Sunday, July 12, 2009

Apollo 9 and10 The Wait is Almost Over!!!

Apollo is back on schedule. I can hear Steve Martin running down the hallways at NASA yelling, The new LMs are here! The new LMs are here!!! Grumman did come through better late than never. Now was the time to get to the business at hand of making sure the new LM(landing Module) was mission capable for landing on the moon. This is where Apollo 9 came in. Their goal was to test out as many LM systems as possible, practice docking with the Command Module, crew transfer (internal) and maneuvering the LM it self.This mission was done at the relatively safe confines of low earth orbit. Uh yeah there is certainly nothing that safe about low earth orbit. it is not like NASA could run right up the block and pick you up in case of an emergency. Can you picture yourself being asked to fly a contraption built with early 1960's technology for the first time knowing full well it was built by the lowest bid contractor! Oh yeah these guys were brave alright. Keep in mind Grumman was being rushed also so the old saying haste makes waste or in this case mistakes looms great. The crew of Apollo 9 was headed up by James McDivitt as commander of the mission with David Scott as the Command Module pilot and Russell (Rusty) Schweickart as the Lunar Module pilot. Experience was aboard with McDivitt and Scott having taken a Gemini ride earlier in the decade.The lift off used the Saturn V Rocket. There were plans using the Saturn 1B rocket to haul up the Command module and an additional Saturn 1B to bring the LM up to practice orbital rendezvous. That all was scrapped when Grumman was late producing a working model of the Lunar Module.The ride up through the atmosphere went like clock work and the retrieval of the LM from inside the S-IV-B was completely without incident. Things were shaping up for the ultimate mission: The landing on the Moon.

This mission lasted for ten days and in this time, some notable firsts were attained. (when you are doing cutting edge stuff there will always be firsts) I would say the biggest first would be using the new self contained space suit. This was a vast improvement over the umbilical hose method used in previous missions. This new suit was critical if man was going to go for a stroll on the landscape of the moon. Another essential first was letting the crew name their ships. I know essential? Well yeah in the fact that it made great copy and the public was soaking the whole Apollo experience up like a sponge. I remember Apollo 9 call signs as I thought they fit very well indeed. The Command module was dubbed Gumdrop and the Lunar Module was aptly named Spider. The entire Apollo spacecraft was assembled in space for the very first time. All three elements the CM the LM consisting of the descent stage and the assent stage performed wonderfully and quickly made a hole for the Apollo 10 crew to rocket through The Apollo 9 did its thing on March 3rd and lasted til March 13th of 1969 the Apollo 10 took flight on May 18th of the same year. You know there was a lot of data crunching going on during those two months so Apollo 10 could get the most bang for the buck.

Full speed ahead looked to be the go phrase for the Apollo 10 crew. This crew sported an all experienced crew consisting of Commander Thomas Stafford, Command Module pilot John Young and Lunar Module pilot Eugene Cernan. Stafford and Young had been up two additional times Stafford worked on Gemini 6 and 9 Young,Gemini 3 and10 and Cernan Gemini 9. This was some serious stuff going on and lots of work needed to be done for this mission to be a success. If this one did not go well, it probably would have been Apollo 12 that would have been the first Moon landing. Very few problems occurred for this mission. There was a small problem with stability of the LM as it maneuvered but the cause was a switch problem and was corrected quickly.The rocket doing the heavy lifting was the Saturn V . This rocket was starting to be a very steady performer and was a relief to all concerned. Lift off was a breeze as people watched from their homes on TV. I remember Walter Cronkite describing the whole process on just about every mission. I had a few late nights waiting up and watching the telecasts from space. Speaking of that, Apollo 10 was the first to send back color TV signals. How cool was that ? For those born in the early sixties late fifties that was a very big deal. For those born in the late sixties and on it seems a bit like no big deal. I still saw the transmissions in black and white as we did not get a color TV until the early 70's. I know, how did I ever survive???

This was a very cool mission for a lot of reasons and put Apollo on the map of history to stay. Why is that? because a master cartoonist joined forces with NASA. Charles Schultz did a tribute to Apollo 10 and later 11. The crew of Apollo 10 named their Command Module Charlie Brown and their Lunar Module Snoopy. I am sure the men that made big decisions upstairs were very happy. Schultz ran with it and Apollo made the funny papers. Heck Apollo was every where. You could not eat cereal without Apollo or games or toys. It was the rage and every kid (like me) had to have the next big thing when it came to space. The Charlie Brown thing was icing on the cake and put the crews of Apollo into the immortal class as far as kids were concerned. It was about this time I got a present. It was a GI Joe Mercury space capsule. It had a Giant window which closed! The Mercury crew had to lobby hard for a port hole! Now that was a cool toy.

Firsts for the Apollo 10 mission? How about the first men to travel at 24,791 MPH !!! That was a world record that has not been topped yet. Cernan flew the LM as close as 8.4 nautical miles from the surface of the moon. The flight was perfectly done and except for the no landing part, the same that would be done on Apollo 11. They did take some pictures of the Sea of Tranquility to check on the landing site for Apollo 11. this was accomplished in 8 days.This was the last chance for the Apollo teams to get there ducks in a row for the lunar landing. 1970 was on the horizon and President Kennedy had promised to have an American standing on the moon by the end of the decade. These were very exciting time to live in. I hope you like the retelling of the Apollo endeavor. It was a great time for America. Next week is Apollo 11 the Eagle has Landed! then it will be on to The Solar Minimum has ended! Leave me a comment on your recollections of these great days gone by

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