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January 16, 2015

After Charlie Brown & Snoopy: the moon missions

Here is the Final Jeopardy! clue from the first Finals game of the 1991 Tournament of Champions:





No one got it. Did you?

Twelve men have walked on the moon. All were American, and all were part of the Apollo series of space missions.

All did so within a 41-month span; the moon has been human-free since December 1972.


Each mission had three crew members, who were listed in the following order: commander, command module pilot, and lunar module pilot.

While the other two took the lunar module to the surface, the command module pilot orbited the moon (sucks!). He was out of touch with humanity every time he went to the far side.

Each mission had a backup crew, who would usually be slotted as the leads for the next Apollo mission. This came into play for Apollo 13.

Here’s a quick list of who’s set foot on the moon, with the inclusion of the crew of Apollo 13, which aborted its attempt:

Mission Lunar Module Commander LM Pilot
11 Eagle Neil Armstrong Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin
12 Intrepid Charles Conrad Alan Bean
13 Aquarius James Lovell Fred Haise
14 Antares Alan Shepard Edgar Mitchell
15 Falcon David Scott James Irwin
16 Orion John Young Charles Duke
17 Challenger Eugene Cernan Harrison Schmitt

And of the poor guys who had to stay in the Command Module as it orbited the moon:

Mission Command Module CM Pilot
11 Columbia Michael Collins
12 Yankee Clipper Richard Gordon
13 Odyssey Jack Swigert
14 Kitty Hawk Stuart Roosa
15 Endeavor Alfred Worden
16 Casper Ken Mattingly
17 America Ronald Evans

Mission Classes

To test each step on the way to the moon, the Apollo program was divided into sequential classes, starting with A: test flights of the Saturn V rocket.

The moon missions included the final three Classes:

G: land on the moon (11)
H: take two moonwalks (extravehicular activities, or EVAs) (12-14)
J: stay on moon for 3-days with lunar rover (15-17)

(There was a separate Class I, but it was folded into Class J.)

Now, on to the individual missions. I’ve changed the order of names, so that the two who went to the surface appear next to each other.

Apollo 11 (G)

Liftoff: July 16, 1969

Commander: Neil Armstrong
LM Pilot: Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin (Eagle)

CM Pilot: Michael Collins (Columbia)

Landing: Sea of Tranquility

“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.”

The original names for the command and lunar modules were Snowcone and Haystack, but after Apollo 10 took some flak for using Charlie Brown and Snoopy, the crew made a switch.

Michael Collins, as “odd man out” on the moonwalking, was far from melancholy; he took note that his situation was unique in human history. On the far side of the moon, he wrote in his journal:

“I am alone now, truly alone, and absolutely isolated from any known life. I am it. If a count were taken, the score would be three billion plus two over on the other side of the moon, and one plus God knows what on this side.”

Tying this into my Fact Primer on U.S. coins: the Apollo 11 patch served as the back (reverse) of the Eisenhower and Susan B. Anthony dollar coins.

Addendum: after I wrote this, Neil Armstrong’s widow found what was known as “the purse” hidden in their closet. It contained a number of trinkets from the Eagle, including the camera used to record the landing from the module’s exterior.

Apollo 12 (H)

Liftoff: November 14, 1969

Commander: Charles Conrad Jr.
LM Pilot: Alan Bean (Intrepid)

CM Pilot: Richard Gordon Jr. (Yankee Clipper)

Landing: Ocean of Storms

Richard Nixon attended the launch, the first sitting president to do so.

The rocket was struck by lightning 36 seconds after liftoff, which caused the control panel to go haywire. John Aaron, a mission controller who would play a pivotal role in Apollo 13, recognized the pattern and singlehandedly prevented the mission from being aborted.

There was no way to tell whether the lightning strike had damaged the re-entry equipment; Mission Control decided to not tell the astronauts about this possibility.

Charles Conrad made a bet with a reporter that he wouldn’t say the following sentence upon setting foot on the moon: “Whoopie! Man, that may have been a small one for Neil, but that’s a long one for me.” Allegedly, he never collected his $500 prize.

Apollo 13 (H)

Liftoff: April 11, 1970

Commander: James A. Lovell Jr.
LM Pilot: Fred W. Haise Jr. (Aquarius)

CM Pilot: John L. “Jack” Swigert Jr. (Odyssey)

Landing: none

173,950 nautical miles from Earth, an oxygen tank ruptured after damaged insulation caused it to ignite. The crew had to hole up in the lunar module for several days.

Not only were they short on water and heat, they also had to figure out a way to remove carbon dioxide from the module.

Swigert replaced Ken Mattingly, who was suspected to have contracted German measles from Charles Duke; both of the sick members later flew on Apollo 16.

In the 1995 film Apollo 13, Tom Hanks plays James Lovell; Kevin Bacon plays Jack Swigert; and Bill Paxton plays Fred Haise.

Apollo 14 (H)

Liftoff: January 31, 1971

Commander: Alan B. Shepard Jr.
LM Pilot: Edgar D. Mitchell Jr. (Antares)

CM Pilot: Stuart A. Roosa (Kitty Hawk)

Landing: Fra Mauro Highlands

Already the first man in space, at 47, Alan Shepard was the oldest man to set foot on the moon. He had been grounded since Mercury 3 in 1961; his inner-ear disorder had been corrected by experimental surgery.

There were some fun and games on the surface. Shepard hit two golf balls with a makeshift club; he had smuggled the head of a 6-iron, which he attached to the end of an excavation tool.

He had to swing with one hand because the suit was too bulky to use both. Mitchell then tossed the tool like a javelin.

Roosa brought up some seeds, which were later planted as “Moon trees” back on Earth.

Fra Mauro was a 15th century Italian mapmaker.

This was the last mission for which the astronauts were quarantined upon return.

This was the first flight after Apollo 13, which is how you can remember Kitty Hawk. Antares is a star in the constellation Scorpius.

Apollo 15 (J)

Liftoff: July 26, 1971

Commander: David R. Scott
LM Pilot: James B. Irwin (Falcon)

CM Pilot: Alfred M. Worden (Endeavor)

Landing: Hadley-Apennine

Apollo 15 was the first to use a lunar rover, and the first to stay for 3 days.

It was originally part of Class H, but was changed when NASA decided to end the Apollo program earlier than the 20th mission.

There was controversy: the astronauts smuggled aboard stamps, which they planned to sell later.

To illustrate the effects of a vacuum, David Scott dropped a falcon feather and a hammer, which fell at the same rate.

Apollo 16

Liftoff: April 16, 1972

Commander: John W. Young
LM Pilot: Charles M. Duke Jr. (Orion)

CM Pilot: Thomas “Ken” Mattingly II (Casper)

Landing: Descartes Highlands

The purpose of this mission was to determine whether the area’s composition was volcanic (it was not).

There are 16 stars on the insignia, representing the mission number.

Apollo 17

Liftoff: December 7, 1972

Commander: Eugene A. Cernan
LM Pilot: Harrison H. Schmitt (Challenger)

CM Pilot: Ronald B. Evans (America)

Landing: Taurus-Littrow

At a shade under 12 days and 14 hours, this was the longest mission of the seven.

The figure in the logo is the god Apollo.

Commander Cernan took the last steps on the moon after saying the following:

And, as we leave the Moon at Taurus-Littrow, we leave as we came and, God willing, as we shall return, with peace and hope for all mankind.

The correct response to the clue at the beginning:

Correct response: Show
  1. Kelly permalink

    Re: Buzz Aldrin’s name – Even though Buzz was just a nickname at the time of the mission, a number of years later (I’m not sure exactly when) he did ultimately make it his legal first name (awhile back I had that fact corrected in the J-Archive – he was a Celebrity Jeopardy! contestant on November 14, 1996, and if it weren’t for the rule giving Celebrity contestants who finish without money something to play with it would’ve been a one-player Final with him alone).

  2. Pat Russell permalink

    I distinctly remember watching Jeopardy in (I believe) the summer of 1989. The FJ clue was “Headline on the front page of the New York Times on July 20, 1969”. It took me a few seconds to figure out the correct response (some variation on “man walks on the moon”). I was very disappointed when the clue turned out to be a triple stumper. And no one was even close. The most important exploration achievement in all of history had been generally forgotten a mere twenty years later. I quickly decided that the best “fix” for the problem was to do a movie about the space race. I spent a few days contemplating the possibilities and decided that a movie about the Apollo 13 mission would have the best chance of success. Now, I have NO pull in Hollywood. Fortunately, Tom Hanks had the same idea and the pull to make it happen. So in 1995 my vision was realized. And the movie has succeeded in doing what the actual event failed to. The plot of a movie has now survived in our consciousness for the same 20 year time period that the actual events couldn’t. (I checked all the shows in the J! archive for 1989 in an attempt to confirm my recollection. I could not find the show but coverage is spotty that far back.)

    • Funny, I seem to recall that clue as well – although I think it would have to be July 21, 1969, unless the Times was clairvoyant 😉

      • Pat Russell permalink

        A similar clue popped up on the January 19th, 2015 show. The DJ $1200 clue in the “THE TRANSPORTERS” category reads “ON JULY 20, 1969 THE WORLD HELD ITS BREATH AS TWO GUYS FINALLY FOUND A PARKING SPOT FOR THIS TRANSPORT AT 4:17 PM EDT”. The clue references the moon landing. The correct response needs to include “Eagle”, the nickname of the lunar lander vehicle. Obviously, the July 20 AM edition of the NYT could not have known if the landing was successful or not. So your suggestion that the date was actually July 21 makes perfect sense. But my recollection still is that they used the 20th.

      • J! has made some mistakes on facts, but I doubt they’d do that…

        Here’s the original front page:

        I smiled when I saw that clue tonight. :)

      • Pat Russell permalink

        I checked out the link. Other than the “sign up now” commercial for the NYT that is strategically positioned to be maximally annoying, it’s way cool. My mother always told me “never let the facts get in the way of a good story”. I think my version makes for a better story.

What do you think?