Apollomania is sweeping the nation! 

Well, not quite mania, perhaps just Apollostalgia.  That's defined as showing an interest in the Apollo program history, while lacking the will to actually recommit to exploring space. 

As we look at the 40th anniversary of humankind's first setting foot on a celestial body other than the Earth, I will state clearly that Apollo 12 was the peak of the Apollo program.

Now, it's true Apollo 11 is when humans first set foot on the moon.  It's Apollo 11's anniversary, it's getting the lion's share of the attention right now. 

But I maintain Apollo 12, launched a scant 4 months later, was the most important moon landing in all of history.  Let's review:

First humans set foot on the moon?  That was Apollo 11.
Biggest space rescue? Apollo 13.
First seismic studies? And first golf shot?  Apollo 14.
First moon buggy?  Apollo 15.
First visit to the lunar highlands?  Apollo 16.
First geologist on the moon?  Apollo 17.

So what the heck distinguishes Apollo 12, what makes it so tremendously important in the scheme of scientific history?

Apollo 12 proved that landing people on the moon was repeatable.  It taught us that Apollo 11 was not just a fluke, not a single ascent  The moon became, with Apollo 12, a viable, revisitable destination.  And if we can do it twice, we can keep doing it forever.

Science is all about repeatability.  A result observed just once is nigh useless.  At the risk of being repetitious, if it can't be repeated, it isn't science.
Apollo 12 logo
It helped that Apollo 12 was hit by lightning 36.5 seconds after launch.  Yes, helped-- it showed toughness.  Reliability.  Success in the face of adversity.  If a Saturn V can survive a lightning hit and still get 3 men to the Moon, why, nothing can stop us!

Nothing other than economics and politics, at least.  From a technical standpoint, the moon is a solved problem.  Apollo 12 proved that.  So I offer my thanks to Conrad, Gordon, Bean, and their ground crew, who showed us that the Moon truly can belong to anyone.

Alex, the daytime astronomer

The Daytime Astronomer, Tues&Fri here, via RSS feed, and twitter @skyday