Apollo Expeditions to the Moon

CHAPTER 9.4



A SUPERB SPACECRAFT

During the 163 orbits of Apollo 7 the ghost of Apollo 204 was effectively exorcised as the new Block II spacecraft and its millions of parts performed superbly. Durability was shown for 10.8 days - longer than a journey to the Moon and back. A momentary shudder went through Mission Control when both AC buses dropped out of the spacecraft's electrical system, coincident with automatic cycles of the cryogenic oxygen tank fans and heaters; but manual resetting of the AC bus breakers restored normal service. Three of the five spacecraft windows fogged because of improperly cured sealant compound (a condition that could not be fixed until Apollo 9). Chargers for the batteries needed for reentry (after fuel cells departed with the SM) returned 50 to 75 percent less energy than expected. Most serious was the overheating of fuel cells, which might have failed when the spacecraft was too far from Earth to return on batteries, even if fully charged. But each of these anomalies was satisfactorily checked out before Apollo 8 flew.

A photo of Apollo 7 Commander,Wally Schirra,holding a gag card
 
Gag card is held before TV camera by Apollo 7 Commander Wally Schirra during third day of the first manned Apollo mission. CM pilot Donn Eisele looks on. TV coverage using the small, hand-held camera was to have begun on the second day but minor tasks used more than the expected time. Another sign displayed during the nation-wide broadcast greeted viewers from "the lovely Apollo room high atop everything".

The CSM's service propulsion system, which had to fire the CSM into and out of Moon orbit, worked perfectly during eight burns lasting from half a second to 67.6 seconds. Apollo's flotation bags had their first try-out when the spacecraft, a "lousy boat", splashed down south of Bermuda and turned upside down; when inflated, the brightly colored bags flipped it aright.

In retrospect it seems inconceivable, but serious debate ensued in NASA councils on whether television should be broadcast from Apollo missions, and the decision to carry the little 4 1/2-pound camera was not made until just before this October flight. Although these early pictures were crude, I think it was informative for the public to see astronauts floating weightlessly in their roomy spacecraft, snatching floating objects, and eating the first hot food consumed in space. Like the television pictures, the food improved in later missions.

A photo of Apollo 7 command module splashed down upside-down A photo of Apollo 7 astronaut climbing aboard a life raft
A photo of Apollo 7 astronaut being hoisted up to helicopter
 
"Stable two", an engineering euphemism for upside-down, was one of the ways that the command module could float and this was the way that Apollo 7 splashed down. The astronauts hung from their restraining belts for a few minutes until three righting bags were inflated to flip the spacecraft. The photo sequence above and below, not the actual Apollo 7 landing, shows a training session, one of many constantly held to drill recovery teams and astronauts. Not used in this exercise was the flotation collar, normally fixed around the command module, that provided insurance against swamping from water taken aboard through the open hatch.

A photo of a closer view of Apollo 7 astronaut being hoisted up to helicopter

Apollo 7's achievement led to a rapid review of Apollo 8's options. The Apollo 7 astronauts went through six days of debriefing for the benefit of Apollo 8, and on October 28 the Manned Space Flight Management Council chaired by Mueller met at MSC, investigating every phase of the forthcoming mission. Next day came a lengthy systems review of Apollo 8's Spacecraft 103. Paine made the go/no-go review of lunar orbit on November 11 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. By this time nearly all the skeptics bad become converts.

At the end of this climactic meeting Mueller put a recommendation for lunar orbit into writing, and Paine approved it. He telephoned the decision to the White House, and the message was laid on President Johnson's desk while he was conferring with Richard M. Nixon, elected his successor six days earlier.


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