Read: What is the Apollo 11 landing site like now?
The mishap stung, but it was not catastrophic. Conrad and his crewmates Bean and Dick Gordon weren’t poised to become household names. They were under considerably less pressure, and that created a little more tolerance for error—and fun. Whoopee!
The Apollo 12 crew launched from Cape Canaveral on a rainy day, November 14, 1969. Trouble struck seconds into the flight, when warning lights lit up the inside of the crew capsule. The rocket had been struck by lightning—twice—and the capsule’s electrical systems had failed. But the rocket kept climbing, and flight controllers managed to quickly guide the astronauts to restoring the systems.
The mission unfolded smoothly from there, and displays of playfulness started sneaking in. Sure, Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had bounced around the lunar surface with glee, but Conrad and Bean could moonwalk without the weight of a nation on their shoulders. “You know what I feel like, Al?” Conrad said to Bean at one point. “What?” Bean replied. “Did you ever see those pictures of giraffes running in slow motion?” Conrad said. “That’s exactly what I feel like.”
The Apollo 11 astronauts had ventured out for less than three hours, long enough to collect some rocks, stick a flag into the dust, and call the president. Conrad and Bean made two trips outside their lander, spending nearly eight hours exploring the surface, even visiting a spacecraft that NASA had landed nearby two years earlier. “The high-spirited, exuberant Apollo 12 lunar excursions were a welcome contrast to the formal, tension-filled Apollo 11 lunar walk,” says Hamish Lindsay, who oversaw transmissions during the Apollo program from Honeysuckle Creek, a NASA tracking station in Australia. Lindsay wrote that the astronauts “entertained us as they whooped, hummed, joked, and rollicked around, already quite at home in this alien new environment.”
The merry tone came from the personalities of the sequel’s cast. Armstrong was, in public, reserved and stoic, but Conrad was known for his free-spiritedness, exemplified by his random bouts of dancing. Bean called everyone “babe.” The Apollo 12 transcript is full of swearing too NSFW to include here, including a surprisingly crude reference to a porcupine. “If you can’t be good, be colorful” was Conrad’s motto—a worthy tagline for round two.
Read: One small controversy about Neil Armstrong’s giant leap
It is difficult to imagine, for instance, that colleagues would have pranked 11’s crew as they did 12’s. During moonwalks, the astronauts wore little books on their wrists, full of instructions for their activities. When they flipped through the pages, they came across pictures of topless women. The mission’s backup astronauts had sneaked several photos of well-known Playboy models into the instructions, apparently without NASA’s knowledge.