ABOARD U.S.S. HORNET -- The triumphant Apollo 12 astronauts finished their million-mile conquest of the moon upside-down in a wind-churned Pacific yesterday but righted their ship and came out grinning.
Charles "Pete" Conrad, Alan L. Bean and Richard F. Gordon came back to earth "right on the money" both in location and timing. They were immediately promoted in Navy rank from commanders to captains by President Nixon.
THE APOLLO command ship, the Yankee Clipper, toppled over in the South Pacific in a whistling 24-mile-an-hour wind and 11-foot seas right after splashdown, but the astronauts had it upright in five minutes.
Then came Conrad's voice with the wonderful words: "All okay!"
AT HOME in Houston, Conrad's wife, Jane, watched the splashdown together with her family and with Neil A. Armstrong, America's first man on the moon.
"This is wonderful . . . This is fabulous . . . This is great!"
THE LANDING came at 10:58 a.m. Hawaii time, about three miles from the recovery ship Hornet a little more than 400 miles southeast of Pago Pago.
Man's second landing expedition to the moon had gone as smooth as cream except for the launching at Cape Kennedy last week when storm-generated electricity shot up the side of the Saturn spacecraft as it roared skyward.
Chris C. Kraft director of flight operations for the National Space and Aeronautics Administration revealed at a Houston news conference just after splashdown that "I think we have to be honest and say that was a moment of concern for all of us."
"I would not have been surprised that we might have our first abort."
THE UPSIDEDOWN South Pacific caper was not exactly planned either, but it had been dealt with many times before in practice and the astronauts were not really in any danger at that time. The wind was far stronger than had been forecast, however, and it sent the craft bobbing wildly.
Bean received a crack on the head from a camera in the splash. But all three were pronounced fit and they looked it as they peered from the quarantine trailer in which they will stay until returning to the space center.
The Hornet will carry the trailer to Honolulu, arriving Friday. From Hawaii, they will be flown to Houston to enter the lunar quarantine lab, where they will remain until Dec. 10.
PRESIDENT NIXON phoned the astronauts from the White House and promoted them on the spot.
Nixon said he was sorry he couldn't be aboard the Hornet.
"You weren't the first on the moon," he said, "but, Commander Conrad, you were the first to sing from the moon. We had the first moonquake and the first press conference from outer space.
"I've been trying to think of some way to recognize you, so exercising my prerogative as commander-in-chief of the armed forces, I decided you should be promoted and from this day forth shall be known as Captain Conrad, Captain Gordon and Captain Bean. Congratulations."
CONRAD spoke briefly by radio with Thomas O. Paine, NASA head.
"Al Bean got whacked with a camera when we splashed down, but everybody's just fine," Conrad said.
"Every one of us is mighty proud of you for that tremendous job you did," Paine said.
"We were proud to represent Americans on the moon," Conrad replied.
THERE WAS a breathless three and a half minutes from the time the astronauts hit the earth's atmosphere at 24,600 m.p.h. and lost contact with Houston ground control and the carrier, until they came out of the radio blackout.
"It's right on the money," Conrad said.
There was another moment of suspense when the carrier relayed word that the capsule was upside-down in the water.
The astronauts immediately inflated three yellow-and-brown balloons on the outside nose of the craft, and it slowly turned over and pointed its nose toward the sky, though rolling with the seas.
"IT IS BOUNCING -- pardon me -- like a cork,'' Conrad said.
'Everybody's okay," Gordon joined in.
At 11:40 a.m. Conrad emerged from the command module, followed by Conrad and Bean.
Waves sloshed against the spacecraft's sloping side at one point, knocking a recovery swimmer from the flotation collar into an orange raft.
A helicopter picked up the astronauts in a basket-shaped net first Gordon, then Bean, then Conrad.
THE THREE astronauts brought back in Yankee Clipper not only another sample of the moon's crust but also parts of a robot spacecraft exposed on its surface since 1967.
Conrad and Bean America's second pair of moon-walkers had left on the lunar surface a nuclear-powered laboratory which will send back lunar secrets for more than a year and open the way for new and more scientific adventures beginning with Apollo 13 in March.
ON THEIR WAY HOME from the moon, they marveled at a sight that Bean described as "the most spectacular of the flight."
"What we see now is the sun eclipsed by the earth and what it's done is illuminate the entire atmosphere all the way around the earth," he said.