Apollo 16 launches after month-long delay, April 16, 1972
This was the first launch delay in NASA’s Apollo program due to a technical problem. During the delay, the spacesuits, a spacecraft separation mechanism, and batteries in the lunar module were modified and tested. There were concerns that the explosive mechanism designed to separate the docking ring from the command module would not create enough pressure to completely sever the ring.
Also, in January 1972, a fuel tank in the command module was accidentally damaged during a routine test. This was fixed before the scheduled March launch.
Apollo 16 was the second of the so-called J-missions and was crewed by Commander John Young, Lunar Module Pilot Charles Duke, and Command Module Pilot Ken Mattingly.
This was Mattingly’s first spaceflight. He had been assigned to the prime crew of troubled mission Apollo 13, but was exposed to the measles through Duke, at that time on the back-up crew for Apollo 13, who had caught it from one of his children. Mattingly never contracted measles, but was replaced by his backup, Jack Swigert, three days before the Apollo 13 launch.
Young and Duke spent 71 hours on the lunar surface, during which they conducted three extra-vehicular activities (moonwalks and use of the rover) totaling 20 hours and 14 minutes. (See NASA photo, right)
Apollo 16's landing spot in the highlands was chosen to allow the astronauts to gather geologically older lunar material than samples previously obtained by the Apollo missions.
The astronauts trained for their mission through geology trips here on Earth, the first such field training in the Apollo program. Geologists chose an area near Ontario, Canada, because of a 60-mile wide crater created about 1.6 million years ago by a large meteorite.
The training paid off and samples taken from the Descartes Formation and the Cayley Formation disproved beliefs that the formations were volcanic in origin.
During the return trip to Earth, Mattingly performed a one-hour spacewalk to retrieve several film cassettes from the exterior of the service module.
The crew safely splashed down in the Pacific Ocean 290 hours, 37 minutes, and 6 seconds after liftoff, closing a successful mission.
However, more than 30 years later, Apollo 16 would again make headlines. In 2006, shortly after Hurricane Ernesto impacted North Carolina, an 11-year-old boy named Kevin Schanze discovered a piece of metal debris on the ground near his beach home. Schanze and a friend discovered a stamp on the 36-inch flat metal sheet, which upon further inspection turned out to be a faded copy of the Apollo 16 mission insignia (shown above).
NASA confirmed the object to be a piece of the first stage of the Saturn V rocket that launched Apollo 16 into space. Schanze returned the rocket piece to NASA and, as a reward, the then 16-year-old boy was given an all-access tour of the Kennedy Space Center and VIP seating for the launch of STS-135, the final mission of the Space Shuttle program.
Slideshow: Apollo engine treasures recovered from ocean floor
Apollo 12 hit by lightning at launch, November 14, 1969
Apollo 11 makes 1st manned landing on the moon, July 20, 1969
1st manned Apollo mission launches, October 11, 1968
NASA: Revealing the unknown to benefit all humankind
Apollo 13 launches, April 11, 1970
Apollo 6 launches, despite engine failures, April 4, 1968
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Editor's note: This article was originally posted on April 16, 2013 and edited on April 16, 2017.