SPACE CENTER, Houston -- Apollo 16 sped accurately toward the moon today, while engineers tried to determine what caused an insulating coating on the lunar lander to shred and blister like paint peeling off a weathered barn.
The problem was so perplexing that cool, veteran mission commander John W. Young told Mission Control, I'm not' normally a rabble-rouser, but there is just something funny going on here."
The difficulty, however, appeared confined to one small panel on the lander, and flight director M. Pete Frank said that Young, Thomas K. Mattingly, and Charles M. Duke should be able to go ahead with plans to land in the middle of the moons unexplored highlands Thursday.
The astronauts were n o t concerned, and, before going to sleep about 1 a.m., EST, Mattingly remarked, This is really a ball."
Engineers quickly began a series of experiments to see what turned the smooth two layer, grayish-brown paint into something resembling what Duke called "shredded wheat."
There was nothing wrong with the command ship. If the moon landing were called off for some reason, Apollo 16 still would swing into lunar orbit Wednesday and map the moon for six days.
Project officials, however, appeared confident the $445 million, 12-day mission would proceed as planned.
The goal is to sample for the first time the mountainous terrain that makes up three-fourths of the moons surface. This should give scientists a better understanding of the moons early days 3 to 4.5 billion years ago when it was wracked by volcanism and heavy meteoroid bombardment.
The mystery began three hours after launch from Cape Kennedy Sunday. When the astronauts turned the command ship Casper around and got their first look at the lunar module Orion, Duke reported seeing a lot of white particles" coming from it.
Concern grew In Mission Control when Young goi a look later at Orion in the bright sun and said:
"I see something coming off the lunar module now. It looks like its coming out of a vent or something. This is definitely coming out in a stream right now."
This suggested a gas was leaking from the lander. Young and Duke were ordered to enter the attached spacecraft a day ahead of schedule to check its systems.
After the astronauts applied power to the landers instruments, controllers were able to read engineering measurements that were radioed back. They found nothing wrong.
Nevertheless, the astronauts said the coating on a thin aluminum panel covering a set of tanks for control rockets had curled up and looked like shredded wheat.
"Its very perplexing as to what caused the skin to degrade but at this time there is no undue concern about it," the spokesman said at midnight.
Before going to sleep after their first day in space, the moon pilots turned the 50-ton spaceship around and photographed the Earth in ultraviolet light that is not visible to man. This experiment was planned to help scientists better prepare for robot probes of other planets using ultraviolet sensors.
Later today, the astronauts planned to use the weightless ness of space to test an improved process to purify mobile materials.