Workers Clean Apollo 16 Spaceship Ahead of 50th Anniversary

By JAY REEVES, Related Press

HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (AP) — The Apollo 16 capsule is dusty all these many years after it carried three astronauts to the moon. Cobwebs cling to the spacecraft. Enterprise playing cards, a pencil, cash, a spoon and even a tube of lip balm litter the ground of the enormous case that protects the house vintage in a museum.

The COVID-19 pandemic meant a break within the regular routine of cleansing the ship’s show on the U.S. Area and Rocket Middle, situated close to NASA’s Marshall Area Flight Middle. However employees are sprucing up the spacecraft for the fiftieth anniversary of its April 1972 flight.

Delicately utilizing microfiber towels, extension poles, brushes, dust-catching wands and vacuums, a crew lately cleaned the 6.5-ton, almost 11-foot-tall capsule and wiped down its glass enclosure, situated beneath an enormous Saturn V rocket suspended from the ceiling. They eliminated dozens of things that individuals had caught by way of cracks within the case.

Other than overseeing the cleansing, consulting curator Ed Stewart taught museum employees the right way to keep the capsule, which is on mortgage from the Smithsonian Establishment and has been displayed within the “rocket metropolis” of Huntsville because the Nineteen Seventies.

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Brushing mud off the facet of the capsule whereas wearing protecting clothes, Stewart stated the command module was in “fairly good condition” contemplating its age and the way lengthy it had been because the final cleansing about three years in the past.

“I’m happy to see that there’s not … heavy layers of mud. I’ve not seen quite a lot of insect particles or something like that, so I take that as a really optimistic signal,” he stated.

Richard Hoover, a retired NASA astrobiologist who serves as a docent on the museum, remembered a time many years in the past when guests may contact the spacecraft. Some even picked off items of the charred warmth protect that protected the ship from burning up whereas reentering Earth’s environment, he stated.

“That is actually fairly a travesty as a result of they don’t understand that it is a tremendously necessary piece of house historical past,” he stated.

Conservation procedures modified as preservationists realized {that a} ship constructed to resist the trials of house journey did not maintain up properly beneath the fixed contact of vacationers, Stewart stated. That is why the case surrounding the capsule is sealed.

“Making it final for 1,000 years was not on the engineer’s listing of necessities for creating these to get the astronauts to the moon and again safely,” he stated.

Perched atop columns, the capsule — nicknamed “Casper” in the course of the flight — is tilted so guests can look contained in the open hatch and see controls and the metal-framed seats the place astronauts Ken Mattingly, John Younger and Charlie Duke rode to the moon and again.

Duke, who walked on the moon with Younger whereas Mattingly piloted the capsule, is predicted to attend a celebration this spring marking the fiftieth anniversary of the flight’s liftoff on April 16, 1972.

The capsule was cleaned and any probably hazardous supplies have been eliminated after the flight, however reminders of its journey to the moon stay inside. Leaning by way of the hatch to test for mud, Stewart pointed to some darkish spots over his head.

“That is the crew’s fingerprints and handprints on there,” he stated.

Employees plan to additional seal the capsule’s case so guests will not be capable of deposit something inside, however they have been cautious to not do an excessive amount of to Apollo 16 itself. Whereas it could be simple sufficient to clean down the spaceship with elbow grease, doing so would destroy the patina that hyperlinks it to historical past, Stewart stated.

“You do not need to lose any of that, as a result of that’s all a part of the saga of the mission. Should you clear it, it is gone. It is that further texture of historical past that simply type of is misplaced to the ether should you make a mistake,” he stated.

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