November 14, 1969 – Thirty-six-and-a-half seconds after the launch of Apollo 12, the space vehicle triggered a lightning discharge through itself and down to the earth through the Saturn’s ionized plume. Protective circuits on the fuel cells in the Service Module falsely detected overloads and took all the fuel cells offline, as well as much of the Command/Service Module instrumentation. At 52 seconds after liftoff, a second strike knocked out the “8-ball” attitude indicator. The telemetry stream at Mission Control was garble, but Apollo 12 continued to fly correctly. The strikes had not affected the Saturn V rocket’s Instrument Unit.
000:09:02 Conrad (onboard): I think we got hit by lightning.
000:09:04 Gordon Bean (onboard): I do, too.
000:09:06 Gordon (onboard): Something took care of those panels, I’ll say that for it.
Pete Conrad from the 1969 technical debrief: “Because I could see outside, I made the comment to them several times. I told the ground that I thought we had been hit by lightning. I was the only one that had any outside indications. Dick didn’t note anything over his little hole in his center window. I was the only one who noticed anything and that was only the first time. I was aware that something external to the spacecraft had happened. I had the decided impression that I not only saw it, but felt it and heard it.”
Alan Bean from the 1969 technical debrief: “I knew we had power, so I didn’t want to make any changes. I figured we could fly into orbit just like that and that’s exactly what we did. The ground came up a little later and said to put the fuel cells back on the line. I was a little hesitant about doing that, because I didn’t understand that we had been hit by lightning. I gave it a go and, sure enough, things started working very well after that.”