© John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA
THE ANIMALS SHOW THE WAY - DOGS
The Luna flights accomplished by an SL-3 vehicle demonstrated to the Soviets
that they could put a man into space with all the support equipment needed. By
1958 Korolev was making plans to put a man into space. There was a debate within
the Soviet Union about whether or not to accomplish piloted flight or continue
with the highly successful unmanned satellite program; the manned side of the
argument won. Another argument ensued on how to handle a human spaceflight
program; one side wanted to go slowly with suborbital missions; Korolev wanted
the first mission to be orbital; Korolev won another argument. By the end of
1958 the VOSTOK missions were approved and the spacecraft design began.
The Vostok spacecraft contained two sections: the cosmonaut sat in a
spherically shaped descent module while the instruments and retrorocket to bring
the orbiter back to Earth were housed in a double cone structure below the
descent module. The overall weight of Vostok was 9,400 pounds; it had a length
of 4.4 meters (15 feet) and a diameter of 2.43 m (10 feet). On the first manned
missions, the orbit was to be low enough to allow the craft to decay naturally
into the atmosphere within ten days of launch. In case of retrorocket failure,
each Vostok had ten days of food and water to keep the cosmonaut alive while he
waited a natural return to Earth.
The spherical descent module weighed 4,920 pounds and had a diameter of 7.6
feet. Because of the module's mass a huge parachute would have been required to
soft-land the vehicle. Since the SL-3 booster was severely power limited due to
the weight of the Vostok spacecraft, the first cosmonauts would eject from the
craft at an altitude of 7km or 23,000 feet. After ejection, the cosmonaut would
separate from his seat and parachute to earth landing at a speed of about 5m/sec
During 1960 the Korolev Team tested the first Vostok vehicles. These craft
were designated as A, B, and V. A was to be totally non-recoverable; B was
recoverable with dogs and other specimens on board for environmental testing;
and V (the 3rd letter in the Russian alphabet) was to house the first
cosmonauts. The A and B version of Vostok were called Sputnik-Korabl or sputnik
On the 15th of May 1960 the first Sputnik-Korabl was launched into a 65º
inclined orbit at an altitude of 369 km(229 miles). This flight lasted four
days; during this time the Russians tested the craft's retrofire capability and
found that the craft malfunctioned placing itself into a higher orbit rather
than descending to Earth as planned. On July 23, 1960 another Sputnik-Korabl was
launched , but the booster failed exploding over the steppes. On August 19 two
Siberian dogs Strelka and Belka, survived the trip into space including a test
of the cosmonaut ejection seat. On the next Sputnik-Korabl flight, Pchelka and
Mushka joined Laika as early canine martyrs. The Soviets tested a new solar
orientation system that failed and led to the spacecraft entering at the wrong
angle. The dogs died quickly in the resulting conflagration. On 22 December the
third stage of the SL-3 failed and the two dogs on board survived the aborted
launch. Two more Sputnik-Korabl flights occurred in 1961: March 9 and 25. The
cosmodogs Chernushka and Zvezdochka survived their flights without problem.
Zvezdochka had a travelling companion, a manikin on board in a cosmonaut suit.
The manikin, with a name of "MAKET" which means dummy or model in
Russian, was also known affectionately by the cosmonauts as "Ivan
Ivanovich". The road was paved for the first cosmonauts to begin their
THE COSMONAUTS AND VOSTOK
In 1959 the Soviet government began to recruit military pilots for cosmonaut
training. The initial screening of the candidates took place in October and the
final selection of twenty pilots occurred in February 1960. Training for the
cosmonaut corps began on March 14, 1960 and the curriculum was almost totally
aviation medicine. The cosmonauts complained to Korolev and soon they were
learning about spacecraft design and orbital mechanics. Because training
facilities were limited, Korolev chose six cosmonauts from the original twenty
to received "advanced training." Fresh from his many space triumphs
Korolev now became more involved in the cosmonaut training and showed them the
Vostok spacecraft at his design bureau. The six later went to Tyuratam to watch
the launch of Sputnik-Korabl 5. The results of this mission were discussed on
the 28th of March and on April 3, 1961 the Soviet Government approved the first
manned launch. Korolev had not selected the crew for the mission, but all bets
were on Yuri Alexeyevich Gagarin and Gherman Stepanovich Titov.
"HE WAS THE FIRST" - YURI A. GAGARIN
Yuri A. Gagarin was born in the village of Klushino on March 9, 1934 the son
of a poor Smolensk peasant. He lived a life no different from the rest of the
village children: he learned rhymes at three; learned how to count at five; and
learned how to read and write at six. He was supposed to start school at age
seven, but a brutal event kept him from this for two years.
On October 12, 1941 the Nazis invaded Klushino and Yuri's family was driven
from their home and forced to live in a dirt dugout. In 1942 Yuri witnessed his
first air battle as the red-starred fighters from his homeland fought the black
iron crosses of the enemy. Finally, on his birthday in 1943 elements of the Red
Army liberated Klushino and Yuri began his formal education.
In 1946 he joined the Young Pioneers and continued his formal education; at
17 he attended a secondary school for industrial technology similar to U.S.
colleges. In 1953 Gagarin read Tsiolkovsky's book BEYOND THE EARTH and his heart
was set forever on becoming a pilot and perhaps going into space. The next two
years he joined a flying club and excelled as a pilot noted for actions beyond
those expected such as saving a fellow student from a burning plane and
extinguishing the fire. In October 1955 he joined the Soviet Armed Forces
enlisting as a flying cadet. At the end of his training on October 4, 1957 he
learned of Sputnik and of his assignment to the North frontiers of the Soviet
Union to fly MiG 15s.
During his time in the North Yuri flew, read Tsiolkovsky, and lectured fellow
pilots about space flight. After Luna-1's successful flight to the Moon, Gagarin
went to his commanding officer and volunteered to become a candidate for
cosmonaut training. His commander was unsure of how to proceed because nobody
had ever volunteered to go into space before. Yuri helped his own cause by
writing a report about the Soviet Space program and his intentions to volunteer
for flying a spacecraft. On October 12, 1959 a Commission of Officers arrived to
interview volunteers for cosmonaut duty; Yuri Gagarin was selected to go to
Moscow for further evaluation. During the extensive medical evaluations testing
every part of the human body only one out of fifteen applicants made the grade.
Then, on January 14, 1960 Yuri Gagarin was dispatched to Moscow for
On January 20, Gagarin began another series of exhaustive tests in the
military hospital. The doctors tested him unmercifully with the latest
biochemical, physiological, electrophysiological, and psychological methods. On
February 25, 1960 after these extremely thorough tests, the first twenty
cosmonauts were chosen - Yuri A. Gagarin among them.
After packing his gear at his Arctic home, Gagarin began his new career on
March 14, 1960. General Nikolai Kamanin, the Chief of Space Flight, told the
cosmonauts: "The first spaceflight will be the task of the man who embodies
the noble spirit of his people. It will be the man who is aware of his vast
responsibility in this scientific and patriotic mission, and who has mastered
everything he has been taught." The curriculum included courses in
astronomy, geophysics and space medicine taught by the Soviet experts such as
the great rocket designer Professor Mikhail Tikhonravov who developed and taught
a course about orbital mechanics. Additionally, the cosmonauts made visits to
design bureaus, research institutes, factories, and other academic facilities.
They were under constant physical and psychological strain and medical exams
could happen unannounced at any time.
In April the cosmonauts started parachute training in all different kinds of
weather. In May the Government established the new cosmonaut training center
called Zvyozdny Gorodok (Star City). Soon the cosmonauts were learning radio and
electrical engineering, control engineering, and telemechanics. Physical
education became strenuous as ice-hockey, swimming, and volleyball were added to
the cosmonauts' curriculum.
On May 31, 1960 the six top cosmonaut students were separated into a distinct
group; Yuri Gagarin was the top individual. These six were given preference in
using the space training equipment. In the middle of June the six cosmonauts met
Korolev who showed the cosmonauts their spaceship. When Korolev asked for a
volunteer to enter the craft, Gagarin volunteered and before he did so, he
removed his shoes, and old Russian folk tradition one observed before entering a
Heat chamber and centrifuge testing began for the six cosmonauts; they also
worked in a mock up to practice switch positions. One interesting test was the
surdochamber where everything was dead silent for 24 hours the doctors wrote the
following concerning Gagarin: "... demonstrated a high degree of functional
neuro-psychological capacity... an ability to quickly orient himself;
self-control..." His cosmonaut file had the following entries:
"...Submits useful suggestions at meetings. Always sure of his resources...
very difficult if not impossible to upset...Stands out among his colleagues
thanks to his great scope of active attention, bright mind and quick reaction.
An assiduous student..." Gagarin showed special adaptivity in the
centrifuge often withstanding 13 gs and having no problems operating at full
capacity in weightlessness. By the end of 1960 the training tempo had increased;
Gagarin was the odds on favorite to go into space first.
In January 1961 General Kamanin headed an examination board for the
cosmonauts. Upon completion the board ranked Yuri Gagarin first and Gherman
Titov second. These two and the remaining four candidates selected for the
advanced training were named as official cosmonauts. On March 24 the six
cosmonauts went to Tyuratam now officially called Baikonaur; there they watched
the successful launch and recovery of the dog Zvyozdochka and the dummy
On April 3, 1961 the Soviet Government made the decision to launch a man into
space; Korolev, Gagarin, and Titov left for Baikonaur. On April 9 General
Kamanin told Gagarin that he would be the first man to go into space and that
Titov would be his backup. On April 10 the training schedule was interrupted by
a government board meeting with photographers and journalists. At this meeting
Korolev announced that Gagarin would be first with Titov as his backup. On April
11th the cosmonauts went through intensive training at the launch pad and in the
area with constant questioning on procedures and constant doctor supervision.
Finally, at 10:00 P.M. the cosmonauts went to bed. Korolev looked in on the
cosmonauts twice during the night as did the doctor, Karpov.
APRIL 12, 1961
At 5:30 A.M. Karpov woke Gagarin and Titov and gave them a prompt physical
exam. After a breakfast of meat puree and toast with black currant jam, Gagarin
put on his space suit and boarded a bus for the launch pad. He climbed into the
spaceship at 7:00 A.M. and completed numerous checks. A flaw in the hatch system
was promptly fixed at 8:10 A.M. At 8:30 the backup, Titov was told to remove his
spacesuit, Gagarin would definitely be first into space. Korolev did most of the
communicating with the cosmonaut. At 9:07 the SL-3 ignited and Gagarin was on
his way. Korolev wished Gagarin a safe flight and nervously awaited word that
the cosmonaut was in space. "I see Earth. It's so beautiful!" were the
first words spoken from a man in space. At 9:26 Gagarin reported that the flight
was going as planned and he wrote in his log about the mountain ranges and
coastlines. At 10:02 TASS News Agency made the first announcement about the
cosmonaut in orbit. Immediately the world presses began besieging Moscow for
more information. At 10:25 the retrorockets fired and Gagarin began his descent
to Earth. At 10:55 the Vostok capsule landed 30 km southwest of Engels near the
village of Smelovka. A grandmother, Anna Takhtarova, her granddaughter and a cow
were the first beings to see Yuri Gagarin after he parachuted to Earth from his
capsule. By 10:59 the recovery team had arrived and Gagarin became a major
figure in world history.
Vostok's flight duration was 108 minutes; its highest altitude was 327
kilometers. Yuri A. Gagarin became the first human to fly into space. There was
very little information given about the work which Gagarin did in flight. There
were worries about how weightlessness might adversely affect the control of the
spacecraft; therefore, the manual controls were locked. Gagarin was nothing more
than a passenger. The first manned space mission was completed. America's hope
of getting a man into space first was denied, but the Americans worked hard with
Project Mercury and remained in the race.
© John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA
One of the first projects of the brand new organization, NASA, was to
immediately establish Project Mercury with the mission of placing a human into
orbit and return him to Earth basically to see what the effects of space would
be on the human body. Could a human endure weightlessness? Could a human survive
the possible radiation effects? Could a human eat in space and sleep in space?
Could a human accomplish all natural body functions in space? To answer these
series of questions NASA put out a call for volunteers from the military
services test pilots to become astronauts.
508 military pilots initially met NASA's criteria to be ordinary supermen.
After discussions with commanders and instructors this list was culled to 69.
NASA invited these remaining pilots to Washington, D.C. to interview for the
program and 37 dropped out. The remaining 32 underwent exhaustive physical and
psychological testing and the list was further narrowed to 18. NASA made its
final choice of seven from this group and introduced them to the world on April
9, 1959 at a press conference. The selection process had been grueling.
One typical psychological test given was called the "Who am I
test." In this the potential astronaut would write down who he was 20
different ways. Example from John Glenn: "I am a man; I am a Marine; I am a
flyer; I am a husband; I am an officer; I am a father." As Glenn stated in
one of the many books about the first seven Mercury astronauts: "When you
got near the end it was not so easy to figure out much further just who you
were." They were also tested in the "idiot box" a room full of
blinking lights and buzzers. The problem was to push buttons and pull levers in
order to turn off the lights and to quiet the buzzers. The doctors ran it at
normal speed for 30 minutes, at double speed for 35 minutes, and quadruple speed
for 40 minutes. The purpose was to rattle the potential astronauts. In another
test the astronauts were shown a blank sheet of paper and were asked to tell the
test giver what was on the blank sheet of paper. There were a number of good
astronaut stories about the white sheet of paper.
The medical doctors also devised their tests for the potential astronauts.
They were emersed in water to measure their body fat. Their hearts were tested
with electrocardiograms and their brains with electroencephalograms. They were
given 17 different eye tests and several times they walked on tread mills until
their pulses reached 180, then rested, they started again. Doctors baked them in
chambers at 135º F and dunked their feet in ice water to watch the shock
reaction. They made several altitude runs in chambers to 65,000 feet and spent
several hours in total silence in soundproof rooms. There were respiration tests
where the men had to exhale for as long as possible. Scott Carpenter did it for
171 seconds and John Glenn for 151.
NASA introduced M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn,
Jr., Virgil I. Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald
K. Slayton as the seven Mercury astronauts. These men were the initial pilots to
put a U.S. man into space.
There was so much for everyone to learn that the astronauts split up the
chores among themselves. Scott Carpenter learned about the communications
systems and navigational aids; Alan Shepard concentrated on tracking range and
recovery procedures; John Glenn helped to design the instrument panel for the
capsule; Wally Schirra worked extremely hard on the life support systems; Gus
Grissom concentrated on the manual and automatic control systems in the capsule;
Gordon Cooper became the astronaut's expert on the Redstone ballistic missile
which would launch the first sub orbital flights; and Deke Slayton learned about
the rocket which would orbit them around the Earth, the Atlas.
For the next two years the astronauts not only learned their assignments, but
they also underwent a number of physical challenges to prepare themselves for
the first launches. They pulled g's in a 6 foot by 10 foot gondola which was
attached to a fifty foot arm and powered by a 4000 horsepower engine. The
astronauts endured forces as high as 18 positive g's (eyeballs in) and several
negative g's (eyeballs out) when they stopped. This was to get them accustomed
to the forces they would experience during the rocket launch and the capsule's
descent when they returned to Earth. One recent astronaut candidate claimed that
he could feel his heart actually touching his spine when going through the
positive g scenario in the gondola.
Another device used to test the astronauts' vertigo to the limit was called
the multiple axis space test inertia facility (MASTIF). This cage simulated the
condition of roll, pitch, and yaw simultaneously. Each individual was in three
cages which were gimbled in three different directions to accomplish this
torture. The astronaut was required to stabilize all three cages within thirty
seconds without reference to instruments.
Weightlessness was very difficult to simulate. The only way to do it was to
fly parabolic arcs in a Boeing-707. This would give a few seconds of
weightlessness, but not really enough to test each individual. Besides basic
microgravity orientation the astronauts could attempt things like eating and
drinking which had to be done within 60 seconds, the maximum period of
weightlessness induced in the airplane. As future astronauts were trained in
this plane it became known affectionately as "The Vomit Comet."
Besides the rigors of practice spaceflight the astronauts had to undergo
jungle, desert and water survival training in case their capsule landed some
place other than it was supposed to. They practiced fast escapes from capsules
being flooded with water. This came in handy especially during Gus Grissom's
post splashdown experience following his sub-orbital flight.
MONKEYS LEAD THE WAY
Unlike the Russians, the American space program used monkeys rather than
dogs. Four monkeys and two chimps proved that the life support systems on the
Mercury capsule worked. These launches also provided practice for the members of
the launch and recovery teams. Each monkey had to perform tasks by pulling the
correct levers; if the monkey pulled the correct task in the correct sequence it
was rewarded with a banana pill; if it made a mistake it was treated to a very
small electric shock. In the final chimp flight before the first man a chimp
named HAM, the initials for the chimps home base at Holloman Aerospace Medical
Center, New Mexico, rode in a sub orbital flight in a Mercury capsule on January
31, 1961. The successful test showed that a man was ready to ride the Redstone
Following HAM's flight the list of astronauts to make the first flight was
narrowed to three: Shepard, Grissom and Glenn. Gagarin's flight took a lot of
steam out of the first American flight, but its success was paramount. On May 5,
1961 Alan Shepard became the first American to rocket into space on top of von
Braun's Redstone rocket aboard the Mercury capsule named Freedom 7. After his 15
minute ride Shepard felt fine and was introduced to the greatest hoopla which
greeted an American aviator since Charles Lindbergh. President Kennedy awarded
Shepard the Distinguished Service Medal and sent him and his fellow astronauts
down the streets of Washington, D.C. in a ticker tape parade. Then, three weeks
after Shepard's 15 minute flight, President Kennedy made one of the boldest
policy decisions an American President has ever made.
In March 1961 President Kennedy had flatly turned down a request from NASA
for more man-in-space funding. After Gagarin's flight, when congressmen started
accusing him of giving the Russians a space monopoly, the President began
searching for a way to put the Americans first in some space project. The
science experts told him that the U.S. had about a fifty-fifty chance of putting
a man on the Moon before the Russians, but that there was no real scientific or
technical justification to do a "hurried up Moon landing." The
decision would have to be based on political grounds. Political advisers were
all for it. A Moon program would stimulate the U.S. economy; ease tensions with
the Pentagon generals and aerospace industries, who were still angry about
Secretary of Defense McNamara's DoD reforms; and would greatly increase the
President's popularity. The president could use a successful outer space program
as much as Khrushchev did in the USSR to divert public opinion away from foreign
and domestic problems back on Earth. From this background came President
Kennedy's famous speech on May 25, 1961:
I believe this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this
decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.
No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind, or
more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so
difficult or expensive to accomplish... New objectives and new money cannot
solve these problems. They could, in fact, aggravate them further unless every
scientist, every engineer, every technician, contractor, and civil servant gives
his personal pledge that this nation will move forward, with the full speed of
freedom, in the exciting adventure of space.
The United States was now definitely in a "Space Race" with the
Soviet Union and the next near term goal being landing a man on the Moon and
returning him to Earth. In the U.S., Project Mercury continued, because NASA
managers under the old Truman Appointee, James Webb, needed the program as a
stepping stone to the Moon.
On July 21, 1961 a Redstone rocket carried the Mercury capsule Liberty Bell 7
containing Gus Grissom on another 15 minute sub-orbital ride into space. This
craft had changed from Shepard's. It had a large window, new microphones in the
helmets to reduce static, new manual controls which were much like power
steering, and a new hatch with explosive bolts. The flight was perfect as
Grissom was able to see a number of ground locations in an 800 mile radius. He
was so wrapped up in spotting locations that he didn't get through his checkout
of the manual control system. After splashdown the hatch blew open; water rushed
into the capsule which sank in spite of helicopter efforts to rescue the craft.
The helicopters saved Grissom whose suit filled with water from an open valve.
Five more sub-orbital flights were scheduled to give each of the astronauts
experience in all facets of a 15 minute flight; but the Russians once again
raised the ante.
© John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA
The successful launch of Gagarin had pointed the way for the Soviet space
program and had answered the question about whether or not a man could survive
in space. What about a longer duration? Could a man work, eat, drink, and sleep
in space? Korolev wanted to know the effects on a man's system, because that
would answer the question about whether or not a man could go to the Moon and
other planets. Another question remained about the spacecraft. What was the
design life of some of the equipment? How long would it last in space? What
could engineers do to prolong the equipment? The VOSTOK program was designed to
provide partial answers to these questions.
On August 6, 1961, Korolev and his team launched Vostok 2, with Gherman
Titov, Yuri Gagarin's backup pilot, aboard. This flight orbited the Earth 17
times and lasted 25 hours and 18 minutes. During this flight Titov used his
manual controls, made meteorological observations, looked at the various
landforms, and suffered space sickness. Titov responded each time the ground
control contacted him, but they noted problems with his vestibular system. Titov
returned safely to Earth in Vostok 2 and was able to eject from the spacecraft
and ride his parachute without further problems. After Titov's mandatory
appearance on Lenin's tomb, the cosmonaut was whisked away to the hospital to
undergo a number of tests to determine why he was sick. The doctors could not
determine a problem and as a result of his sickness, Titov was grounded and
never again flew in space. He later became a general in the Russian Air Force.
After Titov's space sickness, doctors met trying to determine why this
happened. Was it because of Titov's personal body makeup or was it an inevitable
occurrence due to space flight?
THE FIRST "GROUP FLIGHT" - NIKOLAYEV, POPOVICH
Because of their concern of the Titov flight, nearly a year passed before the
Soviets tried another human flight. On August 11, 1962 they launched Andrian
Nikolayev aboard Vostok 3 followed immediately by Pavel Popovich in Vostok 4 on
August 12, 1962. The reason for launching the cosmonauts simultaneously and
putting them so close together, within 5 kilometers, was to monitor both
cosmonauts simultaneously to see if they both had the same reactions to space
flight. The Soviet doctors were worried about space sickness being a
debilitating factor for human space flight. Television was transmitted from both
space ships and a radio modification allowed communication between the two
craft. The mission control center also underwent upgrades to simultaneously
track both spacecraft and monitor their occupants' life signs. Each spacecraft
had its own monitor tracking its occupant's vital signs.
During the flight Korolev allowed both cosmonauts to release themselves from
their ejection seats and float around their cramped cabins. During this mission
each cosmonaut ate packed meals rather than the tube fare which was thought to
have given Titov some digestion trouble. Nikolayev remained in orbit four days
and Popovich had a stay of three. Both during and after their flights neither
Nikolayev nor Popovich exhibited any of the space sickness which had plagued
Titov; the Soviets determined that this sickness may depend upon the individual
rather then a direct result of long space flights.
THE SECOND GROUP FLIGHT - BYKOVSKY, TERESHKOVA
Following another long break, the Soviets launched Vostok 5 on June 14, 1963
with Valery F. Bykovsky aboard. He completed his mission after five days. To
date it was the longest mission one human has ever done throughout spaceflight
history. It would have been longer, but the Korolev Team terminated his flight
early because of the occurrence of a large solar flare. There was no knowledge
or even theory about how a human body would react to the intense particle
bombardment from such a flare, so Korolev, a very safety conscious manager, had
Bykovsky brought back to Earth on June 19. Bykovsky's flight has been overlooked
in history because on June 16, 1963 he was joined in space by Vostok 6. Aboard
was Valentina Tereshkova the first woman to fly into space.
In late 1961, following the successful Gagarin and Titov flights, the Soviet
Government decided to select and launch a woman into space on one of the later
Vostok flights. On March 14, 1962 five women joined the cosmonaut team. They
were Valentina Tereshkova, Tatiana Kuznetsova, V.L. Ponomareva, Irina B.
Soloyeva, and Z.D. Yorkina. They were put through exactly the same training as
the male cosmonauts had previously endured. Yuri Gagarin took another leadership
role by welcoming the women and helping them with their training.
There are numerous rumors about Vostok 6. One is that Tereshkova was not the
primary cosmonaut; another is that Soloyeva was Tereshkova's back-up. Yet
another rumor had Tereshkova sick throughout the flight; while another rumor
said that Khrushchev ordered her flight extended two days so her time in space
would exceed the combined space flight time of all the Mercury astronauts
The facts are that Tereshkova was a seamstress who liked to parachute which
was the reason she was selected to become a cosmonaut. The Soviets launched her
aboard Vostok-6 on June 16, 1963 at 9:30 A.M. Moscow time. She remained in orbit
until June 19, 1963 when she successfully parachuted from her spacecraft and
landed in Kazakhstan and into the history books.
MERCURY CONTINUES AND TERMINATES
THE FLIGHT OF JOHN GLENN
Shortly after Titov's 435,000 mile flight, NASA scrapped further sub-orbital
flights scheduled on the Redstone rocket. They neither teased with the media nor
created any great mystery about saying that Astronaut John H. Glenn would be the
first man to ride the Atlas rocket into orbit. This was a risk on NASA's part
because the Atlas had a very bad habit of exploding either on the launch pad or
shortly after liftoff. But before Colonel Glenn flew into space another chimp
named Enos blazed the trail in November 1961 by flying two orbits in a Mercury
capsule aboard an Atlas. This successful rehearsal for the manned flight tested
all systems including the rocket, the spacecraft, the tracking, and the recovery
On February 20, 1962 after many delays, John Glenn climbed into his Mercury
capsule, Friendship 7, and blasted off into space at 9:47 A.M. The launch was so
perfect that Flight Control initially cleared Glenn for seven orbits, but as
time elapsed during the flight, various malfunctions curtailed the mission back
to its original three, the mission's prime objective. Shortly after launch he
completed his first task by relaying to ground controllers the estimated
distance from the spacecraft to the expended Atlas booster. Upon comparison of
radar readings of distance separation he did so rather accurately. He also
performed a number of head and body movements to see if Titov's space sickness
was endemic. During the daylight portions of the mission he spotted coastlines
and at night he easily saw the Australian city of Perth with the help of all the
citizens who turned their lights on for his flight. After his first orbit, Glenn
was forced to take manual control of his craft when the automatic controls
malfunctioned. On his final orbit ground telemetry showed a loose heat shield
which meant that when he entered the Earth's atmosphere both he and his
spacecraft would burn up. To prevent this, Glenn retained his retrofire engines
in an attempt to keep the heatshield attached. The large chunks of metal flew by
Glenn in a "huge fireball." The ground telemetry was erroneous and
Glenn splashed down safely. Glenn's mission proved that men could work in a
weightless environment and that the vehicle was space worthy. The flight of John
Glenn also resurrected American pride which had been deflated by the hugely
successful Russian missions. This was reflected in the genuine spontaneity which
greeted Glenn and his fellow astronauts during several ticker tape parades.
Following John Glenn's success on May 24, 1962 Scott Carpenter launched into
space aboard the AURORA 7, for America's second orbital flight. Carpenter spent
most of his time performing scientific experiments such as counting stars,
photographing site on the ground, and recording how liquid in a sealed flask
behaved in microgravity. He did not pay to much attention to his craft and as a
result much of his fuel was wasted by the automatic system. He also had an
overheated suit and cabin as well as an automatic control malfunction which
misaligned the capsule for retrofire. As a result Carpenter splashed down 250
miles off course. He was found an hour later by the recovery team. Carpenter's
major job was to check out his vehicle for space flight and then perhaps fit in
some science experiments. In the minds of the flight controllers he failed his
job and never flew into space again.
The Mercury spacecraft seemed to be progressing with great luck and another
charm was added to the golden bracelet with the October 3, 1962 launch of Wally
Schirra aboard Sigma 7. Schirra's mission, in his own mind as well as most of
the leaders at NASA, was to test the Mercury craft and not do scientific
experiments. For nine hours Wally flew the craft on a total of six orbits. He
saved as much fuel as possible during the flight and landed with 80% of it left.
He conserved power as well and drifted during many of his orbits. Schirra found
time to take photographs and whetted the Air Force's appetite for a manned
military mission when he reported that he could see the Earth as though he were
flying at 40,000 - 45,000 feet. Schirra also accomplished a manual reentry
landing within 9000 yards of the recovery carrier. Schirra's flight showed that
an astronaut could fly the Mercury capsule for at least a day.
The original plan of the Mercury Program was to have an astronaut fly one
mission of at least one full day, 24 hours, in space. By the time the last
Mercury mission blasted off from Cape Canaveral on May 15, 1963, the astronaut,
Gordon Cooper, was to fly 22 orbits for a total of 34 hours in space. Cooper
accomplished all of the prerequisites of the flight including eating, drinking,
taking photographs, sleeping, collecting urine samples, and, at the end of the
flight, piloting his failing craft. The mission was flawless until the last four
orbits when his electrical power started to fail which in turn failed his
automatic flight systems leading to mandatory total manual control of the craft.
Cooper aligned the craft perfectly for its retrofire, reentered the atmosphere
and landed within sight of the carrier. The Mercury program was over; six
astronauts had logged a total of 54 hours in space. They had proved that humans
could be launched into orbit and recovered safely and humans could function as
pilots, engineers, and science experimenters without deterioration of the human
body. The program was a huge success.
DONALD K. SLAYTON
The only astronaut of the original seven who did not fly in the Mercury
Program was Deke Slayton. Originally scheduled for Mercury 4, Slayton was
diagnosed as having an irregular heartbeat; as physicians reviewed the
astronaut's records they decided to remove him from flight status and put
Carpenter in his place. Even though the doctors removed Deke Slayton from flight
status he still contributed greatly to the success of the manned space program
by becoming the head of the Astronaut Office (Director of Flight Operations). In
this capacity, he selected the crews for flight, monitored their training, and
helped to select future astronauts. He finally got to fly on the Apollo-Soyuz
Test Program and he passed away after a fight against brain cancer on June 13,
CHAPTER 15: THE NEXT GENERATION: GEMINI AND VOSKHOD
© John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA
Following President Kennedy's historic speech on May 25, 1961 starting NASA's
unprecedented quest for the Moon, everyone at every work center was trying to
determine a correct hardware and people configuration to make the mission
possible. The engineers already had the follow-on program to the Mercury Program
in place called the Apollo Program, established in July 1960.
This became specifically the Moon Landing Project. This project had no real
definition at this point as scientists were still arguing about which technique
should be used to go to the Moon. Wernher von Braun favored the Earth orbit
rendezvous (EOR). This involved building a platform or a space station in orbit
from which to construct a Moon rocket. Other scientists wanted the Lunar
orbiting rendezvous (LOR) where the ship launched from the Earth gradually
shedded weight until it reached the Moon and it split into two parts, a landing
craft and a command module. The only problem with this idea was that crews had
to learn to rendezvous and link up with other spacecraft (dock). Before long LOR
won the battle and the race for the Moon was on.
By December 1961 NASA leaders realized that the leap from Mercury to Apollo
was too great a technological and procedural gap to overcome. There had to be an
interim program established to train the astronauts in the various tasks which
would be required to get them to the Moon and back again safely using the LOR
method. Thus in January 1962 Project Gemini was born.
There were several goals for the Gemini missions which would lead directly
into the Apollo Moon Landing Program as envisioned by President Kennedy. First,
Gemini would launch two men into orbit - a feat accomplished by neither the
Americans nor the Soviets. Second, Gemini would demonstrate the astronauts'
capability to maneuver their craft by changing its orbit by going farther out
into space or by changing the orbital plane for rendezvous. Third, Gemini would
have to show that a man could get out of the capsule and maneuver on his own in
space, in other words, accomplish a space walk. After achieving the walk, an
astronaut would have to apply that capability to accomplish a fourth goal of
actually working in space by accomplishing useful tasks that may be required to
repair the spacecraft.
Working in space would also provide many carry over skills to determine the
astronauts' capabilities to perform useful work on the Moon where the gravity is
one-sixth that of Earth's. Fifth, the astronauts would have to learn to
rendezvous and dock with another spacecraft if they were to achieve the Lunar
orbital rendezvous portion of the mission. Sixth, the astronauts would have to
travel to the Moon, land on the Moon, work on the Moon, launch from the Moon,
and return to Earth. This amounted to spending several days in space. Was the
human body able to meet the challenges which this project imposed?
Because of this, Gemini was also to test long duration flight, to probe the
physiological and psychological limits of the human body living and working in
space. Seventh, the mission was to test the capabilities of man and machine to
accurately position the Gemini vehicle for a controlled reentry into the
atmosphere in a small corridor. On a return from the Moon, the Apollo astronauts
would have to fly into a small corridor to reenter the Earth's atmosphere at
25,000 miles per hour. If the astronauts approached this corridor at too steep
an angle they and their craft would simply burn up in the atmosphere's friction.
If they reentered at too shallow an angle the Apollo spacecraft would skip off
the atmosphere like a rock skimming off a lake; the astronauts would then find
themselves trapped in deep space with no way home. These were the goals of
Gemini; the success of this program would determine the success of the Apollo
THE SPACE SHIP
Gemini was the world's first space ship specifically designed to fly two
people and it was also the first modular craft. Based on the proven design of
the Mercury capsule, Gemini had most of its systems in self-contained packages
also known as modules. If one of the modules broke down, it was easily replaced
by another module. These modules were stored behind the hatches which meant that
if something went wrong during the countdown, the module could be replaced
without having to move the astronauts. Manufacturing with modules also meant
that more than one contractor could work on the craft and it cut down the
electronic interdependence of one system on another. If one system failed it
wouldn't take two others with it.
The spacecraft was modular in another respect as well. The crew occupied the
crew module; behind the crew module was the aforementioned equipment module;
behind the equipment module was the retro module that had the retrorockets.
After retrofire and before landing the equipment and retro modules would be
jettisoned to allow the heat shield to provide protection during the astronauts'
fiery entry into the atmosphere.
The spacecraft had two hatches secured by the astronauts themselves for
spacewalks. This eliminated the explosive bolt hatch which plagued Gus Grissom's
flight. The command pilot sat on the left with controls for guidance,
rendezvous, and landing. The pilot on the right worked the computer, the fuel
system, and the radar. A control stick was placed on the console between the two
pilots and a flight plan screen was located at the top center portion of the
instrument panel. Gauges reading fuel and oxygen were located on the screens at
the left and right. The entire spacecraft relied on significant pilot control
rather than solely on automatic pilots. This reduced the number of redundant
systems significantly. The escape tower from the Mercury Program was eliminated
and the pilots now used ejection seats good to 15,000 feet.
A new mission required a new launch vehicle. The U.S. Air Force's Titan II
launch vehicle was simpler, but more powerful than the Atlas which launched the
Mercury spacecraft. The Atlas used kerosene for fuel and cryogenic liquid oxygen
at a temperature of -270ºF which required special storage and handling The
Titan II used hypergolic fuels, easily stored at normal temperature, and easily
ignited when they came into contact with one another. The easy storage and
handling of propellant greatly simplified prelaunch procedures.
The Moon mission and its Gemini preparation missions required more astronauts
than the first seven selected for the Mercury Program. In September 1962 NASA
selected nine astronauts to join the Mercury seven and fourteen more astronauts
joined the growing corps in October 1963. Each of these astronauts would be
responsible for learning as much as possible about the Gemini spacecraft and the
particular goals and missions of each flight.
After three years of designing and manufacturing the first Gemini was ready
for its test. On April 1964 this test took place successfully without a crew on
board and provided valuable practice for launch, tracking, and recovery crews.
After this successful test flight everyone was ready for a manned launch
scheduled tentatively for November 1964, but it was delayed until Spring 1965.
In the meantime, this allowed time for the Russians to once again upstage the
ambitious American program.
In the 1962 - 1964 time frame Korolev and his space team began their own Moon
Landing project called Soyuz. In this project an empty tanker craft would be
launched into a normal circular orbit. Three successive launches would follow
with spacecraft rendezvousing with this tanker and filling its tanks with
kerosene and liquid oxygen. When the tanker was full a manned Soyuz with two
cosmonauts would rendezvous with the tanker, dock with it and then use the
tanker to boost them into an orbit around the Moon. This program ran into delays
and from this delay came the Voskhod Program.
The leader of the Soviet Union, Nikita S. Khrushchev was the political
catalyst which launched the Voskhod Program. The American Gemini Program was
ready to begin in 1964 and the idea of his rivals achieving a space first by
placing two astronauts in orbit in one craft was an anathema to the Soviet
Premier. Korolev, with access to American newspapers as well as the West's best
scientific journals, reviewed the Gemini goals and designed a spacecraft which
would meet some of these in a most spectacular manner as possible for his
premier. This would involve extensive modification of the Vostok vehicle.
The Voskhod spacecraft was based on the Vostok with the following
differences. The ejection seat built for one cosmonaut was removed and replaced
with couches for three cosmonauts who would be without pressure suits or two
cosmonauts with pressure suits. The Voskhod capsule would include an extendable
tunnel for a cosmonaut to accomplish a spacewalk if required on the mission.
Because the Voskhod would be launched into a much higher orbit than the Vostok,
Korolev knew he couldn't count on a natural decay period of ten days if the
retrorockets did not fire. He solved this problem by adding a second
retropackage. Because the ejection seats had been removed, Korolev decided to
use a retrorocket with a large parachute to land the cosmonauts in the
spacecraft rather than have them bail out. This would prevent injury by reducing
the parachute's velocity to 2 meters/second.
Since Voskhod was to be an interim mission there were only three flights
planned. The first flight would orbit three men for at least a day. The second
mission would orbit two men allowing one of them to walk in space. The third
mission would have two men in orbit for at least two weeks. Since the Voskhod
had no maneuvering capability, only five of the seven American Gemini goals
would be met by this interim program.
The first Voskhod crew started training in March 1964. They were Vladimir
Komarov, a pilot from the Vostok Program; K.P. Feoktistov, a spacecraft
engineer/designer; and B.B. Yegorov, a physician. Voskhod 1 was launched on a
new rocket, the SL-4 Soyuz space launcher on 12 October 1964. Outfitted in track
suits aboard the cramped spacecraft, the three cosmonauts reportedly had to diet
so all could fit comfortably. In the Voskhod the cosmonauts performed medical
experiments and took pictures.
After 24 hours Korolev told Komarov to end the mission. When Komarov
protested, Korolev quoted from the Shakespeare play Hamlet ""there are
more things in Heaven and Earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your
philosophy." After the crew returned safely they found that Khrushchev had
been toppled and replaced by Brezhnev and Kosygin as the new heads of the Soviet
Government. In spite of this once again, the Soviets had beat the Americans by
achieving several "space firsts". The Soviets launched the first
multiple crew, the first three-man crew, and the first crew in a shirt-sleeved
environment although the safety of this maneuver has been repeatedly questioned
by space experts because there was no emergency escape system. Questioned about
this, Soviet officials claimed there was no need for such a system since their
rockets were so reliable. These officials may have overlooked the fact that this
was the first manned flight on the new SL-4 booster.
VOSHOD 2 THE FIRST WALK IN SPACE
The second Voskhod was launched on March 18, 1965. The vehicle contained
further modifications including an expandable airlock attached to the reentry
module. The airlock weighed 250 kilograms with a length of 2.5 meters and a
diameter of 1.2 meters. Once again the SL-4 was launched into a 65º inclination
with an apogee of 495 kilometers and a perigee of 173 kilometers; the craft
orbited once around the world in 90.9 minutes. Aboard the spacecraft cosmonauts
Pavel Belyayev and Alexi Leonov prepared for the first human spacewalk. Unlike
Voskhod 1 both cosmonauts were dressed in space suits for launch.
Leonov had to be helped with his extravehicular equipment including the life
support system and the umbilical cord which supplied him with oxygen and a
radio-telephone link. Belyayev inflated the airlock and everything was in
preparation. Leonov then closed his visor and crawled into the airlock where he
opened the hatch and floated out into space until he reached the end of his 5
meter umbilical cord. Leonov floated free of the craft for more than ten
minutes. His orders may have been only to get out into space to say he walked
and then get back into his craft immediately. Given no system to counter the
torquing motion of the umbilical cord, Leonov gyrated as he obeyed Newton's
third law. Leonov claims that if anything went wrong at this stage that Belyayev
was prepared to perform a rescue, whether he would have been permitted to do so
never had to be tested.
Leonov then prepared to reenter the airlock and events began to turn for the
worse. He was unable to bend at the waist to get his legs back into the
spacecraft; the spacesuit had ballooned more than the technicians on the ground
had anticipated! At this point Leonov nearly panicked, his heart and breathing
rates increased as he struggled to get into the Voskhod. Finally, in desperation
he depressurized his suit further which allowed him to move and he easily got
back into the capsule while quickly retrieving the outside camera. They quickly
repressurized the Voskhod to keep Leonov from getting the bends from nitrogen
bubbling in his blood. The mission came close to disaster, but Leonov had
After about a day's mission the cosmonauts had to return to Earth. Then they
found that the automatic reentry features of the Voskhod did not work and
Belyayev had to perform a manual reentry procedure. The procedure worked, but
when the cosmonauts landed, they found themselves in the snow covered mountains
amid many birch trees rather than on the treeless steppes of Kazahkstan. The
faulty retro burn had landed them about 2000 miles off course in the Ural
Mountains. The cosmonauts got out of the spacecraft and built a fire and soon
they heard some wolves so they hastily retreated back into the Voskhod where
they spent a cold night fending off hungry wolves. The next morning they were
located by the Soviet Air Force who sent in a ski patrol to get the cosmonauts
out of the area. The cosmonauts skied out from their capsule and back to Korolev
and his rocket team.
This was the final Voskhod mission. Although a Voskhod 3 had been planned it
was promptly cancelled at the end of 1965 and all Soviet efforts concentrated on
the new Soyuz program to get cosmonauts to the Moon.
GEMINI 3 PAVES THE WAY
After the Russians had very shakily upstaged the Americans with their
multiple crewman launch and their very dangerous spacewalk, the US started their
methodical expedition to the Moon by testing out the procedures with the Gemini
Program. Lifting off from Cape Kennedy on March 23, 1965 Gus Grissom and John
Young put the Gemini spacecraft, The Unsinkable Molly Brown through its paces.
On the first orbit, Grissom circularized the elliptical path easily. On the
second orbit he accomplished an out-of-plane maneuver by changing the craft's
inclination by 1/50th of a degree. The astronauts had complete control of their
spaceship, a task which would be critical for a Moon landing. Following the
third orbit the astronauts landed the spaceship 50 miles short of the carrier.
Grissom refused to open the hatches until the divers had attached floatation
collars. He was not going to lose this craft period. This successful launch and
recovery led immediately to the next spectacular Gemini mission.
GEMINI 4 - THE AMERICANS WALK
The primary mission for the second Gemini flight crew, James McDivitt and Ed
White, was to stay aboard the craft for four days, the longest for any American
crew. The second, more spectacular mission, was a scheduled spacewalk, or
extravehicular activity (EVA) by astronaut Ed White. The spacecraft launched on
June 3, 1965 and White began his walk on the first day. Starting his walk above
the Pacific White attached himself to a 24-foot umbilical cord that fed him
oxygen and communication. Unlike Leonov, White had a nitrogen jet gun which was
used to stabilize him throughout the 20 minute walk. For 20 minutes White went
from one end of the spacecraft to the other as he was totally enthralled by the
view unhampered by a spacecraft. During this EVA one of Gemini 4's crew gloves
exited the open hatch and promptly went into orbit where it was tracked several
years by NORAD Space Track radars.
After being cajoled back into the Gemini capsule, White closed the hatch
before losing contact with Houston. Despite the successful space walk, the
Gemini 4 was unable to perform a rendezvous with its Titan 2 booster which was
in front of the spacecraft at a lower orbit. Using fighter jet procedures for
intercepting another craft, McDivitt tried increased the Gemini capsule's
velocity which put it into a higher orbit thus slowing the spaceship and placing
it even farther behind the target booster rocket. Even though they didn't
rendezvous with their booster, McDivitt and White remained in orbit for 97 hours
and 56 minutes a new American record. The next flight would simulate a trip to
the Moon and back - Gemini 5 was to fly for eight days.
GEMINI 5 "EIGHT DAYS OR BUST"
On August 21, 1965 the Titan 2 lifted Gemini 5 with Gordon Cooper and Pete
Conrad into the longest piloted flight to date by either the Russians or the
Americans. On the first day of flight problems began to occur. The fuel cells,
being used for the first time, began to malfunction. A fuel cell combines
hydrogen and oxygen which is converted into electricity with a by-product of
water. This was the Gemini craft's principal power source. The other power
source was a series of spacecraft batteries that would not last the eight day
mission without a recharge. Solar arrays were not used because they had not been
perfected and were still inefficient and unreliable for human space flight. The
fuel cells also had a by-product of drinkable water which helped to reduce
spacecraft weight by leaving potable water on the ground.
Flight Director Christopher Kraft gambled that the fuel cells would continue
to operate and Gemini 5 remained in orbit for its entire eight days. On the
fifth day in orbit the spacecraft's thrusters began to tumble the spacecraft,
but this error corrected itself allowing Cooper and Conrad to complete the
flight. A computer error during retrofire placed Gemini 5 103 miles away from
its recovery ship. Even though it was plagued with numerous problems Gemini 5
successfully completed the eight day mission; Cooper and Conrad had broken all
spaceflight duration records and showed that astronauts could endure extended
space travel to the Moon and back.
Gemini 6 with Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford was to launch on October 26,
1965, but their Agena rendezvous vehicle, the primary reason for the mission,
failed to achieve orbit. Because the mission involved rendezvous, the mission
was changed to rendezvous with Gemini 7, launched on December 4, 1965. On
December 12 Gemini 6 was again positioned for launch. When the countdown reached
zero, the engines fired, and then shut down. Schirra noted no rocket movement
and elected not to eject the crew from the vehicle. This action saved the
mission and three days later Gemini 6 roared off the pad to begin its rendezvous
with Gemini 7. The astronauts first saw their target at 62 miles. By keeping the
spacecraft below the target, Schirra was able to rendezvous without problem in
six hours. Because the craft had no docking adapters they remained as close as 1
foot for about three hours accomplishing a procedure known as station keeping.
They exchanged pleasantries with the crew of Gemini 7, Borman and Lovell, and
then Schirra and Stafford returned to Earth.
GEMINI 7 - LONG ENDURANCE FLIGHT
On December 4, 1965 Gemini 7 launched from Cape Kennedy carrying astronauts
Frank Borman and Jim Lovell into a 14 day mission which was to prove beyond a
doubt that humans could endure a two-week mission to the Moon and back.
Everything went normally and finally on December 15 they rendezvoused with
Gemini 6. After separating from Gemini 6, Borman and Lovell continued for three
more days. Completing their experiments the astronauts read Roughing It by Mark
Twain and James Fenimore Cooper's Drums Along the Mohawk. After 13 days 18 hours
and 35 minutes the astronauts splashed down with a new endurance record for
space flight under their belts.
The mission goals of the Gemini Program had been partially but spectacularly
accomplished in 1965. The program had proven to that point that human beings
could endure long spaceflights and that they could maneuver and rendezvous their
vehicles with ease. By 1966 all that remained were the goals of actually docking
a Gemini vehicle with an Agena and having a human accomplish work in space.
GEMINI 8 - MR TOAD'S WILD SPACE RIDE
The year 1966 began very successfully for the Gemini Program with a perfect
launch of Gemini 8 on March 16. Aboard the vehicle were Neil Armstrong and David
Scott. Their mission was to rendezvous and dock with their Agena target vehicle.
The rendezvous was routine and the docking was without difficulty. Immediately
after docking the Gemini-Agena complex began to rotate end over end at an
increasing rate. Armstrong tried to stabilize the configuration with the Gemini
maneuvering thrusters; this action failed. Next he undocked from the Agena
thinking that the rocket was the problem; the rotation continued. On the verge
of blacking out and in desperation, Armstrong deactivated the spacecraft
maneuvering rocket system and used the reentry rocket system to successfully
bring Gemini 8 under control. The number 8 thruster had stuck in the
"on" position, but because the fuel for reentry was used, Gemini 8 had
to conclude the mission and deorbit. Armstrong and Scott successfully splashed
down disappointed in their mission but happy to be alive after their "wild
ride." Technicians at McDonnell Douglas found that a short circuit had
caused the thruster to remain in the open position.
GEMINI 9 - THE UNLUCKY MISSION
Some missions are just unlucky; Gemini 9 was such a mission. First, the
primary astronauts died when their T-38 trainer crashed into the very building
where the Gemini 9 capsule was under construction. Second, the new crew, Tom
Stafford and Gene Cernan, experienced two mission postponements or scrubs when
their target Agena crashed into the Atlantic and when their vehicle
malfunctioned on the pad. Bad luck continued.
When Gemini 9 finally launched on June 3, 1966, the astronauts found that
their target vehicle's nose cone had failed to jettison. In Tom Stafford's words
it looked like "an angry alligator." Finally Gene Cernan opened his
hatch to complete a 167 minute spacewalk. During this time he would don a
backpack for maneuvering and would complete some simple tasks. This astronaut
maneuvering unit (AMU) contained oxygen and fuel for the jet gun.
Cernan discovered that in microgravity, the slightest move sent him tumbling
out of control. Trying to strap himself into the AMU, Cernan found, required
enormous effort. The 24-foot tether kept getting in his way and his rapid
breathing soon fogged his faceplate. The amount of sweat generated soon overcame
his suit's air conditioner and the ground controller realized that the astronaut
was almost to the point of uncontrollable exhaustion; the spacewalk was
terminated after an hour.
The one bright spot in this mission was that Stafford and Cernan landed their
craft within two miles of the recovery carrier the Wasp. This showed that
indeed, the astronauts could control their reentry position extremely
accurately, thus fulfilling another mission requirement for a trip to the Moon.
This very successful mission launched on July 18, 1966 with astronauts John
Young and Mike Collins at the controls. Five hours and twenty-one minutes after
launch they rendezvoused and docked with their Agena target vehicle. After
stabilizing the configuration, Young fired the Agena propulsion system which
propelled Gemini 10 to a record apogee of 458 miles (737 kilometers).
At sunset during the 15th orbit Collins opened his hatch, stood in his seat,
and photographed the Milky Way in ultraviolet light; this was never done on
Earth because the ozone layer prohibits ultraviolet light from penetrating the
atmosphere. While photographing these stars, Collins oxygen became contaminated
with some irritant; it was later discovered that the irritant was the
antifogging mixture used to keep the faceplates from fogging during spacewalks.
After 39 hours of being docked to the Agena, Gemini 10 undocked and
rendezvoused with the Gemini 8 Agena, Armstrong and Scott's docking target. This
Agena had no operative radar, but Young and Collins rendezvoused without
problem. Collins then went over to the Agena to collect a scientific experiment,
a canister of bacteria which survived four months in space. Returning to the
Gemini 10 capsule, Collins needed Young's help to disentangle himself from the
umbilical cord. Once settled back into the capsule the astronauts slept and then
reentered the Earth's atmosphere the next day, landing within 3 miles of their
Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon docked with their Agena target vehicle 85
minutes after liftoff on September 12, 1966. The Agena then boosted Gemini 11 to
a record 853 mile apogee. At this altitude Conrad and Gordon could see all of
Australia, Borneo, and Southeast Asia. This trajectory and timing simulated the
rendezvous and docking of the lunar lander with the command module after the
completion of the mission to the lunar surface.
On the flight's second day, Gordon performed an EVA and attached a 100-foot
dacron rope between the Agena and the Gemini 11 vehicle to determine what would
happen after the vehicles undocked. Conrad undocked, stabilized the vehicle and
then performed a small burn to create a rotating moment to the configuration;
this created artificial gravity by use of a rotating tether another first for
the space program.
Gordon's spacewalk again pointed out a problem; he was breathing 40 times per
minute and he had a rapid pulse of 102 beats per minute. The rapid breathing
again fogged up the astronaut's faceplate and the EVA was terminated after 44
minutes. At this point in the program, EVA looked like the only stumbling block
to complete a Moon mission. At mission's end Conrad and Gordon let the computer
do an entirely automatic reentry procedure and it landed Gemini 11 about 2.8
miles from the recovery ship.
GEMINI 12 - THE END
Before they climbed aboard their Gemini 12 capsule, James Lovell and Buzz
Aldrin wore signs on their rear ends which said "the end." The only
problem which had not yet been solved was how to keep a human from exhausting
the body while working in space. In the Moon's 1/6th gravity this could present
a problem. Until Gemini 12 the total number of space walks were rather limited
in spite of great aspirations; Ed White's was 20 minutes; Gene Cernan's was 60
minutes; Mike Collins' was 39 minutes; and Richard Gordon's was 44 minutes. A
mission to the Moon would mean that men would have to operate in bulky space
suits on the surface performing tasks for more than an hour. This problem had to
One day Aldrin and Lovell were in a swimming pool with scuba gear when Aldrin
came up with the idea of putting a capsule into the pool; then attaching weights
to his scuba gear so that he would become essentially weightless in the pool.
Using some tools that he invented, Aldrin started to practice what his tasks
were to be on the mission and he added a collection of bungee cords, velcro
straps, and hand holds to his space walking repertoire. With more practice
Aldrin was ready to begin working in space in earnest.
Gemini 12 launched on November 11, 1966 and rendezvoused with the Agena 3
hours and 45 minutes into the mission; this is remarkable considering the fact
that radar reception with the Agena was so bad after liftoff that the rendezvous
was done without a computer. It was accomplished using Aldrin's charts from an
MIT project for his doctorate. After the rendezvous and docking Aldrin began his
EVA. Making careful deliberate movements to keep his suit cool, Aldrin began
performing twenty assigned tasks such as plugging and unplugging connectors,
screwing and unscrewing bolts, and manipulating hooks and rings. During this
record EVA of 5 hours and 30 minutes Aldrin displayed no stress and proved that
a trained astronaut could perform useful skills outside the spacecraft.
Following this mission NASA constructed the weightless environment training
facility or the WETF. This huge swimming pool has been an essential EVA trainer
for more than 25 years. There are facilities at Johnson and Marshall Spaceflight
Centers to train astronauts how to work in space.
Gemini 12 deorbited via computer of November 15, 1966 splashing down within
three miles of the recovery ship. The way was now paved for the journey to the
Moon. All of Gemini's goals and missions had been met or surpassed. President
Johnson summed up this success with the following statement:
"Ten times in this program of the last twenty months we have placed two
men in orbit [in] the world's most advanced spacecraft. Ten times we have
brought them home. Today's flight was the culmination of a great team effort
stretching back to 1961 and directly involving more than 25,000 people... Apollo
will make America a truly spacefaring nation. The three- man Apollo is the
certain forerunner of the multimanned spaceships of the not too distant
future...ships that will bear the hope of all men."
© John F. Graham, 1995
Photos Courtesy NASA
Even though the Russians had not launched any piloted mission during the
Gemini Program, the US space experts noted that recent robotic probes launched
to the Moon by the Soviets could shortly be followed by cosmonauts. NASA rushed
ahead with plans to launch Apollo 1 in February of 1967. This test mission would
be run by astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. The experts had
been investigating many methods for reaching the Moon quickly and had finally
settled upon the Lunar orbital rendezvous (LOR).
LOR called for a spacecraft to launch from the Earth to the Moon, go into
Lunar orbit, and then a smaller spacecraft would separate from the main space
vehicle and proceed to the Moon's surface. The astronauts in this small vehicle
would land, explore, and blast off from the surface to rendezvous with the main
space ship for the return trip to Earth.
THE SATURN V SPACECRAFT
In 1962 NASA engineer John C. Houbolt convinced NASA associate administrator,
Robert Seamans, Maxime Faget, and Wernher von Braun that LOR was the cheapest,
quickest and easiest way to get to the Moon and back by the end of the decade.
The spaceship design chosen to go to the Moon certainly didn't look very simple;
it stood 364 feet tall and weighed more than six million pounds. The three-stage
Saturn V vehicle was the most powerful rocket ever built with 7.5 million pounds
of thrust produced at launch.
The business end of the booster was the command module (CM), the 13,000 pound
and 13-foot in diameter command center and living quarters that would return to
Earth. The astronauts sat three abreast with the mission commander in the left
seat, the CM pilot in the center seat, and the lunar excursion module (LEM)
pilot in the right seat.
Attached to the CM was the service module which carried the ship's oxygen
supply, the lunar orbital engine, and reaction control thrusters which would
rotate the CM to keep the heat of the Sun evenly distributed on the spacecraft's
surface. This was known as "the barbecue mode" because of the
similarity to the rotisserie used for rotating large pieces of beef over the
coals at Texas barbecues. The combination of the CM with the attached service
module was simply called the command and service module or CSM.
The lunar excursion module (LEM) was the only part of the spaceship to
actually land on the Moon's surface; this was the world's first true spaceship,
designed to fly outside of the Earth's atmosphere in space. Because it was only
designed to function in space its aerodynamic properties were totally ignored.
This led to a problem of how to train astronauts in the operation of this
vehicle on Earth. For the launch the LEM was stored inside the top end of the
Saturn's huge third stage, the S-IVB. The LEM had four legs which supported a
32,000 pound vehicle; it contained 30 miles of wiring, eight radios, and 15
antennas. More than two thirds of the craft's weight was in its descent stage;
this housed the descent rocket, its fuel, a water tank, and other equipment such
as the Lunar roving vehicle.
The descent stage of the LEM also served as a launch pad for the ascent
stage. The ascent stage contained a cockpit housing the flight computer and the
astronauts anchored to the floor with armrests, pulleys, and velcro straps. The
ascent engine had a thrust of 3500 pounds and 16 reaction motors helped the
spaceship to maneuver. A radar aided the LEM in landing on the Moon as well as
in rendezvous and docking with the CSM upon returning from the Lunar surface
There were three windows, one for each astronaut and an overhead docking window.
Two hatches allowed the astronauts to transfer between the LEM and the CM and
also to exit out the side, down a ladder to the Moon's surface.
The Saturn V was a truly miraculous machine. The first stage stood 138 feet
high and 33 feet in diameter with five F-1 engines each the size of a
two-and-a-half-ton truck. Each engine used 6000 pounds of the kerosene
propellant per second. The five engines developed a total thrust of 7.6 million
pounds. The second stage stood at 81 feet 7 inches and 33 feet in diameter. it
contained five J-2 engines which developed a total of 1.16 million pounds of
thrust. The third stage was the S-IVB which had a height of 58 feet 7 inches and
a diameter of 21 feet eight inches; its single J-2 engine produced 230,000
pounds of thrust. The S-IVB of course contained the LEM. Attached above this was
the CSM with a capstone called the launch escape system for an aborted launch
THE IDEAL APOLLO MISSION
The journey to the Moon started with a spectacular launch from Cape Kennedy
Pad Number 39. The first stage (S-IC) burned 4.6 million pounds of kerosene and
liquid oxygen in 160 seconds. The second stage (S-II) burned one million pounds
of liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen in 6.5 minutes. The third stage (S-IVB)
then burned for 146 seconds to put the vehicle into a 117 mile circular parking
orbit. This orbit was used for communication and equipment checkout before the
At about 2 hours and fifty minutes into the flight the third stage's J-2
engine ignited for another 345 seconds and its 200 thousand pounds of thrust
sent the craft toward the Moon. After the burn was complete the CSM separated
from the S-IVB stage, rotated 180º and docked with the LEM located inside the
S-IVB. The CSM and LEM vehicle pulled away from the S-IVB leaving it to drift in
space. The CSM and LEM then rotated in the barbecue mode on the way to the Moon.
About halfway to the Moon a midcourse correction burn was accomplished to put
the craft into the correct orbital plane.
About four days into the mission, the CSM and LEM entered an elliptical orbit
around the Moon. This orbit was circularized and the astronauts prepared to
descend to the Moon. The LEM then separated from the CSM and descended to the
surface to accomplish its mission. While the two astronauts worked on the Moon,
the Command module pilot photographed the Moon, communicated with the Earth and
maintained a watch over the mission in case an emergency launch had to be made.
When the Lunar mission was completed, the ascent stage launched to join the
CSM. The LEM performed a rendezvous with the CSM and docked. After the Lunar
expeditionary material was loaded on to the CSM the LEM separated and crashed
into the Moon for seismic studies of the Moon's interior. The CSM then performed
a Trans Earth Injection and the CSM returned.
On the return trip a midcourse correction was performed to get the spacecraft
back into the correct orbital plane. Three days later the service module
separated from the command module. The command module entered the reentry slot
at 25,000 miles per hour and slowed in the Earth's atmosphere. At 10,000 feet
three main parachutes were deployed and the astronauts were picked up by the
recovery team from an aircraft carrier. The astronauts then donned biological
suits and proceeded to the aircraft carrier where they would enter an airstream
trailer quarantine facility. The astronauts would remain in the facility for
three weeks to insure that all "lunar bugs" had either died are were
This was the conclusion to an ideal Apollo mission. As each stage of the
mission was reached more of the Saturn V's huge mass would be discarded until at
the end of the mission entering the Earth's atmosphere would be the
comparatively small Apollo capsule. The six million pound spacecraft at launch
returned as a 13,000 pound capsule.
APOLLO 1 - TRAGEDY
Nineteen men had flown into space on the Mercury and Gemini missions without
a mishap; seven men had flown twice including Gus Grissom. A new program was
starting to send humans to the Moon and bring them back safely to Earth. The
first mission, Apollo 204, was basically to test the command module (CM) and
make sure that its systems were spaceworthy. On March 21, 1966 NASA named Gus
Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee to fly the first Apollo mission in February
On January 27, 1967 the crew were preparing for a preflight launch
simulation; the purpose of this exercise was to ascertain whether the launch
vehicle could function on internal power alone; this test was called "plugs
out." At 1:00 P.M. the crew entered the capsule; the hatch was sealed at
2:50 P.M. and the capsule was pressurized to 16.2 pounds per square inch using
100% oxygen. The astronauts and the 1000 member launch crew ran simulation tests
and continued the countdown for about three hours. The communications between
mission control and the astronauts was really poor. Frustration was mounting as
the astronauts tried to continue the test.
At 6 P.M. the craft finally switched over to internal power. At T minus ten
minutes a hold was called to check the environmental control system and
electrical equipment. The crew was also to test emergency egress procedures
through the newly designed double hatch. This would take 90 seconds to release
the six-bolt hatch which had replaced the quick-release explosive bolt hatches
on the Mercury and Gemini capsules. Just before 6:31 P.M. the telemetry showed
an electrical surge.
Unknown to anyone, a short in the CM had occurred beneath Grissom's seat and
started a spark which in a pressurized 100% oxygen atmosphere became a blow
torch. Chaffee announced almost casually over the intercom, "Fire. I smell
fire." Five seconds later Grissom transmitted, "Fire! We've got a fire
in the Cockpit!" at 6:31:16.8 the last words came from Chaffee: "We've
got a bad fire! Let's get out! We're burning up!" During this transmission
the cabin's belly split open; the fire had become an inescapable inferno. Three
North American employees tried valiantly to reach the astronauts, but it was too
late; three courageous and dedicated astronauts were dead.
In April 1967 a 14 volume report was issued with no positive cause of the
fire, but a faulty conductor under Grissom's seat that arced to another piece of
metal was the most likely culprit. The report also found many examples of
low-quality workmanship, substandard manufacturing procedures and a neglect for
safety measures that had no place in the manned spaceflight business.
Because of the tragic deaths of Grissom, White, and Chaffee, it was eighteen
months before the first piloted Apollo mission orbited in a completely
redesigned command module which included a quick release escape hatch. No more
would the atmosphere of 100% high pressure oxygen be used for ground operations.
There is no question that their deaths save the lives of their comrades through
building a new craft with new improvements and new procedures. NASA scrapped a
manned space station plan and used the money to completely redesign the entire
Apollo command module This tragic sacrifice enabled the Apollo Program to send
astronauts to the Moon and return them safely. In the aftermath of this accident
Apollo 204 became Apollo 1. The words of Astronaut Gus Grissom formed his own
epithet: "I hope that if there's an accident in the manned space program
that it will continue." It did, Gus, spectacularly.
APOLLO TESTS AND APOLLO 7
The road back after Apollo 1 was long and tedious; unmanned testing of the
vehicles continued after the accident in order to keep President Kennedy's
promise to send men to the Moon by the end of the decade. On November 4, 1967,
Apollo 4, an unmanned vehicle became the first command and service module (CSM)
to ride the Saturn V rocket. After a nine hour and thirty-seven minute flight
the CSM splashed down into the Pacific Ocean - a successful flight.
On January 22, 1968 an unpiloted Apollo 5 orbited the Earth for seven hours
and fifty minutes to test the Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) in orbit; this flight
was also a success. Building on these two successful flights, another Saturn V
launched Apollo 6 on April 4, 1968 to further test the CSM configuration with
its launcher. After a nine hour and fifty-seven minute flight this CSM splashed
into the Pacific and was again recovered - another success. Now it was time for
the astronauts to perform an Earth orbiting test of the Apollo CSM.
By 1968 astronauts corps had expanded to 55 as NASA selected six scientists
and nineteen pilots to round out the Apollo Program. John Glenn and Scott
Carpenter had retired, Deke Slayton and Alan Shepard were medically grounded,
and the deaths of Grissom, White, and Chaffee had reduced the available number
of potential Apollo crewmembers. The astronauts underwent strenuous training for
the Apollo missions logging over 2000 hours in CSM simulators and going on
geological trips to learn as much about geology as possible before the Moon
On October 11, 1968, about 21 months after the fire, Apollo 7 launched aboard
a two-stage Saturn 1B into low Earth orbit. On the spacecraft were Wally
Schirra, Walter Cunningham, and Don Eisele; their mission was to ring out the
CSM and test this machine preparing it for the Lunar missions. After
demonstrating rendezvous capability with the Saturn's second stage, the
astronauts proceeded to test the CSM for the next 11 days. The CSM rocket motor
was fired eight times and the astronauts were totally pleased with the craft.
During the flight Schirra came down with a head cold in orbit and Cunningham
and Eisele both had upper respiratory infections. The Apollo Flight Surgeon, Dr.
Charles Berry, prescribed aspirin, decongestant and water. He also prescribed
Actifed for Schirra. Wally was so endeared to this product that he now sells it
on television commercials. Because of these maladies the astronauts were not too
receptive toward extra duties which ground control wanted them to perform; the
first spat between astronauts and the ground occurred. Schirra added gasoline to
the fire by refusing to wear his helmet during reentry in order that he could
perform a val salva maneuver to keep his ears from clogging. A val salva is
performed by pinching one's nose and blowing to keep the ears clear. Flight
Director Chris Kraft ordered Schirra to wear his helmet. After the history of
crew problems on Apollo 7, Schirra retired and became a spokesman for Actifed
an Emmy and Eisele and Cunningham never flew again. But in spite of these
human problems the spacecraft had performed exceptionally. After the splashdown
on October 22, 1968 the program was ready to go to the Moon.
APOLLO 8 - LUNAR ORBIT
After the resounding success of Apollo 7 the NASA planners found that they
still had to wait until the LM was complete. The next logical plan would have
been to fly the LM and CSM in orbit together around the Earth for an equipment
checkout before going to the Moon, but the contractors at Grumman were not ready
to fly the LM anywhere. This led to the question of what mission to accomplish
for Apollo 8. A Lunar orbital mission was the next logical choice. To get to the
Moon the astronauts would have to ride the Saturn V into space for the first
On December 21, 1968 astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders
launched into low Earth orbit aboard the Saturn V. At 2 hours and 27 minutes
into the mission, Houston gave Apollo 8 the green light to go to the Moon. At 2
hours and 50 minutes into the mission the trans Lunar injection (TLI) burn
began. The S-IVB which initially placed Apollo 8 into low Earth orbit restarted
and burned for 5 minutes and 19 seconds boosting the spacecraft speed to 24,200
miles per hour, and for the first time in history humans traveled at escape
velocity from Earth. After the burn the S-IVB separated and continued in orbit
around the Sun. Shortly, the Apollo 8 crew became the first humans to see the
entire Earth. The pictures taken from this event probably ruined the Flat Earth
Society and spawned a great new interest in the environmental causes in the
world. This view made the problems of the humans inhabiting that magnificent
globe trivial compared to its grandness of blues of oceans, whites of clouds,
and browns of continents.
On December 23 the Apollo 8 became the first human crew to pass out of
Earth's gravitational control and into the influence of the Moon's gravity. At
4:59 A.M. on December 24, 1968, Apollo 8 went into orbit around the Moon and saw
the mysterious far side of the Moon, two other firsts. While on the other side
of the Moon, Astronaut Anders was busily photographing craters when both Lovell
and Borman told him to take another picture immediately. Anders stated that he
only had so much film for the craters, but when he looked up he saw the Earth
rising over the Lunar surface and snapped a fast picture. It is a very
historical picture used on everything from book covers to stamps. On the third
lunar revolution the service module propulsion system (SPS) engine circularized
the orbit where the astronauts remained for the next sixteen hours.
After an emotional reading from the Book of Genesis on Christmas Eve to an
audience of more than half a billion people, the Apollo 8 crew prepared to
depart the Moon and head back to Earth. Everything hinged on the restart of
their SPS engine; it burned for 303 seconds to create the first trans Earth
injection orbit. On December 27, 1968 Apollo 8 reentered the Earth's atmosphere
at 25,000 miles per hour, the fastest speed a human had gone. The splashdown was
a perfect end to a perfect mission. The first circumlunar mission was history.
APOLLO 9 - THE SPIDER CHECKOUT
Following Apollo 8, the next mission was to test the LM and work out flight
procedures to ensure safety and mission success. Apollo 9 launched on March 3,
1969 with Jim McDivitt, David Scott, and Rusty Schweikart aboard. The ten day
test in Earth orbit would simulate a flight to the Moon, a landing, and a
return; this would test the LM and CSM combination, the separation tests, and
the all-important rendezvous and docking procedures.
After being placed into a circular orbit by the S-IVB stage, the CSM undocked
from the configuration, rotated, and docked with the LM. The docked spacecraft
remained in this configuration for about an hour when they undocked from the
S-IVB using an ejection mechanism located on the third stage. About two hours
later, the crew started the SPS motor to investigate the flight and maneuvering
capability of the docked and undocked spacecraft.
On the mission's third day, astronauts McDivitt and Schweikart entered the
LM, powered the craft's systems, and fired the descent motor for six minutes in
the docked configuration. Schweikart tested the Lunar spacesuits and the side
hatch operation the following day with 2 hour and 8 minute EVA. He also tested
handholds in the event the astronauts would have to perform an EVA to return to
the CSM from the LM.
On the fifth day the LM was tested in free flight as it undocked and moved
away from the CSM, fired its descent engine, exercised reaction control rockets,
and then jettisoned the descent stage for the critical rendezvous and docking of
the ascent stage with the CSM. From 80 miles behind the CSM, McDivitt and
Schweikart rendezvoused and docked with the CSM evaluating both the crew and the
craft's performance every step of the way. The crew then jettisoned the ascent
stage and continued the mission until splashdown on March 13, 1969. Both craft
and crew had proven that they could fly to the Moon and accomplish various
procedures to get the spacecraft to the surface and back. It was time to test
the configuration in the Moon's vicinity. The stage was set for a dress
rehearsal of the Lunar Landing.
APOLLO 10 - THE DRESS REHEARSAL
At 11:49 A.M. on May 18, 1969 a Saturn V launched Apollo 10 with Tom
Stafford, John Young, and Gene Cernan into a parking orbit. The S-IVB executed a
perfect TLI burn; the crew docked with the LM, pulled it away from the S-IV B
stage, and were on their way to the Moon. One small midcourse correction was
required so that Apollo 10's trajectory directly coincided with that planned for
Apollo 11. Upon reaching the Moon the SPS fired for six minutes placing the
craft in Lunar orbit.
The next day Stafford and Cernan entered the LM, undocked, separated from the
CSM, performed communication and radar checks and then fired the descent engine
toward the Lunar surface. The two pilots descended to 47,000 feet above one of
the proposed landing sites, tested the landing radar, and then established a
rendezvous orbit with the CSM. After docking flawlessly with the CSM, Apollo 10
continued with 31 Lunar orbits. During this time the crew took pictures, tracked
landmarks and looked for future landing sites. Once again the SPS perfectly
injected the CSM into a trans Earth orbit and the astronauts splashed down on
May 26, 1969. The actual landing would occur on the next mission.
On July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 launched on its Saturn V bound for the Sea of
Tranquility. The spacecraft commander was Neil Armstrong, the CM pilot was Mike
Collins, and the LM pilot was Buzz Aldrin. The mission proceeded as planned; the
astronauts reached the Moon on July 19; and Armstrong and Aldrin entered the LM,
named Eagle, and undocked from the CSM, Columbia. After a cursory inspection and
system checkout and a cheerful, "I'll see you cats later." from the
CSM pilot, Collins, the astronauts fired their descent rocket and headed for the
At 6000 feet above the surface a 1202 alarm sounded which meant that the
computer was becoming overloaded. Back at Houston, Steve Bales, the Flight
Control Computer expert told the mission to disregard the alarm and the landing
continued. The crew finally looked out at the lunar surface at an altitude of
1968 feet with only three minutes of fuel remaining. Armstrong saw that the
Eagle was headed toward a large boulder field surrounding a crater; the proposed
landing spot would crash the LM! Armstrong increased the Eagle's forward
velocity to 55 miles per hour which naturally caught the eyes of all mission
controllers; this was not according to the flight plan! Continuing the maneuver
Armstrong found a clear area about the size of a house and slowly brought the
Eagle to a gentle landing with 20 seconds of descent fuel remaining. The first
words from the Moon were Aldrin's, "Okay. Engine stopped." followed
shortly by Armstrong's, "Houston, Tranquility base here. The Eagle has
landed. Human history had changed; the species had landed on another celestial
On July 20, 1969 at 10:39 P.M. Eastern Daylight Time Armstrong backed out of
the LM and descended to the Lunar surface. At 10:56 P.M. Armstrong said,
"Alright I'm stepping off the footpad now." That was followed
immediately by, "That's one small step for [static] man, one giant leap for
mankind." The fear of deep lunar dust swallowing up the astronauts was also
put aside when Armstrong reported: "The surface is fine and powdery....I
only go in a small fraction of an inch, maybe an eighth of an inch....It's
actually no trouble to walk around." Armstrong quickly collected a
contingency sample of lunar soil into a teflon bag and secured the bag in his
Aldrin stepped out of the LM at 11:11 P.M. and went right to work setting up
a solar wind experiment to trap solar wind particles; 100 trillion particles
were trapped weighing less than a billionth of a gram. Aldrin also set up a
passive seismic experiments package to record "Moonquakes". Extremely
sensitive these experiments recorded the astronauts footsteps, and contained
radioactive plutonium, the first nuclear fuel carried on a human mission. He
also collected core samples, but could only pound the tube in five inches. The
Lunar dust was packed extremely densely and Aldrin couldn't drive the core tube
Armstrong collected a number of undocumented rock samples and set up a laser
range experiment which sent reflected laser beams back to Earth to accurately
measure the distance of the Moon's orbit within inches. He also deployed the
television set, the American flag, and talked to President Nixon. Armstrong and
Aldrin then collected a number of documented rock samples and loaded them aboard
the Eagle for a trip back home.
After an EVA of two hours and forty-eight minutes the astronauts returned to
the LM and prepared to join Collins aboard the CSM. As the Eagle launched from
the surface of the Moon several items remained. These included: the descent
stage with a plaque inscribed which read "Here Man from the planet Earth
first set foot upon the Moon, July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all
mankind." ; the American flag; an Apollo 1 shoulder patch honoring Gus
Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee; medals honoring cosmonauts Yuri Gagarin
and Vladimir Komarov, who died in the Russian space programs; a 1.5 inch silicon
disk with messages of good will from the leaders of 73 countries; and all the
deployed scientific equipment.
Following a perfect liftoff the Eagle rendezvoused and docked with the
Columbia. After unloading the ascent stage of the LM the astronauts undocked it,
and sent it crashing into the Moon to help scientists, by means of the seismic
experiments, determine the configuration of the Moon's core. Then the SPS engine
burned and the Columbia returned to Earth. After a mission of 8 days, 3 hours,
and 18 minutes the CM splashed down in the Pacific. The astronauts donned
biological protection garments to prevent any Lunar germs which may have come
with them from escaping into the Earth's environment. They then went into
quarantine for 18 days for the same reasons; after this time they were found to
be healthy; there were no Moon germs. As a precaution, the next three landings
would also be quarantined; after Apollo 14 doctors claimed that there was no
longer a need for any such precautions. Apollo 11 returned with 46 pounds of
lunar samples; these were sent to scientists worldwide for study. President
Kennedy's goal was met and the entire world rejoiced; America was at the height
of its technological strength. Sadly, President Nixon refused to let the
aircraft carrier Kennedy pick up the astronauts.
On November 14, 1969 the second Moon landing mission was launched from the
Cape with astronauts Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon, and Alan Bean aboard. The
command ship was named Yankee Clipper while the LM had the name of Intrepid.
Apollo 12 started with an ominous note as the entire vehicle suffered a
lightning strike 30 seconds after liftoff. The crew and launch control quickly
restored power and shortly the Saturn V was above the hazard. The launch tower
took another strike after the Saturn was well underway. The rest of the mission
to the Moon was routine and uneventful. On November 19 Conrad and Bean landed on
the Moon's Ocean of Storms 1300 miles west of the Apollo 11 landing site.
Intrepid had landed in an area believed to be covered by debris from the impact
which created the huge crater Copernicus about 250 miles away. This landing also
occurred 600 feet from the landing site of the precursor exploratory craft
Surveyor 3. This offered a rare chance to bring back parts of a spacecraft which
had been affected by the lunar environment for more than 31 months.
Apollo 12 was the first deployment of the Apollo Lunar Surface Experiments
Package (ALSEP). Powered by a nuclear Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator
(RTG), the ALSEP could send 9 million instrument readings back to Earth per day.
Two of the experiments studied the effects of the solar wind while one measured
for the possible concentrations of gas in the lunar atmosphere. Another
experiment measured the response of the Moon to large fluctuations of the solar
and terrestrial magnetic fields and a passive seismic experiment searched for
Conrad and Bean performed two EVAs lasting a total of 7 hours and 46 minutes.
After setting up experiments and collecting samples on the first EVA, they
headed toward the Surveyor 3 on the second to bring back samples from the
spacecraft. They took back aluminum tubing, electrical cables, glass, the
Surveyor camera and the scoop. The astronauts also took back the Intrepid's
television camera which quit working on the surface.
Upon returning to the Yankee Clipper the astronauts unloaded the craft and
sent it crashing into the Moon to provide an impact for the deployed seismic
experiments. The Moon resonated an hour after impact which showed that the
Moon's interior was possibly fractured rather than solid. The CSM looked at the
next landing area the Frau Mauro, an extremely rough surface. The Apollo 12 crew
elected to stay in orbit an extra day to record more possible future landing
sites. After 244 hours and 36 minutes the CM Yankee Clipper splashed down into
the Pacific, another successful mission with 75 pounds of lunar samples and 15
pounds of Surveyor 3 hardware. The next launch of Apollo 13 would be a very
challenging landing in Frau Mauro.
APOLLO 13 - TRIUMPH SNATCHED FROM TRAGEDY
The number 13 has always been thought of as a bad luck number. There are
rarely any 13th floors in hotels as 13 has its bad luck from a number of
sources. Apollo 13 seemed to keep the bad luck theory intact as the primary CM
pilot was exposed to the measles. The crew commander, James Lovell, argued to
keep the CM pilot, Ken Mattingly, but Dr. Tom Paine, the NASA Administrator
would not allow it. The replacement CM pilot was Jack Swigert who had only two
days of training with his primary crew. The LM pilot for Apollo 13 was Fred
As if to rub the bad luck number's nose into the dirt, Apollo 13 launched at
1:13 P.M. on April 11, 1970. 1:00 P.M. is 1300 on the 24 hour clock. Everything
went well with the launch, orbital flight and the TLI burn. 55 hours and 46
minutes following launch, about halfway to the Moon, the astronauts had just
finished a broadcast which nobody in America was tuned to except Houston because
the major TV networks didn't want to interrupt their scheduled broadcasts for a
transmission from Apollo 13. Ho Hum! It's just another mission to the Moon! At
55 hours and 55 minutes into the mission on the 13th of April, the number 2
oxygen tank in the CSM exploded. The oxygen vented into space and two of the
three fuel cells quit working so there would be no electricity and no Lunar
landing. With the loss of oxygen and water, survival was now the key matter of
Since the electricity was almost gone the service engine could not be
gimbaled properly for a return to Earth. With no oxygen or heat the crew would
have to go around the Moon to return to Earth and the LM would have to become a
lifeboat. With 15 minutes of power left in the CM the astronauts made their way
into the LM. After a quick calculation the astronauts determined that they would
have enough consumables, oxygen and water, to return home.
The most serious problem was how to keep the carbon dioxide from suffocating
the crew. On the spacecraft the crew built a series of filters with on-board
equipment and, with help from the ground, they constructed it. This filter kept
the crew alive. Another big problem was how to keep the spacecraft aligned
during critical burns to return to Earth. Because the debris around the
spacecraft was reflecting sunlight thus disabling star sensors, the astronauts
had to use the Sun for navigation and alignment for the Earth return burn using
the LM descent engine. The alignment was within 1/2 a degree and the five minute
burn was successful.
Four hours prior to landing the Odyssey jettisoned the Service module; it had
an entire panel missing and equipment hanging out the bay. One hour prior to
landing the astronauts jettisoned Aquarius which had brought the astronauts back
to Earth as a lifeboat. On April 17 the Odyssey splashed down into the Pacific;
it was the most successful failure of the entire space program. After a thorough
investigation, the problem with the oxygen tank was determined and the Apollo
missions could continue.
Alan Shepard had not been in space since his first launch on May 5, 1961. An
incurable inner ear disease had grounded him and he was the head of the
astronaut office with his friend and fellow grounded astronaut Deke Slayton. One
day, Astronaut Tom Stafford told Shepard about an operation to possibly cure the
inner ear problem. Shepard went directly to the surgeon, underwent an operation,
and was cured. He immediately he went to Slayton and asked to be put on a Lunar
mission. Eventually, Slayton designated Shepard as the Apollo 14 commander.
This mission launched on January 31, 1971. The Saturn V sent Alan Shepard,
Stuart Roosa, and Ed Mitchell to the important Frau Mauro hills about 200 miles
east of the Apollo 12 landing site. On the first of two EVAs, Shepard and
Mitchell set up the solar wind experiment, the American flag and deployed the
ALSEP. On this mission they also had a device which could be placed against the
surface and fired, to create an impact of a measurable size. Additionally, they
planted four grenades detonated by radio command to get a series of seismic
responses. During the second EVA, the astronauts made use of the lunar rickshaw,
the MET (modular equipment transporter). This transporter carried tools,
cameras, and samples.
One of the missions of the Apollo 14 EVAs was to go to the rim of Cone crater
and bring back samples. Because the terrain was so undulating and disorienting,
Shepard and Mitchell did not go all the way to the crater, but rather returned
to the Antares to gather more samples and to fix experiments. Shepard tried a
couple of golf shots and then he and Mitchell blasted off to rejoin Roosa on the
Kitty Hawk. Roosa had taken pictures of a site where the Apollo 13 S-IVB stage
had impacted making a man-made crater. During their 9 hours and 23 minutes
outside the LM, Shepard and Mitchell had gather 94 pounds of samples. The Kitty
Hawk splashed down on February 9, 1971 and the three astronauts donned their
contamination suits for what proved to be the last time; after this no more
crews would wear these biological protection garments; there were no lunar
APOLLO 15 - THE EXPLORATION BEGINS IN EARNEST
The Apollo lunar landings were basically divided into three groups. There was
Apollo 11 proving that humans could land on the Moon, perform experiments there,
gather samples, and return to Earth. The second group of exploration missions
were Apollo 12 and 14. They proved that NASA scientists could pick an area to
explore, note some objectives for that area, land the humans to accomplish those
objectives, and then return home with successful accomplishments of those
objectives. The third group, Apollos 15, 16, and 17, accomplished the first true
lunar explorations also known as the missions of understanding with landings at
Hadley-Apennines, Descartes, and Taurus-Littrow respectively.
On July 26, 1971 Apollo 15 went to the Moon with the Endeavor as the CM and
the Falcon as the LM. Astronauts David Scott and James Irwin landed on the
Hadley Rille at the foot of the Apennines Mountains while Al Worden flew in the
Endeavor. Scott and Irwin spent 67 hours on the Lunar surface. They performed
three EVAs for a total of 18 hours and 46 minutes. While they were at the site
they collected 169 pounds of lunar samples. To get sufficient samples the
astronauts used the Lunar Rover for the first time.
Shepard and Mitchell on Apollo 14 showed that an astronaut on foot,
encumbered by a huge space suit, could not go more than two miles from the
spacecraft. On the last three missions the astronauts had use of a lightweight
electric car also known as the Lunar rover which they could drive up to ten
miles per hour to a range of six miles from the space ship. For safety
considerations the astronauts did not range more than six miles in case of car
failure and they would have to walk back to the LM. The rover weighed 622 pounds
(77 pounds on the Moon) and its power came from two 36 volt silver-zinc
batteries driving an independent 1/4 horsepower motor in each of the four
wheels. The rover had a television camera which could be remotely operated from
Earth, several antennas for communication, navigation information which gave
range and bearing to the ship, seats for the astronauts, and sample storage
areas. Obviously, since the Moon is in a vacuum, inflated tires wouldn't work so
wire mesh wheels were put on the vehicle to traverse the lunar surface. The
fenders frequently broke, so the astronauts improvised fenders from unused
checklist pages to keep dust from being thrown around. The astronauts would have
to throw themselves into the seat because of their bulky suits; they also
insured their seatbelts were buckled because the slightest bump at 1/6 g would
send them flying out of the vehicle.
The astronauts performed three EVAs from the craft along the Hadley Rille. At
the main landing site they set up the standard experiments including the ALSEP
with seismometers which, when combined with those on other missions revealed
information about the Moon's mantle, core, and former magnetic field. On one of
their treks they found the "genesis rock" a specimen over 4 billion
years old. Astronaut Scott performed his own science experiment when he
simultaneously dropped a hammer and a falcon feather on the Moon to prove that
objects in a vacuum fall at identically the same rate. Thus he proved Galileo's
experiments from 300 years before. On August 7, 1971 the Endeavor splashed down
after a lunar mission of 12 days seven hours and 12 minutes.
APOLLO 16 - EXPLORATION CONTINUES
On April 16, 1972 the lunar exploration continued when astronauts John Young,
Charles Duke, and Tom Mattingly launched toward the Descartes Highlands. While
Mattingly piloted the Casper Young and Duke landed the Orion in the area of the
youngest lunar basins, the Cayley Plains. This was the southern most landing
point in the Apollo program and also the highest at an altitude of 8000 feet
higher than Tranquility base on Apollo 11. Young and Duke performed 3 EVAs
totaling 20 hours and 14 minutes on the Lunar surface.
During the first EVA the astronauts deployed the first astronomical
experiment on another body other than Earth when they set up an ultraviolet
camera/spectroscope. After setting up a cosmic ray detector and the ALSEP
package, the astronauts collected the largest Moon rock of the program, a 25.89
pounder. On the return to base Young drove the rover over small craters at 7
miles per hour making sharp turns and skids so the engineers could note the
operation of their creation at the edge of its performance envelope.
On the second EVA Young and Duke went 7 miles away from the LM climbing 700
feet above the plain where they had landed. Again they put the rover through its
paces as they easily climbed a 20º slope. Going down the slope they set a top
speed for the rover of 11 mph.
On the third EVA the astronauts went 7 miles to the rim of North Ray Crater
with a diameter of 3000 feet. This was the largest crater explored by astronauts
during the Apollo Program. It was here the astronauts also measured the highest
reading of magnetism on the Moon. After noting these results the astronauts
loaded their 213 pounds of samples and launched to the Casper. They landed in
the Pacific on April 27, 1972.
APOLLO 17 - THE END OF THE BEGINNING
By the time Apollo 17 launched for the Moon on December 7, 1972, everyone
associated with the program knew that this was the last Apollo mission.
Immediately after liftoff, the employees at Grumman who worked feverishly on the
highly successful LM were given their notices of release; they were fired.
Around the country the men and women who created the most imaginative and
successful exploration program in history were rewarded by losing their jobs.
This was definitely to be the last mission to the Moon for America for the rest
of the century.
Astronauts Gene Cernan and Ron Evans were joined by Harrison Schmitt, the
first true scientist, a geologist, to go into space, aboard the CM, America.
Schmitt and Cernan descended to the Moon's surface aboard the LM, Challenger.
The mission was to the Taurus-Littrow Valley. The larger payload capacity on
Apollo 17 allowed a greater sophistication of scientific experiments. On the
first EVA the astronauts set up an automated research station. They set up new
instruments to measure the lunar gravity, atmosphere, and electrical nature of
the material just below the Moon's surface.
During the second EVA the astronauts discovered orange soil on a trip 12
miles south of the LM; it turned out to be soil transformed by chemistry alone,
not volcanic remains as first hoped. On the third EVA the astronauts traveled to
the northeast part of the valley. On their journey, they discovered a split
boulder and took two core samples from a crater's rim. The astronauts returned
to Challenger where they readied for their departure. As the astronauts stepped
off the Moon for the last time they uncovered a plaque with the following
"Here man completed his first exploration of the Moon December 1972 A.D.
May the spirit of peace in which we came be reflected in the lives of all
They departed at 5:50 P.M., December 14, 1972 and returned to the Earth on
December 19, 1972 after three EVAs totaling 22 hours four minutes and returning
243 pounds of lunar samples.
The obvious Apollo results were that 12 men walked on the surface of the
Moon, another celestial body, for the first time in history. The astronauts
returned with 841.6 pounds of samples which were divided among 550 scientists
throughout the world for analysis. During this analysis the original 2,196
samples were broken into 50,000 separate pieces. One rock was found to contain
water; another was taken to the Earth on Apollo 12, demagnetized, and returned
to the Moon on Apollo 16 to act as a control for further measurement of the
Moon's magnetic field. Another new compound was discovered by Apollo 11;
armalcolite, a titanium, iron, and magnesium oxide named for Armstrong, Aldrin
Perhaps the greatest achievement of this period can best be summarized by a
simple act of some unknown individual at Arlington National Cemetery on the
night of July 20, 1969. Near the eternal flame on John F. Kennedy's grave was
left this simple note: "Mr. President, the Eagle has landed."