Apollo XII Mission - Page 2 of 8
Lift-off occurred on schedule at 11:22 a.m. EST. Thirty-six seconds later, as the space vehicle reached 2,000 meters, it was struck by lightning. As Conrad would later recall, "I was aware of a white light. I knew that we were in the clouds; and although I was watching the gauges, I was aware of a white light. The next thing I noted was that I heard the master alarm ringing in my ears, and I glanced over to the caution and warning panel and it was a sight to behold." Almost every warning light that had anything to do with the electrical system was on. Apollo 12, trailing a plume of ionized (and electrically conductive) exhaust gas, had triggered a lightning discharge. Sixteen seconds later, at an altitude of 4,400 meters, they sustained a second lightning discharge. Conrad told Houston, "We just lost the [stabilizing] platform, gang. I don't know what happened here; we had everything in the world drop out."

At Mission Control, John Aaron, a bright young flight controller in charge of the electrical system, had no telemetry data on his screen. Aaron had seen this problem before during simulator runs a year before and knew how to fix it. Confidently he said, "Flight, try SCE [Signal Condition Equipment] to Aux." This command was so obscure that neither the flight director, Capcom nor Pete Conrad knew what it meant. It was Alan Bean who knew where to find the switch, and moments later telemetry was back.

Despite the unnerving lightning incident, Apollo 12 flew smoothly into a normal earth orbit. Once the inertial guidance system was realigned and all systems checked out, they heard the message they'd been waiting for: "Apollo 12, the good word is you're Go for TLI [Translunar Injection]." What they were not told was that Mission Control feared that the lighting had damaged the pyrotechnic system used to deploy the parachutes needed for recovery. If the parachutes didn't work, they would die during splashdown. Mission Control decided to continue the mission since this would not affect the moon landing. Once they relit the third stage and headed for the moon, Conrad said, "Al Bean, you're on your way to the moon." To which Bean replied, "Yeah. Y'all can come along if you like."

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