The 50th anniversary of NASA’s Apollo 16 mission is coming up, and in preparation, the ship’s command module capsule is getting a special cleaning.
The capsule, which is on loan from the Smithsonian Institution, is on display at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, near NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. While routine cleaning lapsed during the COVID-19 pandemic, staff is now cleaning the capsule, nicknamed “Casper” by the astronauts, before the anniversary of its April, 1972 flight.
Ed Stewart, consulting curator, said that considering its age and that it has not been cleaned in 3 years, the command module is in “pretty good shape,” an Associated Press article reports.
“I’m pleased to see that there’s not heavy layers of dust,” Stewart said. “I’ve not seen a lot of insect debris or anything like that, so I take that as a very positive sign.”
The Apollo 16 Mission
During the Apollo space program, which ran from 1961 to 1972, American astronauts made 11 spaceflights. The first Apollo moon landing took place in 1969 and the last moon landing was in 1972. A total of 12 American astronauts walked on the moon, NASA explains.
Apollo 16, a 12-day mission to the Descartes site in the moon’s highlands, was originally planned for March 1972. After a series of issues, the mission was pushed back a month, to April.
On April 16, at 12:54 p.m. Eastern, Apollo 16 lifted off from Launch Complex 39 at Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The astronauts then successfully made a lunar landing on April 20.
Over the course of three moonwalks, Commander John Young and lunar module pilot Charles Duke drove a lunar rover more than 16 miles. Along the way, they also collected 209 pounds of rock samples.
The mission was cut short by 1 day due to mechanical problems. However, on the return trip, command module pilot Ken Mattingly completed a spacewalk to retrieve film from a camera in the service module.
Apollo 16 had a normal entry and landing, resulting in a splashdown on Earth just before 3 p.m. Eastern on April 27, 1972. The total mission time was 265 hours, 51 minutes, and 5 seconds, NASA notes.
A Special Cleaning
The staff at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center use microfiber towels, brushes, dust-catching wands, and vacuums to clean the 6.5-ton, nearly 11-foot-tall capsule. They also wiped down the glass enclosure surrounding the capsule, which is located under an enormous Saturn V rocket suspended from the ceiling, the Associated Press article reports.
Interestingly, the team wore Tyvek suits, masks, hoods, and gloves during cleaning, an AL.com story reports. The gloves were necessary so the staff wouldn’t leave oil from their hands on the capsule while the hoods were necessary to keep hair off the capsule.
The suits were needed to “prevent any sort of catching — seams on pants, belt loops — so they don’t snag a handle or edge, especially while working around the heat shield,” Stewart said in the article. “Because that shield has pits and points and corners.”
Know Before You Go
Located in Huntsville, “Rocket City,” Alabama, the U.S. Space & Rocket Center is a Smithsonian Affiliate and the official visitor center for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center.
You can learn more about hours of operation and ticket prices for the U.S. Space & Rocket Center here and you can purchase tickets here.
For more about NASA, its lunar missions, and even how you can meet an astronaut, be sure to read