• Short Summary

    With barely three weeks to go, the crew of Apollo 14 are into the last stages of their pre-flight training.

  • Description

    With barely three weeks to go, the crew of Apollo 14 are into the last stages of their pre-flight training. Captain Alan B. Shepard, US Navy, US Air Force Major Stuart A. Roosa and US Navy Commander Edgar D. Mitchell, are scheduled to blast off for the moon on 31 January.

    Shepard, the veteran of the crew, 47 years old and the second man ever to ride a space rocket, is commander of the mission; Roosa will be piloting the command module, nicknamed Kitty Hawk, while Mitchell steers the lunar module, dubbed Antares (the name of the brightest star in the sky) down to the moon's surface.

    The site chosen for the landing is in the Fra Mauro region, the same site as was intended for the ill-fated and nearly disastrous Apollo 13.

    The US space agency NASA has gone to the great lengths to safeguard Apollo 14 and its crew against a repetition of the desperate situation that arose during the Apollo 13 flight last April, when the crew had to use their lunar module as a lifeboat after an oxygen tank exploded aboard their command ship.

    The Apollo 14 flight has been considerably delayed to allow modifications to be made to the spacecraft, and the flight itself has been shortened from ten days to nine - by cutting the amount of time the astronauts will spend orbiting the moon and exploring its surface.

    Modifications to make the spacecraft safer have added 600 pounds (270 kg) to the spacecraft's weight. Most of this is taken up by a third oxygen tank and an electric battery, both for use in emergency. The alterations have added an extra 15 million dollars (6 million sterling) to the bill for the flight.

    Greater precautions are in force to protect the crewmen against any possibility of illness before or during the flight - the last mission was nearly cancelled when one of the crew, Mattingly, went down with suspected measles, and a replacement astronaut had to be brought in at the last moment.

    Of the three astronauts on the flight the only one who is widely known, and the only one with experience of an actual flight is veteran Alan Shepard. A married man with two daughters, he flew America's first manned rocket, a Mercury spacecraft, on 5 May 1961, almost ten years ago.

    His flight, a mere hop by Apollo standards, was a suborbital shot which took him to a maximum height of 115 miles (190 km) and dropped him in the Atlantic 297 miles (480 km) down-range. The flight lasted a mere 15 minutes, but it helped to pull back a little of the glory the Soviet Union had own by putting Yuri Gagarin into earth orbit a month earlier.

    Two years later, just as the space race was heating up, Shepard was grounded by a virus ear infection. He stayed on in the space programme as chief of the astronaut office, in charge of the entire astronaut team and the training of individual crews.

    In 1969 he was passed fit again, but he has had to wait until now for a chance to take another, and longer, look at space. Shepard has outside business interests that have made him rich, including the presidency of a Houston bank.

    Neither of the other two members of the Apollo 14 crew has been in space, but both of them have been on standby duty for previous Apollo missions, and are therefore as well equipped for the journey as repeated training on NASA simulators can make them.

    Lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell is 40, married with two daughters, and has been a naval officer since 1953. He was in the astronaut support team for Apollo 9 which flew down near the moon's surface.

    He became a doctor of science six years ago and graduated first in his class from the Aerospace Research Pilot School. He has logged more than 3,600 hours of flying, fifteen hundred of them in jet aircraft.

    Command module pilot Stuart Roosa, at 37, is the youngest of the crew. His voice is well known to space-addicts, for he has done service as a spacecraft communicator at Mission Control in Houston, and has been in Apollo support teams.

    Married, with three sons, he has a degree in aeronautical engineering, and has logged more than 3,400 hours of conventional flying.

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    Reuters - Source to be Verified
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