Landing in the previously unexplored Descartes Highlands, Apollo 16 was the fifth mission to land people on the Moon. Astronauts collected samples, took photographs and conducted experiments from the SIM bay and on the lunar surface, which included the first use of an ultraviolet camera on the Moon. 

What's the SIM bay?

Meet the Astronauts

The Apollo 16 prime crew mission portrait. The astronauts are, from left to right, Thomas K. Mattingly II, command module pilot, John W. Young, commander, and Charles M. Duke Jr., lunar module pilot.
  • John W. Young, Commander: Young had an extensive flight career with NASA. His mission history included Gemini 3, Gemini X, Apollo 10, Apollo 16, STS-1 (the first flight of the Space Shuttle Columbia), and STS-9 (the first flight of Spacelab). 
  • Thomas K. Mattingly II, Command Module Pilot: Mattingly's maiden voyage was originally intended to be the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission but he was replaced by John Swigert after he was exposed to the German measles just before the flight. Nonetheless he went on to partake in the Apollo 16, STS-4, and STS-51C missions.  
  • Charles M. Duke, Jr., Lunar Module Pilot: Apollo 16 was Duke's first and only spaceflight mission. 

The Descartes Highlands

8.97301° S latitude, 15.49812° E longitude 

The location of the Apollo 16 landing site on the moon, where anorthosite, or lunar highland, rocks were collected.

Apollo 16 astronauts explored the Descartes region, the first opportunity to explore the lunar highlands. The site was some 2,250 meters (7,400 feet) higher than the Apollo 11 site. Preliminary geological analysis of the highlands indicates that the Moon's crust underwent modification early in its history. By studying these modification processes, NASA hoped to achieve a better understanding of the development of this portion of the Moon's surface as well as the development of the Earth's crust, its continents, and ocean basins. 

This landing site had two basic terrains that were explored and sampled: the Cayley Plains — a smooth or undulating light plains unit, and the Descartes formation made up of hilly furrowed highland plateau material. Analysis of the samples showed that these geologic units were made up of debris generated by impact events, perhaps from the formation of large lunar basins. North and South Ray craters appeared to penetrate deeply into the Cayley formation and revealed a sequence of layering, perhaps through an overlap of both the Cayley and Descartes formations. 

Apollo 16 Traverse Map.

Apollo 16 in the Collection

Command Module, Apollo 16 Object Cuff Checklist, EVA 2 & 3, Apollo 16 (Young) Object Sampling Device, Soil Contact, Training, Apollo 16 Object Parachute, Main, Apollo 16 Object

Dr. George Carruthers 

On the Apollo 16 lunar mission in April 1972, astronaut John Young used a telescope to photograph star clouds, nebulae, and Earth's outermost atmosphere from the Moon. It was the first telescope used to make astronomical observations from the surface of another planetary body. 

Dr. Carruthers was a astronautical engineer and astronomer at the Naval Research Laboratory in Washington, DC. He developed and built the compact and powerful ultraviolet electronographic telescope Young used on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission.

Known as the "Lunar Surface Camera" or the "Far Ultraviolet Camera/Spectrograph," it performed extremely well – leading to enhanced knowledge of the Earth’s outermost atmosphere and of the vast spaces between the stars and galaxies invisible to the eye.

His Story

George Carruthers holding an Apollo film transport from 1972.

Object Highlight Camera, Lunar Surface Ultraviolet, Apollo 16

This Lunar Surface Camera had a 7.5-centimeter (3-inch) aperture lens and was designed to observe in the far-ultraviolet region of the spectrum. It represents a telescopic camera that was flown to the moon on Apollo 16. The original telescope is still on the moon, but this backup telescope, restored by Dr. Carruthers, is in the Museum's collection, and features an original film plate holder that was returned from the Moon.

View Apollo 16 camera

Earth's Geocorona

This image, taken by the first telescope on the Moon during the Apollo 16 mission, shows Earth's outermost atmosphere, or geocorona, a region where oxygen and nitrogen glow brightly in ultraviolet light. 

This image, taken by the lunar surface camera on the Moon, shows Earth's outermost atmosphere, or geocorona, a region where oxygen and nitrogen glow brightly in ultraviolet light. The glowing arcs extending over Earth's nighttime side are produced by oxygen ions (oxygen atoms that have lost an electron) recombining with electrons in the upper atmosphere.

Images like this one were not possible before the use of Carruther's powerful ultraviolet electronographic telescope during the Apollo 16 mission. 

What's that smell?

In 2016, when museum employees did a routine check of the Apollo to the Moon gallery they noticed a shocking acrid smell coming from one of the chambers, which contained the reconstructed lunar surface camera with parts that had flown to the Moon during Apollo 16.

Learn about the conservation process