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50 Years Ago: Apollo 12 Astronauts Return from “Bullseye” World Tour

Three months after returning from the second Moon landing mission, Apollo 12 astronauts prepared to embark on another major journey, this time accompanied by their wives as well as NASA and State Department support staff. Like he had with the Apollo 11 astronauts, President Richard M. Nixon requested that Charles “Pete” Conrad, Richard F. Gordon and Alan L. Bean and their wives Jane, Barbara and Sue, respectively, undertake a 38-day around the world goodwill tour. During the journey, dubbed the “Bullseye” Presidential Goodwill World Tour in reference to the pinpoint landing Conrad and Bean made in the Moon’s Ocean of Storms, they visited 21 countries to demonstrate American goodwill to all people around the world. At the last moment, planners canceled a stop in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, due to ongoing unrest in the country, and indeed a coup overthrew reigning Prince Norodom Sihanouk while the group was already on the tour. In contrast to the Apollo 11 Giantstep world tour, this one received less publicity and is less well-documented.

World map showing the itinerary of the Apollo 12 Bullseye Presidential Goodwill World Tour.

On the morning of Feb. 16, 1970, a blue-and-white Boeing VC-137B touched down at Ellington Air Force Base (AFB) near the Manned Spacecraft Center, now the Johnson Space Center in Houston. Pete and Jane Conrad, Richard and Barbara Gordon, and Alan and Sue Bean waved good-bye to well-wishers who had gathered to see them off and stepped aboard the presidential plane. For the next five weeks, they traveled to four continents, crossed the Equator six times, met with dignitaries, rode in motorcades, and gave numerous speeches and press conferences. The first leg of their journey took them to Latin America, with an initial stop in Caracas, Venezuela, where they rode in a motorcade and lay a wreath on the tomb of Simón Bolívar. At their next stop in Lima, following a tour of the city the Peruvian President and his cabinet greeted them. The President of Chile and his wife greeted them in Santiago, where the three astronauts were elevated to the rank of Commandant of the Order of Merit. Conrad had previously visited Santiago during a goodwill tour with fellow astronaut L. Gordon Cooper following their Gemini 5 mission in 1965. At the final Latin American stop in Panama, the astronauts held a press conference and left their footprints in cement at the Olympic Stadium in Panama City. 

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Left: Apollo 12 astronauts (left to right) Conrad, Gordon and Bean greet the crowds
at the airport in Lima. Right: Apollo 12 astronauts (left to right) Bean, Conrad
and Gordon hold a press conference in Panama City.

From Panama the group flew to the Canary Islands for several days of rest before embarking on the European portion of their trip. After a brief stop in Lisbon, Portugal, they flew on to Luxembourg where the Grand Duke Jean and Duchess Josephine-Charlotte greeted them warmly and treated them to a gala dinner. The next morning they departed for brief visits in Copenhagen, Denmark, and Helsinki, Finland, before traveling on to Bucharest, Romania, the only Communist country on the itinerary. About 15,000 people met their motorcade, flying U.S. flags, and despite the icy winds, Conrad commented that it was the “warmest welcome we’ve had yet” on the tour. In the last European capital on their itinerary, Vienna, Austria, the group enjoyed a demonstration of the famous Lipizzaner horses. 

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Left: Apollo 12 astronauts and their wives with Grand Duke Jean and Duchess Josephine-Charlotte in Luxembourg. Right: The Apollo 12 astronauts presenting a flag that flew with them to Romanian President Nicolai Ceaucescu.

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Left: Conrad presenting Tunisian President Bourgiba with a flown flag from the Apollo 12 mission. Right: Apollo 12 astronauts (left to right) Bean, Conrad and Gordon in the motorcade in Tananarive.

From there, the tour continued on to Africa, with the first stop in Rabat, Morocco, where King Hassan II welcomed them to his palace and presented each astronaut with a ceremonial gem-encrusted gold Sword of the Moon. Then it was on to Tunis, Tunisia, where more than 300,000 people lined the parade route and President Habib Bourgiba held a reception in their honor. In Abidjan, Ivory Coast (Côte d’Ivoire), the country’s president honored the astronauts with gold plaques. During their visit to Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, the astronauts went on a hunt while their wives enjoyed a photo safari in Serengeti National Park and all spent the night in tents. At their final African stop in Tananarive (Antananarivo), Malagasy Republic (now Madagascar), the location of an important NASA tracking station, a tumultuous crowd cheered their motorcade, the astronauts held a press conference, and the country’s foreign minister held a reception in their honor. Conrad had visited Madagascar in 1965 on his post-Gemini 5 goodwill tour with Cooper.

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Left: Apollo 12 astronauts and their wives on arrival in Colombo. Right: Apollo 12 astronauts (left to right) Conrad, Gordon and Bean in the motorcade through the streets of Colombo.

In Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), their first Asian stop, in addition to the usual official formalities, the astronauts went scuba diving with author Arthur C. Clarke, a long-time resident of the island nation. From Colombo they traveled to Rangoon, Burma (now Yangon, Myanmar), where they visited several famous pagodas, and then on to Jakarta, Indonesia, where several thousand people welcomed them. 

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Left: Apollo 12 astronauts in the motorcade through Rangoon. Middle: Apollo 12 astronauts and their wives on arrival in Jakarta. Right: Apollo 12 astronauts’ wives (left to right) Gordon, Bean and Conrad during a reception in Jakarta.

The Apollo 12 astronauts received an especially warm welcome in Taipei, The Republic of China (Taiwan). Education Minister Chung Chai-kuong met them at the airport and escorted them in the motorcade into the city, the streets lined with thousands of people including many school children. With Taiwanese Navy Vice Admiral Yu Po-sheng, the all-Navy crew of Conrad, Gordon and Bean laid a wreath at the National Revolutionary Martyrs’ Shrine. Taiwanese President Chiang Kai-shek and First Lady Soong Mei-ling formally received them.

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Left: Taiwanese Education Minister Chung greeting Apollo 12 astronauts (left to right) Bean, Gordon and Conrad at the airport in Taipei. Middle: Taiwanese Navy Vice-Admiral Yu (second from left) with the Apollo 12 astronauts at the Martyrs’ Shrine. Right: Apollo 12 astronauts with Republic of China President Chiang Kai-shek (far left).

In Japan, the last country on the itinerary, the astronauts and their entourage arrived in Tokyo and immediately set out for Osaka via the Shinkansen high-speed bullet train. Osaka played host to the Expo ’70 World’s Fair and the astronauts visited the U.S. and Soviet pavilions, both of which included large space exhibits. In the U.S. pavilion, a photo opportunity presented itself when the three astronauts stood on the display of a Lunar Module. But of particular personal interest for Conrad, Gordon and Bean was a Moon rock they had returned from the Moon’s Ocean of Storms the previous November.

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Left: Apollo 12 astronauts (left to right) Bean, Conrad and Gordon stand on the Lunar Module exhibit at the Osaka World’s Fair. Middle: Crowds gather to see the Apollo 12 Moon rock at the Osaka World’s Fair. Right: Close-up of the Apollo 12 Moon rock display at the Osaka World’s Fair.

From Osaka, the group returned to Tokyo via the Shinkansen bullet train and then flew home to Houston where a large crowd of friends greeted them at Ellington AFB and the astronauts and their wives were reunited with their children. Among the well-wishers were Apollo 11 astronaut Neil A. Armstrong and his wife Janet.

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The Apollo 12 astronauts and their wives return to Houston’s Ellington AFB. Left: Sue and Alan Bean and Barbara Gordon descending the steps from the Presidential airplane. Middle: Jane (at left) and Pete Conrad (wearing hat) being welcomed home. Right: Dick Gordon (at left) and wife Barbara greeted by their children.

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Left: Apollo 11 astronaut Armstrong (at right) greeting Apollo 12 astronaut Bean at Ellington. Right: Janet Armstrong (at left) greeting Apollo 12 astronaut Gordon at Ellington.