Video reveals Apollo 14 astronauts' crucial mistake on the Moon

One small step...

NASA astronaut hiking on the Moon

On February 5, 1971, humans successfully landed on the Moon for the third time as part of the Apollo 14 mission.

Astronauts Alan Shepard and Edgar Mitchell spent a total of 33 and a half hours on the Moon, performing two 'Moonwalks' during their stay. Fifty years later, data from NASA’s Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter recreate what it was like to walk across the lunar surface during one of their mile-long hikes — and a critical mistake.

NASA released the video Monday, recreating the Apollo 14 astronauts' two-and-a-half-hour hike across the Moon. But the historic walk came with a surprise ending: The two astronauts missed their true destination.

Watch the video in full:

Shepard and Mitchell landed between the Doublet and Triplet craters, in the hilly uplands of the Fra Mauro crater. The site is about 110 miles east of the Apollo 12 landing site.

The pair's first Extra Vehicular Activity lasted for about four hours and 49 minutes, during which they deployed the Apollo Lunar Surface Scientific Experiments Package.

For their second lot of activity, the astronauts took a hike to Cone Crater, a small crater in the Fra Mauro region of the Moon. The Fra Mauro area is made up of rocks ejected and emplaced during the asteroid impact that formed the Imbrium — the second largest, and one of the youngest, impact basins on the Moon.

Cone Crater was located some 300 feet above the landing site. Not far to go, you might think. But on the Moon, everything gets far more complicated.

This image shows the path taken by the Apollo 14 astronauts on the Moon and the location of Cone Crater.

NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University/The Ohio State University

As the video shows, Shepard and Mitchell began their hike to the crater on track, walking across the lunar surface for two and a half hours. They followed a path which took them over a fairly steep hill up to the rim of the crater, as illustrated in the video. As they walked, the astronauts also had to drag around a two-wheeled transporter to carry their equipment. During their time spent on the Moon, astronauts Shepard and Mitchell collected 94 pounds of rocks and soil for return to Earth.

Apollo 14 astronaut Alan Shepard conducts a scientific experiment on the Moon.


But as the trail continued, the rim of the Cone Crater became obscured, slipping out of the astronauts' view. The pair were eventually advised by mission control to return back to the lunar module, for fear they would get lost. Before they turned back, however, they collected lunar samples from an area located close to the crater.

Very, very close, in fact.

Incredibly, Shepard and Mitchell were just 150 feet away from their destination of Cone Crater at the time they gave up on finding it.

Despite this seeming failure, the Apollo 14 astronauts set a new record for total amount of time spent on the lunar surface. Altogether, they spent nine hours and 24 minutes on the Moon outside of their spacecraft. During that time, they traveled a record-breaking distance of 9,000 feet on the Moon.

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