Space History | 1971-07-26 – Apollo 15 Launch

July 26, 1971 – Apollo 15 launched from Kennedy Space Center Pad 39A on this day in Space History, and had a number of unique “firsts” for the Space Race. This mission is my favorite of all the lunar landings, not only because the mission was one of the most successful of all the lunar landings, but also because I got to see that launch with my family from just a few miles away.

Apollo 15 Launch (Image Credit: NASA KSC)

Apollo 15 Launch (Image Credit: NASA KSC)

I stood with my vacationing family on the East-facing shores of Titusville overlooking Space Launch Complex 39A. On that pad stood the Saturn V carrying Apollo 15 – the Command Module ENDEAVOUR, the Lunar Module FALCON, and the crew: the soon-to-be-monwalkers Dave Scott and Jim Irwin, and Command Module pilot Al Worden. The morning launch came right at the beginning of the launch window, right on-time.

Here are a few of Apollo 15 mission “firsts:”

First non “Mare” landing on the Moon, First non-equatorial Moon landing
All three previous Moon landings were in the dark areas of the Moon named as seas (Latin “mares”). Apollo 11 landed in the Sea of Tranquility (Mare Tranquillitatis). Apollo 12 landed in the Ocean of Storms (Oceanus Procellarum). Apollo 13 was planned to land in the Fra Mauro highlands (in Mare Imbrium, or “Sea of Showers”), but because of a life-threatening oxygen tank explosion on the way to the Moon, Apollo 14 would be the mission to land there. Those first three lunar landings were located on the Moon’s equator. Apollo 15 would land well North of the lunar equator in a rugged area of the Moon called Hadley Rille , a winding gorge-like formation in the area of the 14,000 ft lunar Apennine mountains. The setting made for some of the very best photos taken on the Moon. It was the first Lunar landing site that was deemed scientifically important enough to visit again (which lack of funding did not allow).

First long-duration mission (called a “J” mission)
The plan for lunar landings was broken down as mission milestones, with each type of objective receiving a sequential letter. The idea was that each Apollo mission would have the goal of showing proficiency in a particular area before moving on to the next objective.  In other words, if you were attempting to complete the “D” mission (testing the Lunar Module in low-earth orbit), you would take as many missions as necessary to achieve success. Only then, after the objective was met, would you continue to the next mission type. The “A” and “B” missions were unmanned Apollo test flights. “C” was the first manned mission, with the objective of testing the Command Module in low-earth orbit (accomplished by Apollo 7). “D” missions had the objective of testing the Lunar Module in low-earth orbit (accomplished by Apollo 9). The “G” mission was to accomplish the first manned lunar landing (performed by Apollo 11). “H” missions were short-duration (Accomplished by Apollo 12 and 14). But the “J” missions began the long-duration objectives with multiple EVAs, and Apollo 15 was the first of those missions. Apollo 15 had the long-duration life support and suits, and most uniquely, the lunar rover.

Space Race Leadership Warning: This technique is a great implementation of the 6th lesson of the Seven Forgotten Leadership Lessons of the Space Race – Persistence and Flexibility. Knowing that you couldn’t predict if any particular mission could accomplish any specific objective, mission planners separated the missions from the objectives so that objectives could be assigned to missions as objectives were completed. They were committed to their objectives, and this technique  allowed flexibility in how those objectives were accomplished. It had the interesting effect that is was not known ahead of time which Apollo mission would  accomplish the first lunar landing.

First use of the Lunar Rover
With the amazing lunar rover, Apollo 15 astronauts Scott and Irwin were able to perform 3 long EVAs (6.5 hours, 7.25 hours, and 4.75 hours, respectively). And with their lunar rover vehicle, they were able to cover vastly more ground than any previous Moon mission. Instead of being limited by walking distance from the Lunar Module (LM), they would now travel miles – about 17 miles total – at one point viewing the LM from as far away as 3 miles. Another first – they were the first crew to travel so far that they no longer had visual contact with the LM.

Specialized Extra Vehicular Activities (EVAs)
The first Apollo 15 lunar EVA was what was called a  “Stand-up” EVA. Dave Scott essentially opened the top hatch of the LM and took a panoramic view to get the lay of the land. Another EVA was performed by Command Module Pilot Al Worden after docking with the returning LM while on their return flight to Earth. It was the first deep space EVA to retrieve film canisters that had high-resolution images of the lunar surface taken by Worden while the other astronauts were walking on the Moon.

First Lunar Module liftoff filmed
The Lunar Rover had a remotely-operated camera, that for the first time was used to see the Lunar Module lift-off from the Moon.

Sorry for the extremely long post, but after all… this was my favorite Lunar landing mission.


Leadership Lessons from the Space Race, by

U.S. Space Shuttle Program Commemorative Coin
NASA’s Space Shuttle program will be coming to an end with the launch of the Shuttle Endeavour, currently scheduled for February 26, 2011. Our group is designing and developing The Space Shuttle Commemorative Coin. Follow and participate at, and click on the link to join the collaboration at our FaceBook page.

Ares I-X Rocket Medallion
Our most recent commemorative: Ares I-X “First Launch” medallions are still available at To honor Ares’ Apollo roots, each medallion contains metal flown to the surface of the moon on Apollo 11.

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