Today in History – November 19, 1969 – The Apollo 12 becomes the second successful manned lunar landing with astronauts Charles Conrad and Alan Bean. The Apollo 12 mission almost failed at launch due to a leaking hydrogen tank; fortunately launch crew managed to change it before takeoff. The failure of the television camera was caused by Alan Bean, who had accidentally pointed it directly at the Sun causing the optics to burn out. The two astronauts spent over seven hours on the lunar surface and successfully retrieved parts of the Surveyor lander and returned it to Earth.
Apollo 13, the next manned mission to the moon, was launched on April 11, 1970 and nearly ended in tragedy when there was a fire and an explosion on board. Fortunately, quick thinking and skill by the astonauts and ground command allowed the astronauts to return to earth safely, but without carrying out their lunar landing mission. A total of eight astronauts travelled to the moon in five more Apollo missions with the final manned lunar landing of the Apollo 17 mission accomplished in December 1972. NASA maintains extensive online resources associated with the Apollo missions, including logs of the flight and lunar surface journals of the astronauts.
The high cost of the Apollo manned space exploration program led NASA to focus more on unmanned flights in future years. Much to the surprise of the public, President Bush in January 2004 announced a new program to send American astronauts to the Moon by 2020 as the launching point for missions to Mars and further into space. It is not clear whether NASA will be able to stay the course on this program with the changeover in NASA adminstration and presidential elections.