For those who are unaware of just how much trial and error and hard work went into humankind’s first forays into space travel, this summary of the Apollo missions will shed some light on just what it took for us to reach the stars.
We’ve all heard of Neil Armstrong, the first man to set foot on the moon and safely return to tell the tale about it. However, what many people don’t know (or choose to gloss over) is that it wasn’t a feat he achieved in a day. It was, in fact, the conjugal effort of the Apollo team and numerous astronauts who dedicated (and sacrificed) their lives to this mission. In this article, we will provide a summary of the Apollo missions to help you gain a better understanding of humanity’s struggle to get to the moon.
We begin this summary of the Apollo missions with the first official flight of AS-204, which was scheduled for February 21, 1967. However, it was delayed for about half a year as a fire broke out on the launch pad during a pre-flight test on January 27, 1967. During the tragic incident, three Astronauts, Edward White, Virgil Grissom, and Roger Chaffee, lost their lives as flames enveloped the command module of the vessel.
A series of investigations followed the incident as technicians and scientists tried to determine the reasons behind the fire. It was in the spring of 1967 that the Associate Administrator for Manned Flight, NASA, Dr. George E Mueller, declared the original mission assigned for Grissom, White, and Chaffee as Apollo 1.
NASA didn’t assign any mission official Apollo 2 or 3 designations even though AS 201, AS 202, and AS 203 did launch as official flights. AS 201 and 202 carried Apollo spacecraft aboard while AS 203 only carried the aerodynamic nose cone.
The first official Saturn V launch, in November 1967, became known as Apollo 4 and the launch of AS 204 as Apollo 5.
In April 1968, the second official launch of Saturn V took place. It is now known as Apollo 6.
To say the Apollo 7 was an experience of a lifetime would be undermining the achievement it actually was. A team of three astronauts, Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walt Cunningham, set out on the Saturn IB, supported by an on-ground team of flight directors. The team’s mission was to demonstrate:
- Command and Service Module
- Mission Support facilities
- Apollo’s rendezvous capabilities
- Live TV broadcast from space
The mission was successful, with only a few scares.
- The first scare was brought about by the jolt of the engine fire, which, though perfect, was not what the voyagers expected.
- Three of the five windows of the aircraft fogged up due to the inefficient use of a sealant.
- A major scare was brought about by the AC breakup, which had to be fixed manually
The crew also had to use battery chargers as the backup fuel cells had 50% to 75% less energy than expected. The inability to charge them would have resulted in the fuel cells heating up, which would have been a disastrous situation.
The crew all came down with the flu and had to survive on decongestants and aspirin, especially before the descent. They fell in the Atlantic ocean, where a US Navy recovery ship rescued them.
In Apollo 8, astronauts Frank Borman, James Lovell Jr., and William Anders embarked upon a 114 by 118-mile parking orbit at 32.6 degrees on December 21, 1968. The mission was successful and smooth sailing. The only disturbance was the loss of signal during the second midcourse correction. That is when the astronauts saw the far side of the moon.
All six telecasts from Apollo 8 were of excellent quality. The ship’s splash in the Pacific Ocean marked the end of Apollo 8. From there, the team was rescued by US recovery ship Yorktown.
The primary purpose of Apollo 8 was to conduct a full Earth orbital of the first lunar module with a crew. It was also to act as a pre-flight test for Apollo 10, which was to perform not only an orbital but also docking and rendezvous tasks.
Apollo 9 launched on March 3, 1969, and was indeed a success with minimal drawbacks. Besides the less than expected velocity during the second restart, the only obstruction the crew experienced during the 241 hours, 53 seconds flight was nausea. The ship splashed in the Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Rico, from where the USS Guadalcanal recovery ship extracted the crew.
On March 18, 1969, Apollo 10 marked the first successful flight of a fully crewed Apollo Lunar Module spacecraft. It not only conducted a completed an 8-hour lunar orbit but also descended just around nine miles away from the moon’s surface. There, the crew demonstrated rendezvous and docking capabilities of the craft as well as that of the Command Service Module.
The launch and trip were, in fact, so satisfactory that the craft required only one of the four planned midcourse corrections. The ship splashed a few miles south of the Pacific Ocean, from where the USS Princeton recovered the crew.
So far on this summary of the Apollo missions, we’ve talked about the testing phases – sort of like the appetizers before the main course. Apollo 11 is what truly gave the Apollo missions their fame. President John F Kennedy set the goal for it himself. His vision was to execute the first crewed lunar module landing on the moon and its safe return to Earth.
Apollo 11 launched on July 16, 1969, with Michael Collins, who was the Command Module Pilot, Commander Neil Armstrong, and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, who was the Lunar Module Pilot, on board. On July 20, 1969, the crew landed on the moon, where Neil Armstrong took humanity’s first steps on the lunar surface.
The crew left commemorative medallions, honoring the sacrifice of Apollo 1’s crew on the moon and began their return journey. The ship landed in the Pacific Ocean, from where recovery ship USS Hornet recovered the crew.
This marked a turning point in space travel and allowed scientists and engineers to dream about the future of the moon and space travel in general.
The main objective for Apollo 12 was to further the lunar exploration by the crew of Apollo 11. Secondary objectives included deploying the Surface Experiment Package so that it could gather scientific and engineering data, as well as monitor the moon’s seismic activity.
The mission, though successful, was quite eventful. The descent, however, was smooth sailing and the ship landed in the Pacific Ocean. USS Hornet was the assigned recovery ship, which extracted the crew.
Apollo 13’s mission was to land in the Fra Maura Area. However, an explosion on the spacecraft deterred it from landing at its designated spot and forced it to return. Apollo 14 was then re-assigned the task but expanded the scope, not only limiting it to landing but also to explore the area.
Some of the primary objectives included:
- Deploying the Apollo Lunar Surface Scientific Experiments Package
- Investigation of lunar field geography
- Collecting surface material and bring it to Earth
- Photographing orbital and other deep-space phenomena
Apollo 15 had four primary objectives:
- The first was to explore the Hadley-Apennine region
- The second was to set up Lunar scientific experiments and activate them
- The third was to evaluate the Apollo equipment
- The fourth and last objective was to conducts various lunar orbital tests and photographic tasks
Not only was Apollo 15 successful in its mission, but it also set new flight records.
Apollo 16 had three primary objectives:
- The first was to sample, inspect, and survey materials from a landing site in the Descartes region
- The second was to place and activate experiments
- Third and last was to conduct in-flight operations and capture photographs during lunar orbit
Apollo 16 was not as smooth sailing, and due to some problems, it had to be cut short. The planners made a combined decision to end the mission one day earlier than planned. They also decide to forgo their plans for orbital shaping. This cut the mission lifetime from a year to one month.
Apollo 17 was the last of the Apollo missions. Like the past five missions, its objective was also to explore a lunar landing site. Its main objectives revolved around the deployment of experiments and equipment. The mission also gets the credit of being the first to carry a scientist-astronaut to the moon.
The total stay time for the spacecraft was 75 hours. During this time, the Astronauts gathered around 243 pounds of surface material. This marked the mission a success.
With Apollo 17, we effectively wrap up this summary of the Apollo missions, which are, to date, some of humankind’s greatest achievements.