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Apollo 12: SCE to AUX

Apollo 12 launches into a storm

Astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean and Dick Gordon launched from Kennedy Space Center on this date in 1969 aboard Apollo 12.

The launch occurred as rainy weather enveloped the Cape. 37 seconds after launch, lightning struck the rocket, causing all sorts of haywire across the control panel. At the 52 second mark, a second lightning strike took out the “8-Ball” attitude indicator. Just about every warning light on the control panel was now lit, and the resulting power supply problems caused much of the instrumentation to malfunction.

John Aaron

Back at Mission Control, EECOM flight controller John Aaron, had seen this before in simulations. He calmly suggested a solution to the Flight Director, “Flight, try SCE to Aux”. Even though few knew what Aaron was talking about, the order was sent to Apollo 12, and Bean flipped the SCE switch to Auxiliary setting. Telemetry was immediately restored, and Apollo 12 continued on with its mission.

John Aaron was forever known as that “Steely-eyed missile man” from then on.

Astronaut Alan Bean on the surface of the moon. Photo by Charles “Pete” Conrad

The lunar module, with Conrad and Bean, landed in the area known as the Ocean of Storms on November 19. The landing site was within walking distance of the Surveyor 3 probe, which had landed on the moon in April of 1967. To date, it is the only time mankind has “retrieved” a probe sent to another world.

Solar eclipse from Apollo 12, on its return home to Earth. Photo credit: NASA

The crew of Apollo 12 returned to Earth on 24 November 1969. Landing east of American Samoa, they were recovered by the USS Hornet.

The Apollo 12 mission lasted just over 10 days, 4-1/2 hours.