Mars Craters Named After NASA's Apollo 12 Moonships

NASA's 1969 Apollo 12 mission to the moon.
NASA's 1969 Apollo 12 mission to the moon. The crater is 33 feet (10 meters) wide. NASA's Opportunity rover recorded this view of the crater during on Nov. 4, 2010. (Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

TwoMars craters photographed by NASA's Opportunity rover have received new namesto honor the historic Apollo 12 spaceships that carried humans on the secondflight to land on the moon.

Thecraters, which Opportunity has visited this month, are called "YankeeClipper" and "Intrepid" ? the same designations for the Apollo12 mission's command module and lunar lander during their November 1969 missionto the moon, NASA officials have announced. [Photo:Mars crater Yankee Clipper]

Duringthe Apollo12 lunar landing mission, astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean touched downon the moon in their lander, Intrepid, on Nov. 19, 1969, while crewmate DickGordon remained in lunar orbit aboard the command module Yankee Clipper. Themission occurred four months after the first manned lunar landing mission ?Apollo 11 - in July 1969.

Ina message to NASA's Mars rover team, Bean ? now 78 ? told the rover team thatit was a "wonderful honor" to have Mars craters named after theApollo 12 spacecraft. [Photo:Mars crater Intrepid]

"Forty-oneyears ago today, we were approaching the moon in Yankee Clipper with Intrepidin tow. We were excited to have the opportunity to perform some importantexploration of a place in the universe other than planet Earth where humans hadnot gone before," Bean said in a Nov. 18 statement. "We were anxiousto give it our best effort. You and your team have that same opportunity. Giveit your best effort."

Opportunitydrove past the crater Yankee Clipper on Nov. 4 and arrived at the Intrepidcrater on Nov. 9. The Yankee Clipper crater is about 33 feet (10 meters) wide,while Intrepid crater is twice that size.

Theidea to name the craters after the Apollo 12 spacecraft came from rover scienceteam member James Rice, NASA officials said.

"TheApollo missions were so inspiring when I was young, I remember all thedates," Rice said in a statement. "When we were approaching thesecraters, I realized we were getting close to the Nov. 19 anniversary for Apollo12."

Rice sentBean and Gordon ? the living members of the Apollo 12 crew ? photographs thatOpportunity took of the two craters. Gordon is 81. Conrad died 1999 at age 69in a motorcycle accident.

Opportunityphotographed the Yankee Clipper and Intrepid craters while driving toward aneven larger crater called Endeavour. That behemoth of a Mars crater is about 14miles (22 km) wide, mission scientists have said.

Opportunityand its robotic twin Spirit have been exploring Mars since both roverslanded on the Red Planet in January 2004.

Therobots were initially slated to perform a 90-day mission, but have faroutlasted their expected Martian lifetimes. The mission is overseen by NASA'sJet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Lastyear, Spirit got bogged down in deep sand and was later rechristened as astationary probe. The probe has been silent since late March, presumablyhibernating through the Martian winter, until sunlight levels increase enoughto resume operations on Mars, NASA officials have said. The Martian springbegan last week, they added.

Meanwhile,Opportunity has been making steady progress toward Endeavour crater.

OnNov. 14, Opportunity's odometer passedthe 25-kilometer mark (about 15.53 miles). That's about 40 times thedistance Mars scientists expected the rovers to drive, NASA officials said.

"Importantly,it's not how far the rovers have gone but how much exploration and sciencediscovery they have accomplished on behalf of all humankind," said JohnCallas, NASA's Mars rover project manager at JPL.

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