Saturday, November 23, 2019

The USS Hornet and Related

A long time ago, I acquired some slides that included a number of interesting photos that were taken aboard the USS Hornet (CV/CVA/CVS-12), a venerable Essex-class aircraft carrier that began life in World War II, participating in many battles in the Pacific - and then ended its active service recovering the command modules for Apollo 11 and Apollo 12.

Here's a photo of the USS Hornet, location unknown (but all part of the same lot of photos) - this might be Pearl Harbor.

What the hey? I can only assume that this is a dummy command module used for practice recoveries. Kind of neat!

These slides were date stamped "December, 1969", and while I'd kind of hoped that they might be from Apollo 11's splashdown, it seemed more likely to be from Apollo 12's - that mission ended on November 24th (tomorrow will be the 50th anniversary of that event). 

My lack of technical knowledge leaves me to make assumptions - this must be some kind of radar tracking device? Or maybe it's a kinda crazy ray gun.

Here's the Sikorsky SH3 Sea King helicopter; according to Wikipedia it is "one of the most famous, or at least most iconic, helicopters in history". Notice the four command module devices on the side! There is a detailed article about this aircraft on Wikipedia, read about it HERE if you so desire. It was disappointing to learn that this helicopter crashed into the ocean in 1975, and still rests at the bottom of the sea, 1500 meters down. 

I'm not sure if this camera was used for international broadcasts of the return of the Apollo command modules, but I think that's a pretty safe guess. That baby is anchored to the deck and isn't going anywhere!

After splashdown and recovery, astronauts walked 30 feet to a Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF) where they spent 21 days in case they'd picked up any contagions on the moon. When the Hornet reached port, the MQF was flown to Houston, where the astronauts finished out the final days of quarantine - and of course they were given a clean bill of health (the quarantine practice was stopped after Apollo 12).

Here's a very cool photo of a genuine command module aboard the USS Hornet! And it's the detail that helped me ID it as the Yankee Clipper from Apollo 12. They are about to cover it in Saran Wrap to lock in freshness.

I found this picture online, showing astronauts Pete Conrad, Alan Bean, and Dick Gordon as they exited the Yankee Clipper.

A side-by-side comparison shows the same wear patterns in the metallic foil covering.

I thought these slides were a pretty cool find! I hope that you enjoyed them.


Nanook said...

What a great series of images - including the Airstream Trailers and that Norelco PC-70 (possibly PC-60) Color Television camera - with [what appears to be] a former logo of a television network 'removed' from its side.

Thanks, Major.

JC Shannon said...

I am a space junkie, and I love these. It must have been great to be a crew member when recovering an Apollo Command Module. Something to tell the grandkids for sure. I agree with Major, there is nothing worse than a stale Command Module. Thanks Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

These images are fascinating. They actually led me to do some research about the Apollo 11 and Apollo 12 moon landings. I didn't realize that the Apollo 12 was launched just four months after Apollo 11!

Something else that I didn't know, was that coverage of the Apollo 12 moon landing was supposed to be televised in color (unlike the B & W footage from Apollo 11), but the camera which was taken to the surface of the moon, was damaged when one of the astronauts accidentally pointed it's lens towards the sun, causing the destruction of a sensor within the camera. According to Wikipedia, after the camera was damaged "Television coverage of this mission was terminated almost immediately." Does anyone who was watching the coverage at the time, remember that happening?

I also read that they took photos on the moon during that mission, but several rolls of exposed film were accidentally left behind on the moon's the same astronaut who accidentally pointed the TV camera at the sun! Geez, how careless can you be?

Thanks for sharing these photos, Major! And also for making me want to learn more! "The more you know......"

Budblade said...

In the first picture the truck on the right is labeled with “NAS North is” that we can see, anyway. So that would be navel air station north island, which was near San Diego. I was hoping to see the license plates on the cars to confirm, but I’m not able to see enough detail to confirm that.

stu29573 said...

These are fantastic! I'm a space nerd and model rocket guy that was lucky enough to build 1B models for the 40th and 50th anniversary of Apollo 7. I met just about everybody associated with Apollo (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Gene Kranz, Alan Bean, Walt Cunningham etc, etc...). You did fantastic detective work identifying 12, worthy of a scale modeler! Kudos to you!

Pegleg Pete said...

Wow, what a great find, Major! These are some great photographs. I've always been intrigued by the quarantine procedure after the moon landings, so it's fascinating to see those trailers. That must have been quite the comedown - from the moon to an airstream! As always, thanks for sharing, Major.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, I would assume that those MFQ Airstream trailers are in museums somehow, but I’d love to have one just like it. So shiny!

Jonathan, yeah, it must have been very exciting to be a part of the Apollo recovery crews. I wonder if it was considered OK for crewmen to take photos if they weren’t actively involved in the process? Or were these taken by one of the officers? We’ll never know.

TokyoMagic!, yes, all seven of the moon missions were done between July 1969 and December 1972, so they sometimes did them only months apart, which is pretty astonishing. I’ve heard about how poor Alan Bean destroyed the color camera by pointing it toward the sun, and also how he left the exposed film on the moon. There must have been no hard feelings, because he went on to fly to Skylab as part of the “Skylab 3” mission.

Budblade, aha, thank you very much! I would have never figured that out.

stu29573, I would love to know what the circumstances were that got you involved in building those models for the anniversaries of Apollo 7. Wow, how cool that you got to meet those legendary astronauts in person. What do you say to Neil Armstrong? “Mr. Armstrong, what was it like to walk on the Moon?”. He’s never been asked that one before! I would ask him what his favorite monster was.

Pegleg Pete, it’s fascinating that they even considered the possibility of contagions on the Moon. If there had been any, it could have been very bad! I’ll bet those airstreams were pretty luxurious as those things go. Plus an astronaut is nothing if not stoic. Glad you liked these!

Chuck said...

What an incredible find!

I agree with budblade - the Photo 1 was taken at NAS North Island. The leftmost two cars are sporting the 1963-69 black & gold CA license plates.

Photo 2 shows a "boilerplate" Apollo command module used for practicing recoveries. The recovery crew spent a lot of time practicing the pickup both before and en route to the recovery site.

For your reading pleasure (if you find reading government manuals pleasurable...and I admit it's one of my guilty pleasures), here's the Apollo Recovery Operational Procedures Manual. Enjoy!

Photo 3 is of a helical UHF antenna, used for satellite communications. Because of its location on the flight deck and temporary attachment next to the aft elevator, this is almost certainly temporary infrastructure to support television broadcasts.

I found a fascinating series of videos on YouTube showing NBC coverage of the recovery of Apollo 12. Some of the shots of the Hornet crew on the deck, waiting for the first visual of the CM's splashdown, were almost certainly shot with the camera in Photo 5 or one of its sisters. Aside from the historic nature of the video, you can see some of the challenges of maintaining a broadcast with the technology of the time. They also specifically call out "Helicopter 66" shown in Photo 4.

Note the few aircraft on the deck in the background of Photo 5. Since the Hornet's mission on this voyage was Apollo spacecraft and crew recovery, there was no need for a full complement of attack or other aircraft, and the ship would only have embarked just what was needed to accomplish the mission. In the background we see another SH-3 helicopter, a C-1 Trader support transport aircraft, and what appears to be the edge of an E-1 Tracer airborne early warning aircraft (both the C-1 and E-1 were based on the S-2 Tracker antisubmarine aircraft).

Chuck said...

It's interesting to see two MQF trailers on the Hornet's hangar deck. Most written sources imply that only one MQF was involved in each recovery mission, and while it's true that only one would have been used to transport the astronauts to Houston, it's very NASA to have a "hot spare" ready to go, particularly with the possible existential threat of extraterrestrial contamination.

Also - something that most online articles don't mention is that the astronauts didn't spend their entire 21 days of quarantine in the MQF. It was only used to house them while the Hornet transported them to Pearl Harbor, where the trailer was transloaded to a C-141 Starlifter and flown to Ellington AFB, adjacent to NASA's Manned Spaceflight Center. Once the MQF was trucked to MSC, the astronauts were moved into the much larger and much more comfortable quarantine facilities in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.

As an even geekier aside, the MQFs appear to be mounted on a custom-built, super-long version of the HCU-6/E pallet used for the 463L Pallet Cargo Handling System. The 463L system standardized pallet sizes and greatly facilitates load planning as well as rapid on- and off-loading of cargo for US, Allied, and contract aircraft. The standard HCU-6/E is 108 inches by 88 inches, while the Smithsonian says that the MQF is 108 inches by 420 inches. That would mean an MQF would have taken up 5 of 10 available pallet positions in the C-141As of the time.

Note that the photo of the crew in the raft shows them wearing masks, and the recovery video shows them arriving aboard dressed the same way. The Apollo 11 crew arrived aboard Hornet in full biohazard suits.

TM!, at about 4:48 of Part 10 of the Apollo 12 broadcast, the commentator mentions the accident with the camera. I pulled a similar stunt with my parents' first video camera in 1984, trying to get a sunset shot. There was a spot burned into the picture tube for almost a year before it finally faded.

Episode 7 of the miniseries From the Earth to the Moon, "That's All There Is," does a great job of dramatizing the Apollo 12 mission from the point of view of astronaut Alan Bean. I haven't seen it in at least 14 years, but the camera incident as well as a few other anecdotes still stand out in my memory. It's currently available on Amazon Prime.

Major Pepperidge said...

Chuck, yeah, these were fun! I may scan some additional images that showed life aboard the ship, including a “shellback” ceremony. Thank you for ALL of that information, and for all of the research that you did!! I may need a bit of free time to read the Apollo Recovery Operational Procedures Manual. Maybe I’ll read it out loud to my mom at the hospital when she has trouble falling asleep! ;-) Thanks also for that link to the NBC video of the recovery of Apollo 12’s command module. I am assuming that what we are seeing is a very degraded video record of what the public actually saw 50 years ago - I wonder if there is high-quality footage lurking in a warehouse somewhere? Still, it is super fascinating to see it as it happened. It seems unbelievable that the general public could get tired of the Apollo missions so quickly, and yet… that’s what happened.

Chuck II, of course I noticed that there were two MQF trailers, but had no idea if that was unusual or not. Thanks for the link to that article about the Lunar Receiving Laboratory, it’s really interesting! As usual I’ll need more time to give it a proper look, but I love that sort of thing. I would have never noticed the Pallet Cargo Handling System, but you have the trained eye for that sort of thing. I did notice that the crew was wearing face masks. I’ve never seen the From the Earth to the Moon series, sadly. There’s a new Apollo series that airs on the new Apple streaming service, but I don’t have that either. I’d love to see it, but jeez, there isn’t time enough in the day to consume all of the media available. Thanks again for all of your time and research!

"Lou and Sue" said...

TokyoMagic! I do remember being glued to the TV (with my folks) for the Apollo 11 landing on the moon in July 1969, and I remember watching a few different mission splashdowns when the men returned, but I don't remember that Apollo 12 cancellation of the television coverage that you mention. I do remember how exciting it was to watch everything about our space explorations, in the late 60's and 70's. I still enjoy watching documentaries about the past space missions, and am fascinated at what we (the U.S.) accomplished back then.

I didn't know about some of the rolls of film being left behind. How disappointing! As a side note, I have some poster-size prints that my dad purchased from Hasselblad (the camera company that provided the Apollo 11 cameras for the moon), right after the mission was completed. They are beautiful photographs that I have stored away - but should really get them framed or do something with them.

Chuck, I skimmed that 270 page Apollo Recovery manual and have one technical question. Maybe you or someone else can answer it: On page 44 of the 270 pages (marked as p. 1-26; Figure 1-8): Was the Urine Dump used in outer space, or only when they got back to earth? ;)

Major, thank you for today's post!


Anonymous said...

Wowie, between the Major and Chuck, this is a super-informative post.

Thank you!

Yes, I do recall the video "blackout" from this mission. Also old enough to remember the conspiracy theories that the "damaged" camera and "lost" film were cover stories to account for not releasing proof of UFO and alien encounters on the surface. Not sure I believe this but...

@Sue, I believe the "Urine Dump" was used in space, there were stories about "Uri-Glow" effect where the frozen by-products reflected the sunlight at dawn. Not sure if it was Apollo 12 or another journey.

One of the MQF trailers is stored on the hangar deck of the mothballed Hornet in Alameda (where the nuclear wessels are stored). I got to peek in the windows, it was pretty cramped, but a lot more roomy than the capsules.

Thanks everyone!



"Lou and Sue" said...

JG, thanks for the info!