• Aeryn Avilla

It's Been A Long Way But We're Here: Fifty Years Since Apollo 14

Updated: May 28

Fifty years ago today on January 31, 1971, astronauts Alan Shepard, Stuart Roosa, and Ed Mitchell launched to the moon on the seventh manned Apollo flight, Apollo 14. It was the twenty-fourth crewed US spaceflight and the fortieth crewed spaceflight overall. It was the third manned lunar landing and brought the first American in space to the Fra Mauro region of the moon ten years after his historic flight.

Astronaut Alan Shepard on the lunar surface

Commander Alan Shepard stands on the lunar surface (NASA)

The commander of Apollo 14 was Alan Shepard, a veteran of one previous spaceflight, Mercury-Redstone 3 in 1961, and the first American to fly in space. He was slated to command the first manned Gemini flight, Gemini 3 in 1965, but was grounded and cut from the mission when it was discovered he had Meniere's disease, a disorder of the inner ear that leads to vertigo. He was named Chief of the Astronaut Office during this time and was brought back to active flight status in 1969. The command module pilot (CMP) was Stuart Roosa, a former smokejumper and rookie from the fifth class of astronauts who was slated to command Apollo 20 before it was cut from the program in early 1970. The lunar module pilot (LMP) was Ed Mitchell, another rookie from the same class. They were the original prime crew of Apollo 13 set to fly in spring 1970 but NASA management felt Shepard needed more time for training, given he had not flown in nearly a decade. The trio was bumped to Apollo 14 instead. Apollo 13, which did not land on the moon as the result of a crippling explosion in the Apollo service module, was flown by Jim Lovell, Jack Swigert, and Fred Haise. The backup commander for Apollo 14 was Gene Cernan, who previously flew Gemini 9A in 1966 and Apollo 10 in 1969. The backup CMP was Ron Evans and the backup LMP was Joe Engle, both rookies from Roosa and Mitchell's class. Engle would later be replaced by geologist Jack Schmitt for the Apollo 17 mission in 1972.

Crew of Apollo 14

Mitchell, Shepard, and Roosa (NASA)

The Apollo 14 mission emblem, seen in the photo above, was designed by Jean Beaulieu and based on a sketch by Alan Shepard. Its focus is the pin of the Astronaut Office leaving Earth and approaching the moon. It symbolizes Shepard's experience as Chief Astronaut and the entire astronaut corps joining him on his journey to the moon in spirit.

The command/service module (CSM) of Apollo 14 was named Kitty Hawk after the location of the Wright Brothers' historic first powered flight in 1903. Roosa chose the name. The lunar module (LM) was named Antares after the star in the constellation Scorpius. The star was used by Shepard and Mitchell in the LM to orient the craft for its lunar landing. Mitchell chose the name. CSM-110 Kitty Hawk is now on display at the Apollo/Saturn V Center at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida. The descent stage of LM-8 Antares is still on the lunar surface where it will likely remain until the end of time.

Apollo 14 command module Kitty Hawk at the Kennedy Space Center

Kitty Hawk at the Apollo/Saturn V Center (image credit: Aeryn A.)

The primary mission objective was the exploration of the Fra Mauro region of the moon, located approximately 110 miles (177 km) east of the Ocean of Storms, the landing site of Apollo 12. It was centered around the deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Scientific Experiments Package (ALSEP) and also included lunar field geology, the collection of surface material samples for study on Earth, and the deployment of other scientific instruments. While Shepard and Mitchell were on the surface, Roosa in the CSM focused on the photography of potential future landing sites, the photography of deep space phenomena, communications testing, and the evaluation of hardware and techniques used on lunar missions.

Apollo 14 launched from LC-39A at the Kennedy Space Center at 4:03 p.m. EST. The crew experienced difficulties in docking the CSM with the LM and six attempts were made before hard-dock was finally achieved. If the spacecraft were unable to dock, the mission would have to be aborted. Prior to powered descent to the lunar surface, a short in the LM's computer's abort switch was discovered. This too could have triggered an undesired abort.

Launch of Apollo 14

Apollo 14 launch (NASA)

Antares landed on the moon on February 5 near the Fra Mauro crater and was the most precise lunar landing to date— only 87 feet (26.5 m) from the targeted landing point. The first extravehicular activity (EVA) began the same day, almost an hour later than scheduled due to communication problems. At 9:42 a.m EST, Alan Shepard became the fifth and oldest person to walk on the moon at forty-seven years old, speaking the words, "And it's been a long way, but we're here." Mitchell followed soon after. The main objectives for the day's EVA was ALSEP deployment and planting the US flag.

Apollo 14 lunar module Antares on the moon

The second EVA began the following morning at 4:15 a.m. EST. The pair's overall displacement from the LM was more than half a mile, farther than either of the previous crews. Selenological experiments (selenology is the branch of astronomy that deals with the moon), collecting lunar samples, and venturing to the rim of Cone crater were on the day's schedule. Cone crater was located at an altitude approximately 300 feet (91.5 m) above the landing site. Shepard and Mitchell had almost reached the rim when Mission Control advised them to turn around and head back to Antares. This EVA lasted 4 hours and 35 minutes and set a new record for cumulative lunar landing crew EVA time of 9 hours and 24 minutes. Shepard also set a new distance-traveled record on the lunar surface of approximately 9,000 feet or 1.7 miles (2.74 km). 94 pounds (42.6 kg) of rocks and soil were collected, brought back to Earth, and distributed to 187 scientific teams in the US and 14 other countries for study and analysis. It was during this EVA the most memorable event of the entire Apollo 14 mission took place: Shepard, a golf fan, brought along a six iron golf club head which he attached to the handle of a lunar excavation tool and two golf balls whose brand was never made public [1]. He took several one-handed swings at the balls and sent them "miles and miles and miles" across the lunar surface.

NASA footage of Shepard hitting the golf balls

While in orbit by himself, Roosa focused on the lunar orbiting tasks of photography and communications and hardware testing. He attempted to photograph the Descartes region of the moon, which is where Apollo 16 was planned to land the following year, but he experienced difficulties with the Hycon Lunar Topographic Camera. Having worked in forestry, Roosa also took several hundred tree seeds on the flight and after their return to Earth, they were germinated and distributed around the world as Moon Trees. A dated and incomplete list of the moon trees' locations can be found here. A moon tree for each of the twelve crewed Apollo missions was planted at the Apollo/Saturn V Center for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 in 2019. Liftoff of Antares from Fra Mauro took place precisely on schedule at 1:48 p.m EST on February 6. Rendezvous and docking with Kitty Hawk were only two minutes late.

Kitty Hawk splashed down in the Pacific Ocean south of American Samoa at 4:05 p.m. on February 9, exactly nine days and two minutes after liftoff. Its actual landing point was only 1.02 nautical miles (1.6 km) from its targeted point and only 4 miles (6.4 km) from its recovery ship, USS New Orleans. The total mission duration was 216 hours and 2 minutes. After flying to Hawaii, the crew flew to Ellington Air Force Base near Houston where they were quarantined in the Lunar Receiving Laboratory for eighteen days. They were the last crew to be quarantined after returning home from the moon (Apollo's 11 and 12 were as well) and the only to be quarantined both before and after the flight.

Apollo 14 crew in quarantine

The crew inside the Mobile Quarantine Facility onboard the USS New Orleans


Alan Shepard was promoted to Rear Admiral the following August and retired from both NASA and the US Navy in 1974. He served on boards of numerous corporations and was the first president and chairman of the Astronaut Scholarship Foundation, an organization founded by surviving members of the Mercury Seven and Gus Grissom's widow Betty that still today provides college scholarships to science and engineering students. He died of complications from chronic lymphocytic leukemia on July 21, 1998. Roosa retired from NASA and the Air Force as a Colonel in 1976 and like Shepard (and most other retired astronauts), held positions in both international and US businesses and organizations. He passed away from complications of pancreatitis on December 12, 1994. Mitchell retired from NASA and the Navy as a Captain in 1972. After Apollo 14 he became heavily interested in paranormal phenomena, particularly remote healing and ufology. He spent the rest of his life focusing in that area of study and died on February 4, 2016, on the eve of the 45th anniversary of his lunar landing.

Ed Mitchell's memorial at the Kennedy Space Center (image credit: Aeryn A.)

Apollo 14 was NASA's first triumph after the Apollo 13 disaster in 1970 and brought the first American in space to the lunar surface. It paved the way for Apollo 15, the next lunar flight that launched in July 1971.

Quick Facts

Commander: Alan B. Shepard

Command Module Pilot: Stuart A. Roosa

Lunar Module Pilot: Edgar D. Mitchell

Backup CDR: Eugene A. Cernan

Backup CMP: Ronald E. Evans

Backup LMP: Joe H. Engle

CSM Callsign: Antares (CSM-110)

LM Callsign: Kitty Hawk (LM-8)

Launch Vehicle: Saturn V

Launch Date: 31 January 1970

Launch Site: LC-39A, KSC

Orbits: 34

Lunar Landing Date: 5 February 1970

Lunar Landing Site: Fra Mauro

Splashdown Date: 9 February 1970

Recovery Carrier: USS New Orleans

Pop Culture

The mission was depicted in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon. A clip of Shepard during suit-up at the Kennedy Space Center is also featured in the intro to Star Trek: Enterprise.

Author's Note: Thanks for reading and remember to like and share this post!

[1] The brand of golf ball Shepard brought to the moon will most likely never be known— its name has presumably been bleached white by the intense sunlight it has been exposed to the past five decades.


Dunbar, Brian. “Apollo 14.” NASA, NASA, 9 Jan. 2018, www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/apollo/missions/apollo14.html.

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