Apollo Program: Missions 7, 8, 9 and 10

On September 12, 1962, President John F. Kennedy gave a speech at Rice University in Houston.  His speech included these famous words, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.” (1) This was a challenge that some felt could be achieved but NASA had been working to develop the building blocks to get there.

The Houston facility (Mission Control) is the location from which NASA monitored nine Gemini and all Apollo lunar missions, including the historic Apollo 11 trip to the Moon and the final Apollo 17 trip to the same lunar body. The command center is located in Building 30 of NASA Johnson Space Center.


(Image credit: NASA.gov)

The Apollo program was the name of the effort designed to bring humans to the moon and back.  Apollo encompassed eleven crewed missions.  In all, nine went in or near the moon and six landed men on the moon.

Not one of the above eleven, the first mission so named was Apollo 1 (also known as AS-204) which was a ground test on January 27, 1967 that ended in a fire and the tragic deaths of astronauts Virgil Grissom, Edward White and Roger Chaffee.  There were no manned flights that were officially named Apollo 2, 3, 4, 5 or 6 but some of these mission numbers were assigned to flights after Apollo 1 up to and including the final uncrewed Apollo test flight of April 4, 1968 called Apollo 6 (AS-402).  A brief description of the crewed missions leading up to Apollo 11 is as follows:

Apollo 7 was the first manned flight of the crewed vehicle and its crew was as follows: Walter Schirra Jr. – Commander, R. Walter Cunningham – Lunar Module Pilot and Donn F. Eisele – Command Module Pilot.  The mission launched October 11, 1968 and made 163 orbits around Earth, landing October 22, 1968.  It was the first mission to accomplish a television download.

Apollo 8 was the first crewed mission to orbit the moon.  On this mission tests were performed to test trans-lunar injection, the propulsive maneuver allowing the spacecraft to exit Earth’s orbit and establish a trajectory towards the moon, test mid course corrections, test the navigation of the Command Module along with other essential systems and procedures.  Its crew included Frank Borman – Commander, William A. Anders – Lunar Module Pilot, and James A. Lovell Jr. – Command Module Pilot.  The mission launched on December 21, 1968, made 10 orbits of the moon and landed December 27, 1968.  Apollo 8 was the mission in which there were six telecasts including one on Christmas Eve in which the crew read the first ten verses of Genesis 1 from the King James Version of the Bible and closed, “Good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you – all of you on the good Earth.”  NASA was sued by the late Madalyn O’Hair for allowing the Bible verses to be read.  The suit was dismissed by the United States Supreme Court on a technicality, but NASA has since tacitly complied.

Reentry into Earth’s atmosphere from an Earth orbit is quite different from reentry from a lunar path because of the speed differential, but the principles are the same.  To land, the entry angle needs to be at the right angle and the speed must be at a low enough speed that the spacecraft can enter, scrub off even more speed in order to survive the passage through Earth’s atmosphere.  Just as a trans-lunar injection needs to be performed to exit Earth’s orbit the opposite maneuver, a trans-Earth injection is required when reentering Earth’s orbit.

Apollo 9 was a crewed mission that orbited Earth to test the Lunar Module and Command Module.  Its crew was James A. McDivitt – Commander, Russell L. Schweickart – Lunar Module Pilot and David R. Scott – Command Module Pilot.  It launched March 3, 1969 and landed March 13, 1969.  The mission flew at an height of just under 120 miles and made 151 orbits around the Earth.  During the flight, the crew entered the LM from the CM and performed various maneuvers including separation and docking that would be necessary on a lunar mission.  Schweickart also executed an EVA, an extra vehicular activity, where he left both spacecrafts in a specially prepared suit.

Apollo 10 was the final crewed mission before Apollo 11, the historic mission that landed on the moon.  It accomplished virtually every step necessary to achieve a lunar landing except for the landing itself.  It included making a mid course correction, orbiting the moon, undocking and docking the Command Module with the Lunar Module, adjusting the orbit of the LM to nine miles above the lunar surface and numerous other tests. Its crew was Thomas Stafford – Commander, Eugene Cernan – Lunar Module Pilot and John Young, Command Module Pilot.  It launched May 18, 1969 and landed May 26, 1969.  With Apollo 10, the stage was set for a lunar landing.


(1) Link: Kennedy’s Entire Rice University Speech – YouTube (the excerpt quoted above begins about 9 minutes into the video)

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