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The Apollo Mission That Nearly Ended With a Mutiny in Space

The Apollo Mission That Nearly Ended With a Mutiny in Space

By 1968, America’s space program was on the brink. A launchpad fire at Cape Canaveral killed three astronauts as they were conducting tests in their space capsule in January 1967. After 20 months of congressional hearings, political fallout and a spacecraft redesign, three new astronauts prepared for a mission dubbed Apollo 7: Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham.

The crew’s 11-day mission to orbit the Earth was a shakedown cruise for an eventual trip to the moon. It was the first time three men flew in space together, and also the first time NASA broadcast a television feed from space. Apollo 7 was a crucial step toward Apollo 11’s epic journey in July 1969.

But it is also remembered for the testy exchanges between the crew and NASA officials on the ground that almost turned into a mutiny.

Astronauts were unhappy from the start.

The lessons from Apollo 7 continue to resonate a half century on as both NASA and private space companies plan for human missions back to the moon and perhaps Mars. Nearly any technical problem can be solved when crew and ground controllers cooperate, but as Apollo 7 showed, disagreements can turn a mission upside down, experts say.

“The crew was going to do what the crew was going to do,” says Teasel Muir-Harmony, curator of space history at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. “You can listen to the audio. It is quite tension-filled. It wasn’t playful banter.”

There were arguments over whether to launch at all, conflicts over a television broadcast, complaints about the food, and unhappiness with spacesuits that required 30 minutes for astronauts to use the bathroom. Schirra, a 45-year-old former Gemini astronaut and a Navy test pilot, was at the center of the disputes. He had already decided to leave NASA when he was selected for the Apollo 7 mission.

“He had very little at stake,” Muir-Harmony says. “That might have something to do with some of his insubordination.”

Wally Schirra was shaken by the death of a fellow astronaut.

Schirra was badly shaken by the death of his friend and neighbor Gus Grissom in the Apollo 1 fire. The safety of his crew was his prime concern and outweighed nearly all other tasks that NASA planned for the Apollo 7 flight, according to Andrew Chaikin, a NASA historian and author of A Man on the Moon: The Voyages of The Apollo Astronauts. In the aftermath of the fire, Schirra and everyone else at NASA was on edge.

“It was a terribly traumatic time for NASA,” Chaikin says. “Everyone understood they had to up their game. After the fire, they had to do everything humanly possible to make the spacecraft safer and better. Apollo 7 was the final exam on whether they built a spacecraft that was up to the challenge.”

Schirra was used to flying by himself, as an aviator. During the three-man Apollo flight, Schirra seemed to have strong feelings about what it meant to be a mission commander.

“He wanted to make the point that the crew was in charge,” Chaikin says. “Nobody on the ground is taking the risk that he and his crew was. They weren’t risking their butts. He felt strongly about that and he had an ornery streak anyway.”

The existing tension and anxiety that Schirra felt about the fire was compounded by decisions NASA officials made during launch. After the launchpad fire, NASA engineers designed an emergency system that would allow the crew capsule to separate from the booster rocket. A ground-based landing could endanger the crew because the seats in the Apollo command module didn’t have extra padding that was installed in later missions.

A bad head cold made matters worse.

Controllers and crew agreed that Apollo 7 would not take off if the winds at Cape Canaveral were blowing onshore, but on the day of the launch, Oct. 11, 1968, the launch manager decided to go ahead anyway. Schirra wasn’t happy, and his grumpiness got worse after he woke up the first day with a terrible head cold. In the zero-gravity environment of space, mucus accumulates in the nasal passage and does not drain out of the head. Schirra tried blowing into tissues but found it only made his eardrums more painful.

“It quickly turned our cozy little spacecraft into a used Kleenex container,” Cunningham said, according to an account of the mission by NASA ground controller Hamish Lindsay. As Schirra’s cold worsened, so did his relationship with Mission Control in Houston. Schirra didn’t want to participate in a planned TV broadcast until after the crew had finished testing a precision rendezvous with the spacecraft booster, but later relented.

The big blow-up occurred toward the end of the mission when Schirra told Houston that the crew would not be wearing their helmets during landing. He wanted to be able to blow his nose and clear his nasal passages. NASA said the helmets were needed to protect the crew in case there was an accidental capsule depressurization. Schirra won that battle, and the crew returned to Earth safely on Oct. 22.

Schirra left NASA and became TV commentator alongside Walter Cronkite on the remaining Apollo flights. He also became a TV pitchman for Actifed, makers of the same nasal decongestant he used in space. Eisele and Cunningham never flew in space again.


Skylab: The myth of the mutiny in space

It's been almost half a century since the three astronauts on board the Skylab 4 space mission famously fell out with mission control. Soon afterwards, reports began to circulate that they went on strike. But Ed Gibson, the only one of the crew still alive, says the idea that they stopped work is a myth.

Bill Pogue got sick soon after the three astronauts arrived at the space station.

It came as a surprise because Bill had been nicknamed "Iron Belly" during training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He could endlessly tolerate sitting in a rapidly rotating chair while moving his head backwards and forwards and side to side, without being sick.

But this was the first time the three men had been in space and evidently resistance to motion sickness back on Earth didn't mean much up there.

Commander Jerry Carr suggested Bill eat a can of tomatoes to settle his stomach.

Ed Gibson was sitting between the two men, and remembers the can floating past from left to right before his eyes.

"Then I remember some bad noises coming from Bill, and a barf bag floating back from right to left," he says.

"We felt discouraged because we knew we had so much work to do - that's when we made our first mistake."

Ed is 84 now and the Skylab 4 mission began in November 1973 but time hasn't dulled his most vivid memories - the Earth from space, the blazing corona of the sun and the silence of a spacewalk. He's the last one of the astronauts able to share the story, because Jerry Carr and Bill Pogue have both died - Carr last summer and Pogue in 2014.

The Skylab space station was a research platform in orbit where astronauts helped scientists to study the human body's response to space flight, carried out experiments and made observations of the Sun and Earth. Skylab 4 was the final mission and as a result it had a long list of tasks to fulfil.

The 84-day mission - the longest ever at that point - was on a tight schedule. Nasa was very concerned about someone getting sick, which would have meant losing precious time.

Nasa accepts that mission planners had not given the crew the typical period of adjustment to acclimatise to working weightlessly in orbit and had packed their schedules with large amounts of work. The number of spacewalks was also doubled, to four, to observe a newly discovered comet, Kohoutek.

So the astronauts were already under pressure when they made their first bad decision.

"We wanted to get organised before starting a big flurry with the ground so we decided to delay telling them about Bill being sick," says Ed.

But they had forgotten that everything they said on board was being recorded, and that mission control was listening in.

It wasn't long before the voice of Astronaut Office chief Alan Shepard came crackling over the radio from down in mission control, an exchange also broadcast to the public.

"He got on the line and read us the riot act for not telling them immediately," says Ed. "Al was OK, we just didn't like being chewed out in front of the whole world."

Shepard had been the first American to travel into space - a feat that led Ed to shift his childhood ambition of flying in planes to flying in rockets - and later landed on the moon as commander of Apollo 14. While there, he had driven two golf balls, and the idea of "the guy who was playing golf on the moon, bawling us out" for a breach of protocol seemed pretty ironic to Ed.

He wondered what his friends and family back home must have made of it all. It wasn't a good start, and laid the groundwork for more tension between the crew and mission control.

Staff on the ground hadn't got to know this crew as well as its predecessors, because theyɽ been busy overseeing the first and second missions while the Skylab 4 astronauts were preparing for theirs.

"It meant we didn't really get a good working relationship - we didn't have that rapport."

Every contact began with a prolonged bombardment of questions, instructions and demands, Ed says, on top of the detailed list of instructions from mission control that arrived via the teleprinter every morning. All space missions are tightly run but these unusually heavy levels of micromanagement were what led to the so-called "strike".

"One morning we received about 60ft of instructions, which then needed to be understood and divided up before we even got to work," says Ed.

Then there was a morning briefing they were all expected to radio into, which took another half an hour out of their day.

"Anyone who has been micromanaged will know that it's bad enough for an hour - but try living like that 24 hours a day - having your day sketched out minute by minute," says Ed.

"It wasn't constructive and we weren't getting things done because we couldn't use our own judgement."

Putting extra pressure on the schedule, flight surgeons had also increased the daily exercise regime from an hour to 90 minutes - though Ed actually enjoyed having this extra time to exercise.

"It was a real relief to be on a bike and feel the blood from your upper body go down into your legs. It made me realise how uncomfortable it was to have no gravity keeping blood pulled down into your lower extremities," he says.

With Bill still not at his best, they worked 16-hour shifts to try to keep up with the to-do lists and skipped their rest days for the first month.

They knew comparisons would be made with the previous crew, Skylab 3, which had done more than expected of them, and earned the nickname "the 150% crew".

They had even had time to fashion some dummies of their successors and dress them in the spacesuits waiting in storage - one was sitting on an exercise bike, Ed remembers, and another in the lavatory.

"It put a smile on our faces and we had a good laugh about it," he says.

But they were so busy, the dummies weren't taken down and disassembled for some time. Ed remembers the momentary jolts of alarm caused by catching sight of them in the corner of his eye sometimes.

"It was like other humans were up there with us", he says.

Low on morale and overworked, the crew started to fall behind, and their requests to mission control to lighten their schedule went unheeded.

"That's when we made our second mistake," says Ed - the so-called strike, about half-way through the mission.

The three astronauts decided that only one of them needed to tune into the morning briefing, and that they would take it in turn.

"That worked really well, except that in our fatigued condition up there, one day we got our signals crossed and we didn't have anybody listening to the ground."

The astronauts were out of communication for one whole orbit of the Earth - about 90 minutes. In those days, communication was possible for only about 10 minutes at a time, as Skylab passed over ground control stations on Earth - it was some time before constant and seamless satellite communication became available.

"The word 'strike' went at lightspeed throughout the control room and out into the news media, who feasted on that," Ed says.

"On the ground they interpreted it as a strike. But it wasn't intentional, it was our mistake. The media created this myth which has been floating around out there ever since and we've just had to live with it."

To Ed, the idea made no sense whatsoever. "What were we going to do? Threaten to live on the moon?"

In a recent article, Nasa offered a different interpretation of the origin of the strike story, suggesting that the confusion could have stemmed from a day off the crew had around that time - which it would have legitimately earned after Jerry and Bill completed a seven-hour space walk on Christmas Day.

At the end of the day, CAPCOM (capsule communicator) Richard Truly jokingly called up to the crew, "Hey, if you want to I guess you can take tomorrow off," referring to the planned off-duty day on 26 December.

"We'll have our answering service up tomorrow," Jerry Carr replied in jest.

In Jerry's own account from 2000 he talks about the crew feeling restored by a day off, but being careless with their radios. There is nothing to suggest the day off was taken without permission.

Transcripts of conversations with ground control suggest that at most there were a couple of hours of missed communications - nothing long enough to deserve the label "strike".

Strike or no strike, the tensions between the crew and ground control were real. A crisis meeting between the two parties was called on 30 December.

"It was a very tense two orbits of discussions with them," says Ed. Both sides aired their frustrations, and ground control agreed to loosen their grip on the schedule and give the astronauts a bit more autonomy.

Jerry later referred to it as "the first sensitivity session in space".


Apollo 7: NASA's First "Mini-Mutiny" In Space

Almost exactly 50 years ago, NASA launched the first crewed Apollo mission into space. The goal was to test the latest spaceship tech, ensuring humans could survive their long trip to the moon, and the expedition also marked the first 3-person American space crew, as well as the first to broadcast a live television feed.

“All primary Apollo 7 mission objectives were met, as well as every detailed test objective (and three test objectives not originally planned),” crows NASA’s special publication, The Apollo Spacecraft – A Chronology . But its biggest impact is another “first” it achieved, one not mentioned in NASA’s Chronology or its Summary Report on the Apollo program : A mini-mutiny of the mission’s crew.

Apollo Annoyances

The stakes were already high. When Apollo 7 launched on October 11, 1968, it was the first time NASA sent astronauts into space since a cabin fire had killed the Apollo 1 crew some 21 months earlier. Apollo hardware had proven safe enough in space by itself, but this mission would be a crucial test of new equipment. As a NASA video put it, the mission had to “prove that the spacecraft command and service modules would function properly in space, long enough to carry man to the moon and back.

After a smooth entry into orbit, the crew conducted their equipment testing with only slight problems and minor equipment malfunctions. Overall, the crew never encountered any issues they couldn’t handle. But they weren’t always happy about it.

The Apollo spacecraft had about four times more room than its Gemini predecessors, but conditions were still cramped and uncomfortable. Space food was hardly home cooking, observed Commander Walter Schirra Jr., and its disposal was no treat either. “The waste management system for collecting solid body wastes was adequate, though annoying,” according to NASA’s own description . “The bags certainly were not convenient and there were usually unpleasant odors.” Apparently the three men only used them 12 times during the nearly 11-day trip.

But worst of all, the astronauts got sick. Schirra came down with a severe head cold about 15 hours into the flight, with the rest of the crew soon joining him. And as annoying as colds usually are, space-colds are even worse, since there’s no gravity to pull at and drain mucus from the head. As a result, the Apollo 7 crew had typical symptoms — stuffy noses, dry nostrils, congestion — and little relief.

Losing Control

A demanding work environment does not typically mix well with feeling awful. Reporters soon noted the increasing “snappishness” of the crew in their conversations with mission control.

When Schirra wanted to delay that first-time live TV broadcast so they could complete crucial mission tests, he met with resistance. Deke Slayton back on the ground tried to persuade him to squeeze in some camera time. Schirra would have none of it.

“We do not have the equipment out we have not had an opportunity to follow setting we have not eaten at this point,” Schirra said (page 115 of the official voice transcriptions) . “At this point, I have a cold. I refuse to foul up our time lines this way.” (The crew did at least seem to enjoy their TV broadcast when the time came.)

An even bigger breach of protocol came toward the end of the mission, and centered on the crew’s helmets. Every previous crewed re-entry and landing, during the Mercury and Gemini missions, required the astronauts to wear their helmets. But Schirra and his crew had been relieving sinus pressure by pinching their noses and blowing their helmets, new models for the Apollo mission with no visor openings, would make this impossible. They were particularly concerned that the changing pressures during re-entry would wreak havoc with their sinuses, possibly even bursting their ear drums. So they simply refused to wear the helmets. Ground control was not happy.

SLAYTON: Did you conclude you could not get helmets on? Is that the problem?

SCHIRRA: No, we can get them on we can’t get them off.

SLAYTON: Okay. But the mode we wanted was to have them on without being latched down to the neckring.

SCHIRRA: Deke, I can’t get my hand in there, besides a handkerchief, and we’re not at all safely braced for landing. We’ll evaluate as carefully as we can.

SLAYTON: Okay. I think you ought to clearly understand that there is absolutely no experience at all with landing without the helmet on.

SCHIRRA: And there is no experience with the helmet either on that one.

SLAYTON: That one we’ve got a lot of experience with, yes.

SCHIRRA: If we had an open visor, I might go along with that.

SLAYTON: Okay. I guess you better be prepared to discuss in some detail when we land why we haven’t got them on. I think you’re too late now to do much about it.

SCHIRRA: That’s affirmative. I don’t think anybody down there has worn the helmets as much as we have.

SLAYTON: Yes.

SCHIRRA: We tried them on this morning.

SLAYTON: Understand that. The only thing we’re concerned about is the landing. We couldn’t care less about the reentry. But it’s your neck, and I hope you don’t break it.

SCHIRRA: Thank you, babe.

Mutiny Minded

But their insubordination did not go unnoticed. None of the three crew members ever flew in space again, and while every other Apollo mission crew immediately received Distinguished Service Medals — NASA’s highest honor — Apollo 7’s crew did not. ( They did get them 40 years later , albeit posthumously in two cases.)

As a result of this and another “mini-mutiny” during NASA’s final Skylab mission , NASA began to take more seriously the psychological constraints astronauts face — a focus that continues to this day . If more flexibility, better understanding and improved cold medicine are what it takes to keep crews happy, then they seem small prices to pay to ensure future missions to the moon, Mars or beyond remain mutiny-free.

And psychology aside, Apollo 7 was “101 percent successful,” as NASA puts it, paving the way for Apollo 8’s trip into lunar orbit and, eventually, a successful moon landing with Apollo 11. And Schirra did all right too, even if he never returned to space: After leaving government work he saw success in the business world, and even became a TV spokesman for Actifed, the cold medicine he took during the mission.


Apollo 11 moon landing celebrated as pioneering milestone, but it was really about winning the space race

NASA Administrator Bridenstine on the brilliant move JFK made months after taking office - setting the moonshot timeline for the end of the decade. USA TODAY

A desperate president who set an ambitious deadline to reach the moon. A Cold War rival whose technological edge in space prodded Americans into action. The unsparing ingenuity of U.S. scientists and industry to overcome long odds.

The lunar landing 50 years ago Saturday was the culmination of numerous factors: pressure, brilliance, perseverance … and some luck.

But most agree it would not have happened – at least not until much later – if John F. Kennedy hadn’t pushed to win the space race against the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War.

“He gave us a timeline and I think that matters so much,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine told USA TODAY recently. “When there is no end in sight, programs become just programs for the sake of being programs.”

It seemed an impossible goal on May 25,1961, the day Kennedy issued his challenge in an address to Congress to land a man on the moon by the end of the decade – and bring him back safely.

“It will not be one man going to the moon,” Kennedy told lawmakers. “It will be an entire nation. For all of us must work to put him there.”

That call to action lit a fuse of American inspiration that still stands as one of humanity’s crowning achievements considering what little was known about space travel at the time, according to Charles Fishman in his book, ‘One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew us to the Moon.’

“When President John Kennedy declared in 1961 that the United States was going to the Moon, he was committing the nation to do something we couldn’t do,” Fishman wrote in his book, which was published by Simon & Schuster in June. “We didn’t have the tools, the equipment – we didn’t have the rockets or the launchpads, the spacesuits or the computers or the zero-gravity food – to go to the moon. And it isn’t just that we didn’t have what we would need we didn’t even know what we would need.”

Losing the space race

NASA is once again setting its sights on the moon. President Donald Trump has called for a return to the lunar surface by 2024 – this time to stay.

Trump's call comes nearly 47 years after the last human – Apollo XVII astronaut Gene Cernan – took the last steps on the moon and amid concerns today that foreign powers, chiefly China, are gearing up to inhabit the lunar surface.

Much has changed since Kennedy first decided on a moon shot. What hasn't is how top government officials view such a mission as a way to advance national security interests rather than as a pioneering journey designed to uplift America's spirits.

When he addressed Congress in 1961, the U.S. was reeling from the botched Bay of Pigs invasion into Cuba and the Soviets were walloping the United States in the space race.

NASA Administrator Robert C. Seamans Jr. (L) and scientist Wernher Von Braun (C), father of the Saturn V Rocket which took the US astronauts to the Moon, are seen with President John F. Kennedy (R) at a Cape Canaveral launching pad on Nov. 1, 1963. (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

The communist government launched Sputnik, on Oct. 4, 1957, a beach-ball sized satellite that startled – and panicked – America as it orbited the Earth.

Sputnik 2, much larger (weighing more than half a ton) and carrying a passenger – a female part-Samoyed terrier named Laika – rocketed into orbit a month later.

It wasn’t until Jan. 31,1958 that the U.S. countered with its first satellite, Explorer 1, a much lighter object than either Sputnik.

Then, on April 12, 1961 – six weeks before Kennedy’s speech to Congress – the Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin became the first human to orbit Earth. It was almost a year later when John Glenn became the first American in orbit.

Barely a week after Gagarin’s momentous flight, Kennedy spilled his frustration in a memo to Vice President Lyndon Johnson.

“Do we have a chance of beating the Soviets by putting a laboratory in space, or by a trip around the moon, or by a rocket to land on the moon, or by a rocket to go to the moon and back with a man,” he wrote. “Is there any … space program which promises dramatic results in which we could win?”

‘A desperate battle with the Soviets’

Kennedy might not have given his speech to Congress had Alan Shepard not completed a short, suborbital flight in a Mercury spacecraft in early May 1961 that made him the first American in space. Shepard’s success gave the president the footing he needed to make the case for a moon shot.

When Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon on July 20, 1969, the milestone was viewed largely as a testament to the pioneering spirit and technological wizardry of humankind.

But it was chiefly about beating the Soviets, who were reportedly very close to launching their own crew to the lunar surface, Apollo 8 astronaut Frank Borman told USA TODAY recently.

“The Apollo program wasn’t designed to be a great scientific venture or means of exploration. It was a battle of the Cold War,” he said. “We were in a desperate battle with the Soviets, and that’s why we were pressing.”

Apollo 11 was launched by a Saturn V rocket from Kennedy Space Center on Merritt Island, Fla, on July 16, 1969. The Saturn V is 363-feet tall, 60 feet taller than the Statue of Liberty. Fully fueled for liftoff, the Saturn V weighed 6.2 million pounds. (Photo: NASA via EPA)

Borman, whose lunar orbiting mission in December 1968 paved the way for the Apollo 11 moonwalk seven months later, believes winning the race changed history on Earth.

If the Soviets had landed on the moon first, “it might have changed the whole nature of the post-World War landscape,” he said. “I’m not certain we would have had the dissolution of the Soviet empire. I’d like to think that the success of the Apollo program was an important first step in the end of the Soviets.”

Tragedy and technology – lots to overcome

The U.S. space program gained steam after Glenn’s orbit, scoring a series of impressive achievements through Apollo’s precursor programs Mercury and Gemini.

Kennedy’s assassination in 1963 could have derailed or delayed success, but Johnson proved to be just as fervent an advocate of the space program.

Under his watch, NASA’s budget consumed 4.6 percent of the annual federal budget during the peak spending years of the space program. Today, the agency makes up less than one-half of 1 percent.

But public backing for a moon landing in the mid-‘60s was hardly universal. Polls showed support above 50% only at the time of the moon landing itself. The Apollo Program won support from key policy makers because it was viewed as strategically important in trying to stay ahead of the Soviet Union.


Contents

Early life and education Edit

Virgil Ivan Grissom was born in the small town of Mitchell, Indiana, on April 3, 1926, [1] to Dennis David Grissom, a signalman for the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, and Cecile King Grissom, a homemaker. Virgil was the family's second child (an older sister died in infancy shortly before his birth). He was followed by three younger siblings: a sister, Wilma, and two brothers, Norman and Lowell. [2] Grissom started school at Riley grade school. His interest in flying began in that time, building model airplanes. [1] He received his nickname when his friend was reading his name on a scorecard upside down and misread "Griss" as "Gus". [1]

As a youth, Grissom attended the local Church of Christ, where he remained a lifelong member. He joined the local Boy Scout Troop and earned the rank of Star Scout. [3] Grissom credited the Scouts for his love of hunting and fishing. He was the leader of the honor guard in his troop. [4] His first jobs were delivering newspapers for The Indianapolis Star in the morning and the Bedford Times in the evening. [1] In the summer he picked fruit in area orchards and worked at a dry-goods store. [4] He also worked at a local meat market, a service station, and a clothing store in Mitchell.

Grissom started attending Mitchell High School in 1940. [4] He wanted to play varsity basketball but he was too short. His father encouraged him to find sports he was more suited for, and he joined the swimming team. [4] Although he excelled at mathematics, Grissom was an average high school student in other subjects. [5] He graduated from high school in 1944.

In addition, Grissom occasionally spent time at a local airport in Bedford, Indiana, where he first became interested in aviation. A local attorney who owned a small plane would take him on flights and taught him the basics of flying. [6]

Marriage and family Edit

Grissom met and befriended Betty Lavonne Moore (1927–2018), [7] his future wife, through their extracurricular activities in high school. Grissom carried the American flag at the opening ceremonies of high school basketball games, while Moore played the drum in the high school band. [8] At a game during Betty's first year, they noticed their mutual attraction to each other and Grissom sat with her at halftime. They went on many movie dates. Grissom's father allowed him to use the family car, even though gasoline was rationed due to the war. Grissom used the car to teach Betty how to drive. [4]

Grissom married Moore on July 6, 1945, at the First Baptist Church in Mitchell when he was home on leave near the end of World War II. Grissom's brother, Norman, served as his best man Moore's sister, Mary Lou Fosbrink, was her maid of honor. [9] Grissom and his wife, Betty, had two sons: Scott, born in 1950, and Mark, born in 1953. [10] [11] Both sons graduated from Purdue University and eventually had aviation-related careers. [12]

Grissom "greatly valued being home with his family, stating that 'it sure helped to spend a quiet evening with your wife and children in your own living room'." [13] Grissom "refused to let work problems intrude on his time at home, and tried to complete technical reading or paperwork after the boys were asleep," while Betty Grissom "accommodated his hectic schedule by completing major chores and errands during the week so weekends would be free for family activities." [13] Two of Grissom's favorite pastimes were hunting and fishing, to which he introduced his sons. The family also enjoyed water sports and skiing. [13]

World War II military service Edit

World War II began while Grissom was still in high school, but he was eager to join the military upon graduation. Grissom enlisted as an aviation cadet in the U.S. Army Air Forces during his senior year in high school, and completed an entrance exam in November 1943. Grissom was inducted into the U.S. Army Air Forces on August 8, 1944, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana. He was sent to Sheppard Field in Wichita Falls, Texas, for five weeks of basic flight training, and was later stationed at Brooks Field in San Antonio, Texas. In January 1945 Grissom was assigned to Boca Raton Army Airfield in Florida. Although he was interested in becoming a pilot, most of Grissom's time before his discharge in 1945 was spent as a clerk. [14]

Postwar civilian employment Edit

Grissom was discharged from military service in November 1945, after the war had ended, and returned to Mitchell, where he took a job at Carpenter Body Works, a local bus manufacturing business. Grissom was determined to make his career in aviation and attend college. Using the G.I. Bill for partial payment of his school tuition, Grissom enrolled at Purdue University in September 1946. [15]

Due to a shortage of campus housing during her husband's first semester in college in West Lafayette, Indiana, Grissom's wife, Betty, stayed in Mitchell living with her parents, while Grissom lived in a rented apartment with another male student. Betty Grissom joined her husband on campus during his second semester, and the couple settled into a small, one-bedroom apartment. Grissom continued his studies at Purdue, worked part-time as a cook at a local restaurant, and took summer classes to finish college early, while his wife worked the night shift as a long-distance operator for the Indiana Bell Telephone Company to help pay for his schooling and their living expenses. Grissom graduated from Purdue with a Bachelor of Science degree in mechanical engineering in February 1950. [16]

Korean War military career Edit

Grissom re-enlisted in the military after he graduated from Purdue, this time in the newly formed U.S. Air Force. He was accepted into the Air Cadet Basic Training Program at Randolph Air Force Base in Universal City, Texas. Upon completion of the program, he was assigned to Williams Air Force Base in Mesa, Arizona, where his wife, Betty, and infant son, Scott, joined him, but the family remained there only briefly. In March 1951 Grissom received his pilot wings and a commission as a second lieutenant. Nine months later, in December 1951, Grissom and his family moved into new living quarters in Presque Isle, Maine, where he was assigned to Presque Isle Air Force Base and became a member of the 75th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron. [17]

With the ongoing Korean War, Grissom's squadron was dispatched to the war zone in February 1952. There he flew as an F-86 Sabre replacement pilot and was reassigned to the 334th Fighter Squadron of the 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing stationed at Kimpo Air Base. [18] He flew one hundred combat missions during approximately six months of service in Korea, including multiple occasions when he broke up air raids from North Korean MiGs. On March 11, 1952, Grissom was promoted to first lieutenant and was cited for his "superlative airmanship" for his actions on March 23, 1952, when he flew cover for a photo reconnaissance mission. [19] Grissom was also awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal with an oak leaf cluster for his military service in Korea. [20]

After flying his quota of one hundred missions, Grissom asked to remain in Korea to fly another twenty-five flights, but his request was denied. Grissom returned to the United States to serve as a flight instructor at Bryan AFB in Bryan, Texas, where he was joined by his wife, Betty, and son, Scott. The Grissoms' second child, Mark, was born there in 1953. Grissom soon learned that flight instructors faced their own set of on-the-job risks. During a training exercise with a cadet, the trainee pilot caused a flap to break off from their two-seat trainer, sending it into a roll. Grissom quickly climbed from the rear seat of the small aircraft to take over the controls and safely land it. [21]

In August 1955, Grissom was reassigned to the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base near Dayton, Ohio. After completing the year-long course he earned a bachelor's degree in aeromechanics in 1956. [22] In October 1956, he entered USAF Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California, and returned to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio in May 1957, after attaining the rank of captain. Grissom served as a test pilot assigned to the fighter branch. [23] [24] [25]

NASA career Edit

In 1959 Grissom received an official teletype message instructing him to report to an address in Washington, D.C., wearing civilian clothes. The message was classified "Top Secret" and Grissom was ordered not to discuss its contents with anyone. Of the 508 military candidates who were considered, he was one of 110 test pilots whose credentials had earned them an invitation to learn more about the U.S. space program in general and its Project Mercury. Grissom was intrigued by the program, but knew that competition for the final spots would be fierce. [26] [27]

Grissom passed the initial screening in Washington, D.C., and was among the thirty-nine candidates sent to the Lovelace Clinic in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and the Aeromedical Laboratory of the Wright Air Development Center in Dayton, Ohio, to undergo extensive physical and psychological testing. He was nearly disqualified when doctors discovered that he suffered from hay fever, but was permitted to continue after he argued that his allergies would not be a problem due to the absence of ragweed pollen in space. [28]

On April 13, 1959, Grissom received official notification that he had been selected as one of the seven Project Mercury astronauts. Grissom and the six other men, after taking a leave of absence from their respective branches of the military service, reported to the Special Task Group at Langley Air Force Base in Virginia on April 27, 1959, to begin their astronaut training. [29] [30] [31]

Project Mercury Edit

On July 21, 1961, Grissom was pilot of the second Project Mercury flight, Mercury-Redstone 4. Grissom's spacecraft, which he named Liberty Bell 7, was launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, a sub-orbital flight that lasted 15 minutes and 37 seconds. [24] [27] After splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean, the Liberty Bell 7 ' s emergency explosive bolts unexpectedly fired, blowing off the hatch and causing water to flood into the spacecraft. Grissom quickly exited through the open hatch and into the ocean. While waiting for recovery helicopters from USS Randolph to pick him up, Grissom struggled to keep from drowning after his spacesuit began losing buoyancy due to an open air inlet. Grissom managed to stay afloat until he was pulled from the water by a helicopter and taken to the U.S. Navy ship. In the meantime another recovery helicopter tried to lift and retrieve the Liberty Bell 7, but the flooding spacecraft became too heavy, forcing the recovery crew to cut it loose, and it ultimately sank. [27]

When reporters at a news conference surrounded Grissom after his space flight to ask how he felt, Grissom replied, "Well, I was scared a good portion of the time I guess that's a pretty good indication." [32] Grissom stated he had done nothing to cause the hatch to blow, and no definitive explanation for the incident was found. [27] [33] Robert F. Thompson, director of Mercury operations, was dispatched to USS Randolph by Space Task Group Director Robert Gilruth and spoke with Grissom upon his arrival on the aircraft carrier. Grissom explained that he had gotten ahead in the mission timeline and had removed the detonator cap, and also pulled the safety pin. Once the pin was removed, the trigger was no longer held in place and could have inadvertently fired as a result of ocean wave action, bobbing as a result of helicopter rotor wash, or other activity. NASA officials concluded Grissom had not necessarily initiated the firing of the explosive hatch, which would have required pressing a plunger that required five pounds of force to depress. [34] Initiating the explosive egress system called for pushing, or hitting, a metal trigger with the hand, which would have left an unavoidably large obvious bruise, [35] but Grissom was found not to have any of the telltale hand bruising. [27]

While the debate continued about the premature detonation of Liberty Bell 7's hatch bolts, precautions were initiated for subsequent flights. Fellow Mercury astronaut Wally Schirra, at the end of his October 3, 1962, flight, remained inside his spacecraft until it was safely aboard the recovery ship, and made a point of deliberately blowing the hatch to get out of the spacecraft, bruising his hand. [27] [36]

Grissom's spacecraft was recovered in 1999, but no further evidence was found that could conclusively explain how the explosive hatch release had occurred. Later, Guenter Wendt, pad leader for the early American crewed space launches, wrote that he believed a small cover over the external release actuator was accidentally lost sometime during the flight or splashdown. Another possible explanation was that the hatch's T-handle may have been tugged by a stray parachute suspension line, or was perhaps damaged by the heat of re-entry, and after cooling upon splashdown it contracted and caught fire. [30] [37]

Project Gemini Edit

In early 1964 Alan Shepard was grounded after being diagnosed with Ménière's disease and Grissom was designated command pilot for Gemini 3, the first crewed Project Gemini flight, which flew on March 23, 1965. [27] This mission made Grissom the first NASA astronaut to fly into space twice. [38] The two-man flight on Gemini 3 with Grissom and John W. Young made three revolutions of the Earth and lasted for 4 hours, 52 minutes and 31 seconds. [39] Grissom was one of the eight pilots of the NASA paraglider research vehicle. [40]

Grissom, the shortest of the original seven astronauts at five feet seven inches tall, worked very closely with the engineers and technicians from McDonnell Aircraft who built the Gemini spacecraft. Because of his involvement in the design of the first three spacecraft, his fellow astronauts humorously referred to the craft as "the Gusmobile". By July 1963 NASA discovered 14 out of its 16 astronauts could not fit themselves into the cabin and the later cockpits were modified. [41] [42] During this time Grissom invented the multi-axis translation thruster controller used to push the Gemini and Apollo spacecraft in linear directions for rendezvous and docking. [43]

In a joking nod to the sinking of his Mercury craft, Grissom named the first Gemini spacecraft Molly Brown (after the popular Broadway show, The Unsinkable Molly Brown). [27] Some NASA publicity officials were unhappy with this name and asked Grissom and his pilot, John Young, to come up with a new one. When they offered Titanic as an alternate, [27] NASA executives decided to allow them to use the name of Molly Brown for Gemini 3, but did not use it in official references. Much to the agency's chagrin, CAPCOM Gordon Cooper gave Gemini 3 its sendoff on launch with the remark to Grissom and Young, "You're on your way, Molly Brown!" Ground controllers also used it to refer to the spacecraft throughout its flight. [44]

After the safe return of Gemini 3, NASA announced new spacecraft would not be nicknamed. Hence, Gemini 4 was not called American Eagle as its crew had planned. The practice of nicknaming spacecraft resumed in 1967, when managers realized that the Apollo flights needed a name for each of two flight elements, the Command Module (CSM) and the Lunar Module. Lobbying by the astronauts and senior NASA administrators also had an effect. Apollo 9 used the name Gumdrop for the Command Module and Spider for the Lunar Module. [45] However, Wally Schirra was prevented from naming his Apollo 7 spacecraft Phoenix in honor of the Apollo 1 crew because some believed that its nickname as a metaphor for "fire" might be misunderstood. [46]

Apollo program Edit

—Grissom expressing frustration with the Apollo comm system [47]

Grissom was backup command pilot for Gemini 6A when he was transferred to the Apollo program and was assigned as commander of the first crewed mission, AS-204, with Senior Pilot Ed White, who had flown in space on the Gemini 4 mission when he became the first American to make a spacewalk, and Pilot Roger B. Chaffee. [27] The three men were granted permission to refer to their flight as "Apollo 1" on their mission insignia patch.

Problems with the simulator proved extremely annoying to Grissom, who told a reporter the problems with Apollo 1 came "in bushelfuls" and that he was skeptical of its chances to complete its fourteen-day mission. [48] Grissom earned the nickname "Gruff Gus" by being outspoken about the technical deficiencies of the spacecraft. [49] The engineers who programmed the Apollo training simulator had a difficult time keeping the simulator in sync with the continuous changes being made to the spacecraft. According to backup astronaut Walter Cunningham, "We knew that the spacecraft was, you know, in poor shape relative to what it ought to be. We felt like we could fly it, but let's face it, it just wasn't as good as it should have been for the job of flying the first crewed Apollo mission." [27]

NASA pressed on. In mid-January 1967, "preparations were being made for the final pre-flight tests of Spacecraft 012." [27] On January 22, 1967, before returning to Cape Kennedy to conduct the January 27 plugs-out test that ended his life, Grissom's wife, Betty, later recalled that he took a lemon from a tree in his back yard and explained that he intended to hang it on that spacecraft, although he actually hung the lemon on the simulator (a duplicate of the Apollo spacecraft). [50] [51]

Before Apollo 1's planned launch on February 21, 1967, the Command Module interior caught fire and burned on January 27, 1967, during a pre-launch test on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy. Astronauts Grissom, White, and Chaffee, who were working inside the closed Command Module, were asphyxiated. The fire's ignition source was found to be damaged wiring. [52] Their deaths were attributed to a wide range of lethal hazards in the early CSM design and conditions of the test, including a pressurized 100 percent oxygen prelaunch atmosphere, wiring and plumbing flaws, flammable materials used in the cockpit and in the astronauts' flight suits, and an inward-opening hatch that could not be opened quickly in an emergency and not at all with full internal pressure. [53]

Grissom's funeral services and burial at Arlington National Cemetery were held on January 31, 1967. Dignitaries in attendance included President Lyndon B. Johnson, members of the U.S. Congress, and fellow NASA astronauts, among others. Grissom was interred at Arlington National Cemetery, in Arlington, Virginia, [54] beside those of Roger Chaffee. [55] White's remains are interred at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York. [56]

After the accident, NASA decided to give the flight the official designation of Apollo 1 and skip to Apollo 4 for the first uncrewed flight of the Saturn V, counting the two uncrewed suborbital tests, AS-201 and 202, as part of the sequence. The Apollo spacecraft problems were corrected, with Apollo 7, commanded by Wally Schirra, launched on October 11, 1968, more than a year after the Apollo 1 accident. The Apollo program reached its objective of successfully landing men on the Moon on July 20, 1969, with Apollo 11. [57] [58]

At the time of his death, Grissom had attained the rank of lieutenant colonel and had logged a total of 4,600 hours flying time, including 3,500 hours in jet airplanes. [24] Some contend that Grissom could have been selected as one of the astronauts to walk on the Moon. "Deke" Slayton wrote that he had hoped for one of the original Mercury astronauts to go to the Moon, noting: "It wasn't just a cut-and-dried decision as to who should make the first steps on the Moon. If I had to select on that basis, my first choice would have been Gus, which both Chris Kraft and Bob Gilruth seconded." [59] Ultimately, Alan Shepard, one of the original seven NASA astronauts, would receive the honor of commanding the Apollo 14 lunar landing. [60]

Liberty Bell 7 spacesuit controversy Edit

When the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame opened in 1990, his family lent it the spacesuit worn by Grissom during Mercury 4 along with other personal artifacts belonging to the astronaut. In 2002, the museum went into bankruptcy and was taken over by a NASA contractor, whereupon the family sought the exhibit's return. [61] All the artifacts were returned to them except the spacesuit, which NASA claimed was government property. [62] NASA insisted Grissom got authorization to use the spacesuit for a show and tell at his son's school in 1965 and never returned it, but some Grissom family members claimed the astronaut rescued the spacesuit from a scrap heap. [63] As of December 2016, [update] the space suit remains in the Hall of Fame's Heroes and Legends exhibit. [64]

To celebrate his spaceflight in 1961, Grissom was made honorary Mayor of Newport News, Virginia, and a new library was dubbed the Virgil I. Grissom Library in the Denbigh section of Newport News, Virginia. [67]

The airport in Bedford, Indiana, where Grissom flew as a teenager was renamed Virgil I. Grissom Municipal Airport in 1965. A three-ton piece of limestone, inscribed with his name, was unveiled at the airport. His fellow astronauts ribbed him about the name, saying that airports were normally named for dead aviators. Grissom replied, "But this time they've named one for a live one." [68] Virgil Grissom Elementary School in Old Bridge, New Jersey, was named for Grissom the year before his death. [69] His death forced the cancellation of a student project to design a flag to represent Grissom and their school, which would have flown on the mission. [70]

Grissom was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Mercury flight and was awarded it a second time for his role in Gemini 3. [71] The Apollo 1 crew was awarded the medal posthumously in a 1969 presentation of the Presidential Medal of Freedom to the Apollo 11 crew. [72]

Grissom's family received the Congressional Space Medal of Honor in 1978 from President Carter (White's and Chaffee's families received it in 1997). [73]

Grissom was granted an honorary doctorate from Florida Institute of Technology in 1962, the first-ever awarded by the university. [74] Grissom was inducted into the International Space Hall of Fame in 1981, [75] [76] and the National Aviation Hall of Fame in 1987. [77] Grissom was posthumously inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1990. [78] [79] Betty donated his Congressional Space Medal of Honor to the accompanying museum. [80]

Grissom posthumously received AIAA's Haley Astronautics Award for 1968. [81]

—Grissom, after his Gemini mission, March 1965 [82] [a]

The dismantled Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station bears two memorial plaques to the crew of Apollo 1. [83] The Kennedy Space Center features a memorial exhibit honoring the Apollo 1 crew in the Apollo/Saturn V Center, which includes artifacts and personal mementos of Grissom, Chaffee, and White. Grissom's name is included on the plaque left on the Moon with the Fallen Astronaut statue in 1971 by the crew of Apollo 15. [84]

The Grissom Memorial, a 44-foot (13 m) tall limestone monument representing the Redstone rocket and his Mercury space capsule was dedicated in downtown Mitchell, Indiana, in 1981. [85] The Virgil I. Grissom Memorial in Spring Mill State Park, near Grissom's hometown of Mitchell, Indiana, was dedicated in 1971, the tenth anniversary of his Mercury flight. [85] [86] The governor declared it a state holiday for the second year in a row. [87] The Gus Grissom Stakes, a thoroughbred horse race run in Indiana each fall originally held at Hoosier Park in Anderson, it was moved to Indiana Grand Race Course in Shelbyville in 2014. [65]

Grissom Island is an artificial island off of Long Beach, California, created in 1966 for drilling oil (along with White, Chaffee and Freeman Islands). [88] [89] [90] Virgil "Gus" Grissom Park opened in 1971 in Fullerton, California. His widow and son were invited to the dedication ceremony and planted the first large tree in the park. [91] Grissom is named with his Apollo 1 crewmates on the Space Mirror Memorial, which was dedicated in 1991. His son, Gary Grissom, said, "When I was younger, I thought NASA would do something. It's a shame it has taken this long". [92] [93]

Navi (Ivan spelled backwards), is a seldom-used nickname for the star Gamma Cassiopeiae. Grissom used this name, plus two others for White and Chaffee, on his Apollo 1 mission planning star charts as a joke, and the succeeding Apollo astronauts kept using the names as a memorial. [94] [95] Grissom crater is one of several located on the far side of the Moon named for Apollo astronauts. The name was created and used unofficially by the Apollo 8 astronauts and was adopted as the official name by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1970. [96] [97] 2161 Grissom is a main belt asteroid that was discovered in 1963 and officially designated in 1981. [98] The name references his launch date of July 21, 1961. [99] Grissom Hill, one of the Apollo 1 Hills on Mars was named by NASA on January 27, 2004, the 37th anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire. [100] [101]

Bunker Hill Air Force Base in Peru, Indiana, was renamed on May 12, 1968, to Grissom Air Force Base. During the dedication ceremony, his son said, "Of all the honors he won, none would please him more than this one today." [102] In 1994, it was again renamed to Grissom Air Reserve Base following the USAF's realignment program. [103] The three-letter identifier of the VHF Omni Directional Radio Range (VOR) located at Grissom Air Reserve Base is GUS. In 2000, classes of the United States Air Force Academy began selecting a Class Exemplar who embodies the type of person they strive to be. The class of 2007 selected Grissom. [104] An academic building was renamed Grissom Hall in 1968 at the former Chanute Air Force Base, Rantoul, Illinois, where Minuteman missile maintenance training was conducted. It was one of five buildings renamed for deceased Air Force personnel. [105] [106]

The Virgil I. Grissom Museum, dedicated in 1971 by Governor Edgar Whitcomb, [107] is located just inside the entrance to Spring Mill State Park in Mitchell, Indiana. [108] The Molly Brown was transferred to be displayed in the museum in 1974. [109] His boyhood home in Mitchell, Indiana, is located on Grissom Avenue. The street was renamed in his honor after his Mercury flight. [110] [111]

Schools Edit

Florida Institute of Technology dedicated Grissom Hall, a residence hall, in 1967. [112] State University of New York at Fredonia dubbed their new residence hall Grissom Hall in 1967. [113] Grissom Hall, dedicated in 1968 at Purdue University, was the home of the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics for several decades. It is currently home of the Purdue department of Industrial Engineering. [114] [115]

Virgil I. Grissom Elementary School was built in Houston, Texas, in 1967. [116] Virgil Grissom Elementary School in Princeton, Iowa was one of four schools in Iowa named after astronauts in late 1967. [117] [118] Grissom's family members attended the 1968 dedication of Virgil I. Grissom Middle School in Mishawaka, Indiana. [119] School No. 7 in Rochester, New York, was named for Grissom in April 1968. [120] Devault Elementary School in Gary, Indiana, was renamed Grissom Elementary School in 1969 after Devault was convicted of conspiring to forge purchase orders. [121] Virgil I. Grissom Middle School was dedicated in November 1969 in Sterling Heights, Michigan. [122] Virgil I. Grissom High School was built in 1969 in Huntsville, Alabama. [123] The school board in the Hegewisch community of Chicago, Illinois, voted to name their new school under construction Virgil I. Grissom Elementary School in March 1969. [124] Grissom Elementary School in Tulsa, Oklahoma, was founded in 1969 [125] [126] and dedicated by Betty Grissom in 1970. [127] Grissom Memorial Elementary School was dedicated in 1973 in Muncie, Indiana. [128] Virgil I. Grissom Middle School was founded in Tinley Park, Illinois, in 1975. [129]

Virgil I. "Gus" Grissom Elementary School was operated by the Department of Defense Dependents Schools at the former Clark Air Base, Philippines. [130] Originally named the Wurtsmith Hill School, it was renamed on November 14, 1968. [131] It housed 3rd and 4th grade students. The school was severely damaged by the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo in 1991. [132]

Grissom has been noted and remembered in many film and television productions. Before he became widely known as an astronaut, the film Air Cadet (1951) starring Richard Long and Rock Hudson briefly featured Grissom early in the movie as a U.S. Air Force candidate for flight school at Randolph Field, San Antonio, Texas. [134] Grissom was depicted by Fred Ward in the film The Right Stuff (1983) [135] and (very briefly) in the film Apollo 13 (1995) by Steve Bernie. [136] : 43 He was portrayed in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon (1998) by Mark Rolston. [137] Actor Kevin McCorkle played Grissom in the third-season finale of the NBC television show American Dreams. [138] Bryan Cranston played Grissom as a variety-show guest in the film That Thing You Do! [139] [140] Actor Joel Johnstone portrays Gus Grissom in the 2015 ABC TV series The Astronaut Wives Club. [141] In 2016 Gus Grissom was included in the narrative of the movie Hidden Figures. In 2018, he was portrayed by Shea Whigham in First Man. [142] In 2020's Disney+ miniseries The Right Stuff, Grissom is portrayed by Michael Trotter.

In the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, the Federation starship USS Grissom is named for Grissom. [143] Another USS Grissom was featured in a 1990 episode of the TV series Star Trek: The Next Generation, [144] and was mentioned in a 1999 episode of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. [145] The character Gil Grissom in the CBS television series CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and the character Virgil Tracy in the British television series Thunderbirds are also named after the astronaut. [146] [147] NASA footage, including Grissom's Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions, was released in high definition on the Discovery Channel in June 2008 in the television series When We Left Earth: The NASA Missions. [30]

When Grissom died he was in the process of writing a book about Gemini. [148]


Gemini (US, 1965)

Like the pair of Soviet vehicles, Gemini was at heart an adapted version of the Mercury capsule designed to let more astronauts tackle more advanced tasks. The larger capsule flew humans for the first time in March 1965, just a few days after the Voskhod 2 mission.

Gemini capsules were designed to carry two astronauts, rather than just one, and their primary task was to teach engineers how to dock spacecraft in orbit, which NASA believed would be necessary to land humans on the moon.

Two other vital tasks for the Gemini vehicles were extending the duration of spaceflight and permitting spacewalks. The second crewed Gemini mission, Gemini 4, lasted for four days and included the first American extravehicular activity, a 23-minute sortie by Ed White.

By Gemini 7, missions were stretching longer than a week to help scientists understand the consequences of lengthier spaceflights, according to NASA. In 1966, the program tackled the other key goal of the Gemini program, docking in space, when two Gemini 8 astronauts latched their vehicle onto an uncrewed Agena spacecraft.

The final Gemini mission, Gemini 12, launched in November 1966 and included three separate spacewalks and docking maneuvers with another uncrewed Agena. After that success, NASA deemed itself ready to start tackling lunar missions.


Mutiny in Space: Why These Skylab Astronauts Never Flew Again

What happens when humans spend more than 84 days in space? One time, they just took a day off.

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On this day in 1974, the last Skylab mission finished. It marked the end of what was then the longest amount of time humans had spent in space, on the space station that was the U.S.'s predecessor to the International Space Station. It also marked the end of a tense standoff.

About a month earlier, the three-strong crew of Skylab 4, tired of the demanding schedule NASA had set for them, had announced an unscheduled day off, turned off their communication radio to mission control, and “reportedly spent the day relaxing, taking in the stunning views of the Earth from orbit,” writes Amy Shira Teitel for Motherboard.  

After that day of silence, they reached a compromise with the ground crew, she writes. A reduced workload and the freedom to complete tasks on their own schedule was what they got, while NASA got the reward of watching the final Skylab mission finish on schedule.

The three Skylab missions (Skylab 1 was the launch of the space station itself), which took place in 1973-74, were a project that journalist David Hitt called “homesteading space.” Their purpose was to actually try living in space, as astronauts today do on the International Space Station, rather than simply making short trips.

As part of this mission, the Skylab 4 astronauts experimented with ways to overcome some of the problems associated with living in space, wrote the BBC, trying out new diets and exercises to prevent muscle loss and other symptoms of prolonged weightlessness.  

The three astronauts—Gerald Carr, William Pogue and Edward Gibson—faced a demanding, lengthy mission, Teitel writes. NASA’s plan called for a total of 6,051 work hours between the three men, she writes. Basically a 24-hour schedule. Besides the medical and scientific experiments, there was loading and unloading gear and making observations of the Sun and Earth as well as the comet Kohoutek. On top of all that there were four spacewalks, at a combined total of about a day in length.

This demanding schedule was too much for the crew, she writes, which presumably led to them declaring a day off. After all, what was NASA going to do, come and get them? The one consequence of their actions we know for sure, though: none of the three ever left Earth again.

At a 2016 university award ceremony, Edward Gibson talked about his spacewalk. “When you’re out there, it’s a silent world, except for the whispers of your own breath,” he said. “It feels like the world down there doesn’t even know you’re there.”

Although the episode has been commonly called a “mutiny,” it wasn’t in the technical sense and it did have the consequence of forcing NASA to reconsider how they had been treating crews, writes Michael Hitzik for the Los Angeles Times. “NASA treated the crew as expendable instruments of its schedule, but Skylab 4 showed that when push came to shove the astronauts had all the control in their own hands.”

The astronauts’ journey back to Earth’s atmosphere took five hours, wrote the BBC. In spite of problems with the landing craft, they came down in the Pacific Ocean as planned. Gibson came out of the capsule, BBC wrote, saying, “I feel great.”

About Kat Eschner

Kat Eschner is a freelance science and culture journalist based in Toronto.


Skylab: The myth of the mutiny in space

It's been almost half a century since the three astronauts on board the Skylab 4 space mission famously fell out with mission control. Soon afterwards, reports began to circulate that they went on strike. But Ed Gibson, the only one of the crew still alive, says the idea that they stopped work is a myth.

Bill Pogue got sick soon after the three astronauts arrived at the space station.

It came as a surprise because Bill had been nicknamed "Iron Belly" during training at the Johnson Space Center in Houston, Texas. He could endlessly tolerate sitting in a rapidly rotating chair while moving his head backwards and forwards and side to side, without being sick.

But this was the first time the three men had been in space and evidently resistance to motion sickness back on Earth didn't mean much up there.

Commander Jerry Carr suggested Bill eat a can of tomatoes to settle his stomach.

Ed Gibson was sitting between the two men, and remembers the can floating past from left to right before his eyes.

"Then I remember some bad noises coming from Bill, and a barf bag floating back from right to left," he says.

"We felt discouraged because we knew we had so much work to do - that's when we made our first mistake."

Ed is 84 now and the Skylab 4 mission began in November 1973 but time hasn't dulled his most vivid memories - the Earth from space, the blazing corona of the sun and the silence of a spacewalk. He's the last one of the astronauts able to share the story, because Jerry Carr and Bill Pogue have both died - Carr last summer and Pogue in 2014.

The Skylab space station was a research platform in orbit where astronauts helped scientists to study the human body's response to space flight, carried out experiments and made observations of the Sun and Earth. Skylab 4 was the final mission and as a result it had a long list of tasks to fulfil.

The 84-day mission - the longest ever at that point - was on a tight schedule. Nasa was very concerned about someone getting sick, which would have meant losing precious time.

Nasa accepts that mission planners had not given the crew the typical period of adjustment to acclimatise to working weightlessly in orbit and had packed their schedules with large amounts of work. The number of spacewalks was also doubled, to four, to observe a newly discovered comet, Kohoutek.

So the astronauts were already under pressure when they made their first bad decision.

"We wanted to get organised before starting a big flurry with the ground so we decided to delay telling them about Bill being sick," says Ed.

But they had forgotten that everything they said on board was being recorded, and that mission control was listening in.

It wasn't long before the voice of Astronaut Office chief Alan Shepard came crackling over the radio from down in mission control, an exchange also broadcast to the public.

"He got on the line and read us the riot act for not telling them immediately," says Ed. "Al was OK, we just didn't like being chewed out in front of the whole world."

Shepard had been the first American to travel into space - a feat that led Ed to shift his childhood ambition of flying in planes to flying in rockets - and later landed on the moon as commander of Apollo 14. While there, he had driven two golf balls, and the idea of "the guy who was playing golf on the moon, bawling us out" for a breach of protocol seemed pretty ironic to Ed.

He wondered what his friends and family back home must have made of it all. It wasn't a good start, and laid the groundwork for more tension between the crew and mission control.

Staff on the ground hadn't got to know this crew as well as its predecessors, because theyɽ been busy overseeing the first and second missions while the Skylab 4 astronauts were preparing for theirs.

"It meant we didn't really get a good working relationship - we didn't have that rapport."

Every contact began with a prolonged bombardment of questions, instructions and demands, Ed says, on top of the detailed list of instructions from mission control that arrived via the teleprinter every morning. All space missions are tightly run but these unusually heavy levels of micromanagement were what led to the so-called "strike".

"One morning we received about 60ft of instructions, which then needed to be understood and divided up before we even got to work," says Ed.

Then there was a morning briefing they were all expected to radio into, which took another half an hour out of their day.

"Anyone who has been micromanaged will know that it's bad enough for an hour - but try living like that 24 hours a day - having your day sketched out minute by minute," says Ed.

"It wasn't constructive and we weren't getting things done because we couldn't use our own judgement."

Putting extra pressure on the schedule, flight surgeons had also increased the daily exercise regime from an hour to 90 minutes - though Ed actually enjoyed having this extra time to exercise.

"It was a real relief to be on a bike and feel the blood from your upper body go down into your legs. It made me realise how uncomfortable it was to have no gravity keeping blood pulled down into your lower extremities," he says.

With Bill still not at his best, they worked 16-hour shifts to try to keep up with the to-do lists and skipped their rest days for the first month.

They knew comparisons would be made with the previous crew, Skylab 3, which had done more than expected of them, and earned the nickname "the 150% crew".

They had even had time to fashion some dummies of their successors and dress them in the spacesuits waiting in storage - one was sitting on an exercise bike, Ed remembers, and another in the lavatory.

"It put a smile on our faces and we had a good laugh about it," he says.

But they were so busy, the dummies weren't taken down and disassembled for some time. Ed remembers the momentary jolts of alarm caused by catching sight of them in the corner of his eye sometimes.

"It was like other humans were up there with us", he says.

Low on morale and overworked, the crew started to fall behind, and their requests to mission control to lighten their schedule went unheeded.

"That's when we made our second mistake," says Ed - the so-called strike, about half-way through the mission.

The three astronauts decided that only one of them needed to tune into the morning briefing, and that they would take it in turn.

"That worked really well, except that in our fatigued condition up there, one day we got our signals crossed and we didn't have anybody listening to the ground."

The astronauts were out of communication for one whole orbit of the Earth - about 90 minutes. In those days, communication was possible for only about 10 minutes at a time, as Skylab passed over ground control stations on Earth - it was some time before constant and seamless satellite communication became available.

"The word 'strike' went at lightspeed throughout the control room and out into the news media, who feasted on that," Ed says.

"On the ground they interpreted it as a strike. But it wasn't intentional, it was our mistake. The media created this myth which has been floating around out there ever since and we've just had to live with it."

To Ed, the idea made no sense whatsoever. "What were we going to do? Threaten to live on the moon?"

In a recent article, Nasa offered a different interpretation of the origin of the strike story, suggesting that the confusion could have stemmed from a day off the crew had around that time - which it would have legitimately earned after Jerry and Bill completed a seven-hour space walk on Christmas Day.

At the end of the day, CAPCOM (capsule communicator) Richard Truly jokingly called up to the crew, "Hey, if you want to I guess you can take tomorrow off," referring to the planned off-duty day on 26 December.

"We'll have our answering service up tomorrow," Jerry Carr replied in jest.

In Jerry's own account from 2000 he talks about the crew feeling restored by a day off, but being careless with their radios. There is nothing to suggest the day off was taken without permission.

Transcripts of conversations with ground control suggest that at most there were a couple of hours of missed communications - nothing long enough to deserve the label "strike".

Strike or no strike, the tensions between the crew and ground control were real. A crisis meeting between the two parties was called on 30 December.

"It was a very tense two orbits of discussions with them," says Ed. Both sides aired their frustrations, and ground control agreed to loosen their grip on the schedule and give the astronauts a bit more autonomy.

Jerry later referred to it as "the first sensitivity session in space".


Project Apollo - NASA's Mission to the Moon

In 1961 President John F. Kennedy spoke to the American people and promised that the United States would land a man on the moon by the end of the decade. America&rsquos goal was to show the world that it had the best technology and was the most powerful nation. On July 20, 1969 Apollo 11 landed on the moon and astronaut Neil Armstrong was the first human to put a foot on the lunar surface.

Before the Apollo project began NASA&rsquos Mercury and Gemini programs put astronauts into an orbit around the Earth. But Project Apollo was a very difficult and different mission. NASA needed a powerful rocket that could escape the Earth&rsquos gravity and travel all the way to the moon. After Kennedy&rsquos speech, NASA started work on such a rocket. The Saturn V booster was finished in 1967. It was the greatest rocket ever built.

The Apollo spacecraft was made up of three parts. The command module was main part. It was where the astronauts lived during the trip to the moon. It had all the instruments and computers that were needed for such a mission and it was the only part of the spacecraft that returned to Earth.

The service module had its own rockets. They were used to slow down the Apollo spacecraft when it entered the moon&rsquos orbit. Without these rockets the spacecraft would be too fast and fly right past the moon.

Apollo command and service module

The third part of the Apollo spacecraft was the lunar module. It was rather small and had legs that looked like a spider&rsquos. When the astronauts got into the moon&rsquos orbit they separated the lunar module and flew it down to the moon&rsquos surface. The landing craft had two parts: the lower part was used for slowing it down so that it could land gently, the upper part would let the astronauts return to the command module.

In 1967 a tragic accident almost ended the Apollo project. A fire broke out in the Apollo 1 spacecraft during a test on the ground. All three astronauts were killed.

After more testing and some unmanned flights Apollo 8 was the first manned spacecraft to fly to the moon. It entered lunar orbit, flew around the dark side of the moon and back to Earth again. After two more Apollo missions NASA was ready for a moon landing.

On July 16, 1969 Apollo 11 took off from Cape Kennedy, Florida. Aboard the spacecraft were 3 astronauts: Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin and Michael Collins. Three days later they entered the moon&rsquos orbit. Armstrong and Aldrin got into the lunar module Collins was left behind in the command module.

On July 20, 1969 the &ldquoEagle&rdquo, as the lunar module was called, touched down softly in a lowland called Sea of Tranquility. A television camera that was attached to the side of the spacecraft sent live pictures back to Earth where millions of people were watching. After checking Eagle to see if everything was all right, Armstrong lowered a ladder and stepped down on the moon&rsquos surface. It was &ldquoone small step for man, but one giant leap for mankind&rdquo.

Lunar module on the moon's surface

Edwin Aldrin next to the American flag

The astronauts spent about two and a half hours on the lunar surface. They put up the American flag, collected rocks and set up instruments. After lifting off from the surface of the moon they flew back to the command module and successfully joined Michael Collins. On July 24, 1969 Apollo 11 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean. The first American moon mission was a success.

In the years that followed there were five more lunar landings. But not all Apollo flights were successful. Apollo 13 almost ended in disaster. During its journey to the moon one of the two oxygen tanks exploded. They were vital for breathing and for the power systems of the command module. The three astronauts had to get into the lunar module, which had its own power and oxygen, but the LM was planned only for two astronauts, not three. All unnecessary systems had to be turned off so that it could save as much power as possible. Although Apollo 13 didn&rsquot land on the moon NASA managed to bring the three astronauts back to Earth safely.

On Apollo 15 the astronauts took a battery-powered car with them. The lunar rover travelled a distance of over 27 km on the lunar surface.

Although Project Apollo cost the Americans a lot of money it demonstrated the technological power of the USA. One of its aims was also to show the western world&rsquos superiority in the Cold War. The data that the Apollo missions brought back to Earth gave scientists much information on how the moon and the solar system developed.


Contents

Position Astronaut [9]
Commander Walter M. Schirra
Third and last spaceflight
Command Module Pilot Donn F. Eisele
Only spaceflight
Lunar Module Pilot R. Walter Cunningham
Only spaceflight
"Lunar Module Pilot" was the official title used for the third pilot position in Block II missions, regardless of whether the LM spacecraft was present or not.

Schirra, one of the original "Mercury Seven" astronauts, graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 1945. He flew Mercury-Atlas 8 in 1962, the fifth crewed flight of Project Mercury (the third to reach orbit) and was the command pilot for Gemini 6A. He was a 45-year-old captain in the Navy at the time of Apollo 7. Eisele graduated from the Naval Academy in 1952 with a B.S. in aeronautics. He elected to be commissioned in the Air Force, and was a 38-year-old major at the time of Apollo 7. [10] Cunningham joined the U.S. Navy in 1951, began flight training the following year, and served in a Marine flight squadron from 1953 to 1956, and was a civilian, aged 36, serving in the Marine Corps reserves with a rank of major, at the time of Apollo 7. [10] [11] He received degrees in physics from UCLA, a B.A. in 1960 and an M.A. in 1961. Both Eisele and Cunningham were selected as part of the third group of astronauts in 1963. [10]

Eisele was originally slotted for a position on Gus Grissom's Apollo 1 crew along with Ed White, but days prior to the official announcement on March 25, 1966, Eisele sustained a shoulder injury that would require surgery. Instead, Roger Chaffee was given the position and Eisele was reassigned to Schirra's crew. [12]

Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham were first named as an Apollo crew on September 29, 1966. They were to fly a second Earth orbital test of the Apollo Command Module (CM). [13] Although delighted as a rookie to be assigned to a prime crew without having served as a backup, Cunningham was troubled by the fact that Apollo 2 seemed unnecessary if Apollo 1 was successful. He learned later that Director of Flight Crew Operations Deke Slayton, another of the Mercury Seven who had been grounded for medical reasons and supervised the astronauts, planned, with Schirra's support, to command the mission if he gained medical clearance. When this was not forthcoming, Schirra remained in command of the crew, and in November 1966, Apollo 2 was cancelled and Schirra's crew assigned as backup to Grissom's. [14] Apollo 2 backup commander Thomas P. Stafford stated that the cancellation followed Schirra and his crew submitting a list of demands to NASA management (Schirra wanted the mission to include a lunar module and a CM capable of docking with it), and that the assignment as backups left Schirra complaining that Slayton and Chief Astronaut Alan Shepard had destroyed his career. [15]

On January 27, 1967, Grissom's crew was conducting a launch-pad test for their planned February 21 mission, when a fire broke out in the cabin, killing all three men. [16] A complete safety review of the Apollo program followed. [17] Soon after the fire, Slayton asked Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham to fly the first mission after the pause. [18] Apollo 7 would use the Block II spacecraft designed for the lunar missions, as opposed to the Block I CSM used for Apollo 1, which was intended only to be used for the early Earth-orbit missions, as it lacked the capability of docking with a lunar module. The CM and astronauts' spacesuits had been extensively redesigned, to reduce any chance of a repeat of the accident which killed the first crew. [19] Schirra's crew would test the life support, propulsion, guidance and control systems during this "open-ended" mission (meaning it would be extended as it passed each test). The duration was limited to 11 days, reduced from the original 14-day limit for Apollo 1. [20]

The backup crew consisted of Stafford as commander, John W. Young as command module pilot, and Eugene A. Cernan as lunar module pilot. They became the prime crew of Apollo 10. [21] Ronald E. Evans, John L. 'Jack' Swigert, and Edward G. Givens were assigned to the support crew for the mission. [22] Givens died in a car accident on June 6, 1967, and William R. Pogue was assigned as his replacement. Evans was involved in hardware testing at Kennedy Space Center (KSC). Swigert was the launch capsule communicator (CAPCOM) and worked on the mission's operational aspects. Pogue spent time modifying procedures. The support crew also filled in when the primary and backup crews were unavailable. [23]

CAPCOMs, the person in Mission Control responsible for communicating with the spacecraft (then always an astronaut) were Evans, Pogue, Stafford, Swigert, Young and Cernan. Flight directors were Glynn Lunney, Gene Kranz and Gerry Griffin. [24]

According to Cunningham, Schirra originally had limited interest in making a third spaceflight, beginning to focus on his post-NASA career. Flying the first mission after the fire changed things, "Wally Schirra was being pictured as the man chosen to rescue the manned space program. And that was a task worthy of Wally's interest." [25] Eisele noted, "coming on the heels of the fire, we knew the fate and future of the entire manned space program—not to mention our own skins—was riding on the success or failure of Apollo 7." [26]

Given the circumstances of the fire, the crew initially had little confidence in the staff at North American Aviation's plant at Downey, California, who built the Apollo command modules, and they were determined to follow their craft every step of the way through construction and testing. This interfered with training, but the simulators of the CM were not yet ready, and they knew it would be a long time until they launched. They spent long periods of time at Downey. Simulators were constructed at Houston's Manned Spacecraft Center and at KSC in Florida. Once these were available for use, the crew had difficulty finding enough time to do everything, even with the help of the backup and support crews the crew often worked 12 or 14 hours per day. After the CM was completed and shipped to KSC, the focus of the crew's training shifted to Florida, though they went to Houston for planning and technical meetings. Rather than return to their Houston homes for the weekend, they often had to remain at KSC in order to participate in training or spacecraft testing. [27] According to former astronaut Tom Jones in a 2018 article, Schirra, "with indisputable evidence of the risks his crew would be taking, now had immense leverage with management at NASA and North American, and he used it. In conference rooms or on the spacecraft assembly line, Schirra got his way." [28]

The Apollo 7 crew spent five hours in training for every hour they could expect to remain aboard if the mission went its full eleven days. In addition, they attended technical briefings and pilots' meetings, and studied on their own. They undertook launch pad evacuation training, water egress training to exit the vehicle after splashdown, and learned to use firefighting equipment. They trained on the Apollo Guidance Computer at MIT. Each crew member spent 160 hours in CM simulations, in some of which Mission Control in Houston participated live. [29] The "plugs out" test—the test that had killed the Apollo 1 crew—was conducted with the prime crew in the spacecraft, but with the hatch open. [30] One reason the Apollo 1 crew had died was because it was impossible to open the inward-opening hatch before the fire raced through the cabin this was changed for Apollo 7. [31]

Command modules similar to that used on Apollo 7 were subjected to tests in the run-up to the mission. A three-astronaut crew (Joseph P. Kerwin, Vance D. Brand and Joe H. Engle) was inside a CM that was placed in a vacuum chamber at the Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston for eight days in June 1968 to test spacecraft systems. Another crew, (James Lovell, Stuart Roosa and Charles M. Duke) spent 48 hours at sea aboard a CM lowered into the Gulf of Mexico from a naval vessel in April 1968, to test how systems would respond to seawater. Further tests were conducted the following month in a tank at Houston. Fires were set aboard a boilerplate CM using various atmospheric compositions and pressures. The results led to the decision to use 60 percent oxygen and 40 percent nitrogen within the CM at launch, which would be replaced with a lower pressure of pure oxygen within four hours, as providing adequate fire protection. Other boilerplate spacecraft were subjected to drops to test parachutes, and to simulate the likely damage if a CM came down on land. All results were satisfactory. [32]

During the run-up to the mission, the Soviets sent uncrewed probes Zond 4 and Zond 5 around the Moon, seeming to foreshadow a circumlunar crewed mission. NASA's Lunar Module (LM) was suffering delays, and Apollo Program Spacecraft Manager George Low proposed that if Apollo 7 was a success, that Apollo 8 go to lunar orbit without a LM. The acceptance of Low's proposal raised the stakes for Apollo 7. [28] [33] According to Stafford, Schirra "clearly felt the full weight of the program riding on a successful mission and as a result became more openly critical and more sarcastic." [34]

Throughout the Mercury and Gemini programs, McDonnell Aircraft engineer Guenter Wendt led the spacecraft launch pad teams, with ultimate responsibility for condition of the spacecraft at launch. He earned the astronauts' respect and admiration, including Schirra's. [35] However, the spacecraft contractor had changed from McDonnell (Mercury and Gemini) to North American (Apollo), so Wendt was not the pad leader for Apollo 1. [36] So adamant was Schirra in his desire to have Wendt back as pad leader for his Apollo flight, that he got his boss Slayton to persuade North American management to hire Wendt away from McDonnell, and Schirra personally lobbied North American's launch operations manager to change Wendt's shift from midnight to day so he could be pad leader for Apollo 7. Wendt remained as pad leader for the entire Apollo program. [36] When he departed the spacecraft area as the pad was evacuated prior to launch, after Cunningham said, "I think Guenter's going", Eisele responded "Yes, I think Guenter went." [a] [37] [38] [39] [40]

Spacecraft Edit

The Apollo 7 spacecraft included Command and Service Module 101 (CSM-101) the first Block II CSM to be flown. The Block II craft had the capability of docking with a LM, [41] though none was flown on Apollo 7. The spacecraft also included the launch escape system and a spacecraft-lunar module adapter (SLA), though the latter included no LM and instead provided a mating structure between the SM and the S-IVB's Instrument Unit, [42] with a structural stiffener substituted for the LM. [43] The launch escape system was jettisoned after S-IVB ignition, [44] while the SLA was left behind on the spent S-IVB when the CSM separated from it in orbit. [43]

Following the Apollo 1 fire, the Block II CSM was extensively redesigned—more than 1,800 changes were recommended, of which 1,300 were implemented for Apollo 7. [37] Prominent among these was the new aluminum and fiberglass outward-opening hatch, which the crew could open in seven seconds from within, and the pad crew in ten seconds from outside. Other changes included replacement of aluminum tubing in the high-pressure oxygen system with stainless steel, replacement of flammable materials with non-flammable (including changing plastic switches for metal ones) and, for crew protection in the event of a fire, an emergency oxygen system to shield them from toxic fumes, as well as firefighting equipment. [45]

After the Gemini 3 craft was dubbed Molly Brown by Grissom, NASA forbade naming spacecraft. [46] Despite this prohibition, Schirra wanted to name his ship "Phoenix", but NASA refused him permission. [41] The first CM to be given a call sign other than the mission designation would be that of Apollo 9, which carried an LM that would separate from it and then re-dock, necessitating distinct call signs for the two vehicles. [47]

Launch vehicle Edit

Since it flew in low Earth orbit and did not include a LM, Apollo 7 was launched with the Saturn IB booster rather than the much larger and more powerful Saturn V. [48] That Saturn IB was designated SA-205, [41] and was the fifth Saturn IB to be flown—the earlier ones did not carry crews into space. It differed from its predecessors in that stronger propellant lines to the augmented spark igniter in the J-2 engines had been installed, so as to prevent a repetition of the early shutdown that had occurred on the uncrewed Apollo 6 flight postflight analysis had shown that the propellant lines to the J-2 engines, also used in the Saturn V tested on Apollo 6, had leaked. [49]

The Saturn IB was a two-stage rocket, with the second stage an S-IVB similar to the third stage of the Saturn V, [50] the rocket used by all later Apollo missions. [48] The Saturn IB was used after the close of the Apollo Program to bring crews in Apollo CSMs to Skylab, and for the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. [51]

Apollo 7 was the only crewed Apollo mission to launch from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station's Launch Complex 34. All subsequent Apollo and Skylab spacecraft flights (including Apollo–Soyuz) were launched from Launch Complex 39 at the nearby Kennedy Space Center. [48] Launch Complex 34 was declared redundant and decommissioned in 1969, making Apollo 7 the last human spaceflight mission to launch from the Cape Air Force Station in the 20th century. [48]

The main purposes of the Apollo 7 flight were to show that the Block II CM would be habitable and reliable over the length of time required for a lunar mission, to show that the service propulsion system (SPS, the spacecraft's main engine) and the CM's guidance systems could perform a rendezvous in orbit, and later make a precision reentry and splashdown. [28] In addition, there were a number of specific objectives, including evaluating the communications systems and the accuracy of onboard systems such as the propellant tank gauges. Many of the activities aimed at gathering these data were scheduled for early in the mission, so that if the mission was terminated prematurely, they would already have been completed, allowing for fixes to be made prior to the next Apollo flight. [52]

Launch and testing Edit

Apollo 7, the first crewed American space flight in 22 months, launched from Launch Complex 34 at 11:02:45 am EDT (15:02:45 UTC) on Friday, October 11, 1968. [37] [53]

During the countdown, the wind was blowing in from the east. Launching under these weather conditions was in violation of safety rules, since in the event of a launch vehicle malfunction and abort, the CM might be blown back over land instead of making the usual water landing. Apollo 7 was equipped with the old Apollo 1-style crew couches, which provided less protection than later ones. Schirra later related that he felt the launch should have been scrubbed, but managers waived the rule and he yielded under pressure. [28]

Liftoff proceeded flawlessly the Saturn IB performed well on its first crewed launch and there were no significant anomalies during the boost phase. The astronauts described it as very smooth. [37] [54] The ascent made the 45-year-old Schirra the oldest person to that point to enter space, [55] and, as it proved, the only astronaut to fly Mercury, Gemini and Apollo missions. [19]

Within the first three hours of flight, the astronauts performed two actions which simulated what would be required on a lunar mission. First, they maneuvered the craft with the S-IVB still attached, as would be required for the burn that would take lunar missions to the Moon. Then, after separation from the S-IVB, Schirra turned the CSM around and approached a docking target painted on the S-IVB, simulating the docking maneuver with the lunar module on Moon-bound missions prior to extracting the combined craft. [55] After station keeping with the S-IVB for 20 minutes, Schirra let it drift away, putting 76 miles (122 km) between the CSM and it in preparation for the following day's rendezvous attempt. [28]

The astronauts also enjoyed a hot lunch, the first hot meal prepared on an American spacecraft. [55] Schirra had brought instant coffee along over the opposition of NASA doctors, who argued it added nothing nutritionally. [56] Five hours after launch, he reported having, and enjoying, his first plastic bag full of coffee. [57]

The purpose of the rendezvous was to demonstrate the CSM's ability to match orbits with and rescue a LM after an aborted lunar landing attempt, or following liftoff from the lunar surface. [58] This was to occur on the second day but by the end of the first, Schirra had reported he had a cold, and, despite Slayton coming on the loop to argue in favor, declined Mission Control's request that the crew power up and test the onboard television camera prior to the rendezvous, citing the cold, that the crew had not eaten, and that there was already a very full schedule. [28]

The rendezvous was complicated by the fact that the Apollo 7 spacecraft lacked a rendezvous radar, something the Moon-bound missions would have. The SPS, the engine that would be needed to send later Apollo CSMs into and out of lunar orbit, had been fired only on a test stand. Although the astronauts were confident it would work, they were concerned it might fire in an unexpected manner, necessitating an early end to the mission. The burns would be computed from the ground but the final work in maneuvering up to the S-IVB would require Eisele to use the telescope and sextant to compute the final burns, with Schirra applying the ship's reaction control system (RCS) thrusters. Eisele was startled by the violent jolt caused by activating the SPS. The thrust caused Schirra to yell, "Yabba dabba doo!" in reference to The Flintstones cartoon. Schirra eased the craft close to the S-IVB, which was tumbling out of control, successfully completing the rendezvous. [28] [59]

The first television broadcast took place on October 14. It began with a view of a card reading "From the Lovely Apollo Room high atop everything", recalling tag lines used by band leaders on 1930s radio broadcasts. Cunningham served as camera operator with Eisele as emcee. During the seven-minute broadcast, the crew showed off the spacecraft and gave the audience views of the southern United States. Before the close, Schirra held another sign, "Keep those cards and letters coming in folks", another old-time radio tag line that had been used recently by Dean Martin. [60] This was the first live television broadcast from an American spacecraft (Gordon Cooper had transmitted slow scan television pictures from Faith 7 in 1963, but the pictures were of poor quality and were never broadcast). [61] According to Jones, "these apparently amiable astronauts delivered to NASA a solid public relations coup." [28] Daily television broadcasts of about 10 minutes each followed, during which the crew held up more signs and educated their audience about spaceflight after the return to Earth, they were awarded a special Emmy for the telecasts. [62]

Later on October 14, the craft's onboard radar receiver was able to lock onto a ground-based transmitter, again showing a CSM in lunar orbit could keep contact with a LM returning from the Moon's surface. [60] Throughout the remainder of the mission, the crew continued to run tests on the CSM, including of the propulsion, navigation, environmental, electrical and thermal control systems. All checked out well according to authors Francis French and Colin Burgess, "The redesigned Apollo spacecraft was better than anyone had dared to hope." [63] Eisele found that navigation was not as easy as anticipated he found it difficult to use Earth's horizon in sighting stars due to the fuzziness of the atmosphere, and water dumps made it difficult to discern which glistening points were stars and which ice particles. [64] By the end of the mission, the SPS engine had been fired eight times without any problems. [28]

One difficulty that was encountered was with the sleep schedule, which called for one crew member to remain awake at all times Eisele was to remain awake while the others slept, and sleep during part of the time the others were awake. This did not work well, as it was hard for crew members to work without making a disturbance. Cunningham later remembered waking up to find Eisele dozing. [65]

Conflict and splashdown Edit

Schirra was angered by NASA managers allowing the launch to proceed despite the winds, saying "The mission pushed us to the wall in terms of risk." [40] Jones said, "This prelaunch dispute was the prelude to a tug of war over command decisions for the rest of the mission." [28] Lack of sleep and Schirra's cold probably contributed to the conflict between the astronauts and Mission Control that surfaced from time to time during the flight. [66]

The testing of the television resulted in a disagreement between the crew and Houston. Schirra stated at the time, "You've added two burns to this flight schedule, and you've added a urine water dump and we have a new vehicle up here, and I can tell you at this point, TV will be delayed without any further discussion until after the rendezvous." [28] Schirra later wrote, "we'd resist anything that interfered with our main mission objectives. On this particular Saturday morning a TV program clearly interfered." [67] Eisele agreed in his memoirs, "We were preoccupied with preparations for that critical exercise and didn't want to divert our attention with what seemed to be trivialities at the time. . Evidently the earth people felt differently there was a real stink about the hotheaded, recalcitrant Apollo 7 crew who wouldn't take orders." [68] French and Burgess wrote, "When this point is considered objectively—that in a front-loaded mission the rendezvous, alignment, and engine tests should be done before television shows—it is hard to argue with him [Schirra]." [69] Although Slayton gave in to Schirra, the commander's attitude surprised flight controllers. [28]

On Day 8, after being asked to follow a new procedure passed up from the ground that caused the computer to freeze, Eisele radioed, "We didn't get the results that you were after. We didn't get a damn thing, in fact . you bet your ass . as far as we're concerned, somebody down there screwed up royally when he laid that one on us." [70] Schirra later stated his belief that this was the one main occasion when Eisele upset Mission Control. [70] The next day saw more conflict, with Schirra telling Mission Control after having to make repeated firings of the RCS system to keep the spacecraft stable during a test, "I wish you would find out the idiot's name who thought up this test. I want to find out, and I want to talk to him personally when I get back down." [28] Eisele joined in, "While you are at it, find out who dreamed up 'P22 horizon test' that is a beauty also." [b] [28]

A further source of tension between Mission Control and the crew was that Schirra repeatedly expressed the view that the reentry should be conducted with their helmets off. He perceived a risk that their eardrums might burst due to the sinus pressure from their colds, and they wanted to be able to pinch their noses and blow to equalize the pressure as it increased during reentry. This would have been impossible wearing the helmets. Over several days, Schirra refused advice from the ground that the helmets should be worn, stating it was his prerogative as commander to decide this, though Slayton warned him he would have to answer for it after the flight. Schirra stated in 1994, "In this case I had a cold, and I'd had enough discussion with the ground, and I didn't have much more time to talk about whether we would put the helmet on or off. I said, essentially, I'm on board, I'm commanding. They could wear all the black armbands they wanted if I was lost or if I lost my hearing. But I had the responsibility for getting through the mission." [28] No helmets were worn during the entry. Director of Flight Operations Christopher C. Kraft demanded an explanation for what he believed was Schirra's insubordination from the CAPCOM, Stafford. Kraft later said, "Schirra was exercising his commander’s right to have the last word, and that was that." [28]

Apollo 7 splashed down without incident at 11:11:48 UTC on October 22, 1968, 200 nautical miles (230 mi 370 km) SSW of Bermuda and 7 nautical miles (8 mi 13 km) north of the recovery ship USS Essex. The mission's duration was 10 days, 20 hours, 9 minutes and 3 seconds. [6] [28]

After the mission, NASA awarded Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham its Exceptional Service Medal in recognition of their success. On November 2, 1968, President Lyndon Johnson held a ceremony at the LBJ Ranch in Johnson City, Texas, to present the astronauts with the medals. He also presented NASA's highest honor, the Distinguished Service Medal, to recently retired NASA administrator James E. Webb, for his "outstanding leadership of America's space program" since the beginning of Apollo. [72] Johnson also invited the crew to the White House, and they went there in December 1968. [73]

Despite the difficulties between the crew and Mission Control, the mission successfully met its objectives to verify the Apollo command and service module's flightworthiness, allowing Apollo 8's flight to the Moon to proceed just two months later. [74] John T. McQuiston wrote in The New York Times after Eisele's death in 1987 that Apollo 7's success brought renewed confidence to NASA's space program. [62] According to Jones, "Three weeks after the Apollo 7 crew returned, NASA administrator Thomas Paine green-lighted Apollo 8 to launch in late December and orbit the Moon. Apollo 7 had delivered NASA from its trial by fire—it was the first small step down a path that would lead another crew, nine months later, to the Sea of Tranquility." [28]

General Sam Phillips, the Apollo Program Manager, said at the time, "Apollo 7 goes into my book as a perfect mission. We accomplished 101 percent of our objectives." [28] Kraft wrote, "Schirra and his crew did it all—or at least all of it that counted . [T]hey proved to everyone's satisfaction that the SPS engine was one of the most reliable we'd ever sent into space. They operated the Command and Service Modules with true professionalism." [28] Eisele wrote, "We were insolent, high-handed, and Machiavellian at times. Call it paranoia, call it smart—it got the job done. We had a great flight." [28] Kranz stated in 1998, "we all look back now with a longer perspective. Schirra really wasn't on us as bad as it seemed at the time. . Bottom line was, even with a grumpy commander, we got the job done as a team." [75]

None of the Apollo 7 crew members flew in space again. [76] According to Jim Lovell, "Apollo 7 was a very successful flight—they did an excellent job—but it was a very contentious flight. They all teed off the ground people quite considerably, and I think that kind of put a stop on future flights [for them]." [76] Schirra had announced before the flight, his retirement from NASA and the Navy, effective July 1, 1969. [77] The other two crew members had their spaceflight careers stunted by their involvement in Apollo 7 by some accounts, Kraft told Slayton he was unwilling to work in future with any member of the crew. [78] Cunningham heard the rumors that Kraft had said this and confronted him in early 1969 Kraft denied making the statement "but his reaction wasn't exactly outraged innocence." [79] Eisele's career may also have been affected by becoming the first active astronaut to divorce, followed by a quick remarriage, and an indifferent performance as backup CMP for Apollo 10. [80] He resigned from the Astronaut Office in 1970 though he remained with NASA at the Langley Research Center in Virginia until 1972, when he was eligible for retirement. [81] [82] Cunningham was made the leader of the Astronaut Office's Skylab division. He related that he was informally offered command of the first Skylab crew, but when this instead went to Apollo 12 commander Pete Conrad, with Cunningham offered the position of backup commander, he resigned as an astronaut in 1971. [83] [84]

Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham were the only crew, of all the Apollo, Skylab and Apollo-Soyuz missions who had not been awarded the Distinguished Service Medal immediately following their missions (though Schirra had received the medal twice before, for his Mercury and Gemini missions). Therefore, NASA administrator Michael D. Griffin decided to belatedly award the medals to the crew in October 2008, "[f]or exemplary performance in meeting all the Apollo 7 mission objectives and more on the first crewed Apollo mission, paving the way for the first flight to the Moon on Apollo 8 and the first crewed lunar landing on Apollo 11." Only Cunningham was still alive at the time as Eisele had died in 1987 and Schirra in 2007. [19] [74] Eisele's widow accepted his medal, and Apollo 8 crew member Bill Anders accepted Schirra's. Other Apollo astronauts, including Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, and Alan Bean, were present at the award ceremony. Kraft, who had been in conflict with the crew during the mission, sent a conciliatory video message of congratulations, saying: "We gave you a hard time once but you certainly survived that and have done extremely well since . I am frankly, very proud to call you a friend." [74]

The insignia for the flight shows a command and service module with its SPS engine firing, the trail from that fire encircling a globe and extending past the edges of the patch symbolizing the Earth-orbital nature of the mission. The Roman numeral VII appears in the South Pacific Ocean and the crew's names appear on a wide black arc at the bottom. [85] The patch was designed by Allen Stevens of Rockwell International. [86]

In January 1969, the Apollo 7 command module was displayed on a NASA float in the inauguration parade of President Richard M. Nixon, as were the Apollo 7 astronauts. After being transferred to the Smithsonian Institution in 1970, the spacecraft was loaned to the National Museum of Science and Technology, in Ottawa, Ontario. It was returned to the United States in 2004. [87] Currently, the Apollo 7 CM is on loan to the Frontiers of Flight Museum located at Love Field in Dallas, Texas. [88]

On November 6, 1968, comedian Bob Hope broadcast one of his variety television specials from NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston to honor the Apollo 7 crew. Barbara Eden, star of the popular comedy series I Dream of Jeannie, which featured fictional astronauts among its regular characters, appeared with Schirra, Eisele and Cunningham. [73]

Schirra parlayed the head cold he contracted during Apollo 7 into a television advertising contract as a spokesman for Actifed, an over-the-counter version of the medicine he took in space. [89]

The Apollo 7 mission is dramatized in the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon episode "We Have Cleared the Tower", with Mark Harmon as Schirra, John Mese as Eisele, Fredric Lehne as Cunningham and Nick Searcy as Slayton. [90]