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John F. Graham, 1995
Photos courtesy NASA


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 (16.5 ft/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 spaceships.

On the 15th of May 1960 the first Sputnik-Korabl was launched into a 65 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 flights.


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.


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 "unspecified duties".

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 new house.

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 "Maket".

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 135 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.


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 into space.

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?


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.


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 together.

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.



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 procedures.

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.


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, 1993.


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 Program.


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 -270F 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.


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 65 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 courageously succeeded.

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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 recovery ship.


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.


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 be solved.

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.


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 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 translunar injection.

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 180 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 non-existent.

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.


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 of 1967.

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.


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 missions.

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 winning

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.


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 time.

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.


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.


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 lunar surface.

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 body.

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 pocket.

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 in further.

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.

Apollo 12

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 Moonquakes.

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.


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 Haise.

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 business.

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 germs.


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.


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 20 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.


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 inscription:

"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 mankind."

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 and Collins.

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."