaut on the lunar surface faces the camera and leans to the side to pick up a tool.
Apollo-era lunar fits may very well 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 software close to the experiment website.

Laser Reflector

an image of a device resting on the lunar surface, that appears as a white square gridded with circles.
Among the many experiments deployed by the astronauts was the laser ranging retroreflector, additionally referred to as the LRRR, or “LR cubed.” This passive machine merely displays laser mild again in the route it got here from. So, by hanging the LRRR with a laser from Earth and measuring the time it takes for the mild to return, scientists can receive exact measurements of the Earth-Moon distance.

Naturally, it was necessary 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 images of the assembled machine. “Okay, Joe. I got the LR cubed pictures, and it’s still super clean.”

Double Shadows

The shadows of two astronauts, one to the left and right, seem to be facing one another
While each moonwalkers present up regularly in the TV photographs, there are not any nonetheless images that present each at the identical time. However, one {photograph} did seize the shadows of Scott and Irwin working facet by facet.

Making Tracks

With the rover in the background, the lunar soil is shown with many boot prints and rover tracks. The rover tracks appear to be less deep.
Much of the Moon’s soil could be very high quality; Neil Armstrong described it as “almost like a powder.” With no ambiance to disturb imprints, the tracks of each man and machine ought to stay preserved in the soil for ages to come back.

The Apollo 15 astronauts took many images 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

a burst of light appears in the center of the image, reflecting off of dust, over the lunar horizon to the right
Here is one in every of Worden’s zodiacal mild photographs 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

Two astronauts in the foreground appear to be standing at a boundary of rocks.
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 website. But Mission Control started to grow to be 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 digicam 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 shortly eased their minds. “Oh, gosh, no, Joe. It slopes right on down here.” In truth, the preliminary slope was so mild that Scott couldn’t even see the backside of the canyon from the place they stood.

Boulders on the Edge of the Canyon

One astronaut leans over a rock and tools while another is reflected in his visor.
In this photograph, Scott collects geology samples close to the rim of the rille. Irwin’s reflection may be seen in the visor.


Two astronauts face away from the camera. The astronaut to the left appears to be holding a tube pressed into the lunar surface
One floor experiment concerned drilling a number of ft into the lunar floor to extract a core pattern. The rover’s TV digicam monitored the progress.

The Moon’s floor may be fairly dense a number of inches down, and one in every of 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”

The command module centered orbiting over the lunar surface, cylindrical in shape with a pointed nose.
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

The lunar surface with rover trails and a hill in the background, which stands out drastically against the black background of space.
While returning to the touchdown website throughout their ultimate rover trip, Scott and Irwin took a second to understand the great 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 every of 4 dwelling moonwalkers. Apollo 15 stays a captivating mission, and a extremely profitable one — a real instance of human ingenuity, coaching, bravery, and curiosity.

Happy fiftieth anniversary, Apollo 15!


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