command module

(12 Feb. 1971) — Separated by aluminum and glass of their Mobile Quarantine Facility (MQF), the Apollo 14 crew members visit with their families and friends upon arriving at Ellington Air Force Base in the early morning hours of Feb. 12, 1971. Looking through the MQF window are astronauts Alan B. Shepard Jr. (left), commander; Stuart A. Roosa (right), command module pilot; and Edgar D. Mitchell, lunar module pilot. The crew men were brought to Houston aboard a C-141 transport plane from Pago Pago, American Samoa. The USS New Orleans had transported the crew to American Samoa from the recovery site in the South Pacific.

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     This Command Module was flown into space by Walter Schirra, Don Eisele and Walter Cunningham on Apollo 7, the first manned flight of the Apollo Program. On October 11, 1968, they became the only crew to fly from Launch complex 34 at Cape Canaveral, Florida, a launch complex which I have covered in a previous post (click here to view). The crew orbited the earth for 11 days, the length of a future Apollo Moon mission, testing the various Command Module systems.

     On this blog, one of the things I typically try to cover is test flight aircraft. This capsule qualifies, sort of. Apollo 7 was the first test flight of the command module system. Also, this spacecraft maneuvered through the air during re-entry, so we could, without too much of a stretch, call it an aircraft. There you have it. Test flight aircraft. Sounds good, right?

     This capsule is on display at the incredible Frontiers of Flight Museum in Dallas, Texas. I was very impressed with this museum. They have a pristine, non typical collection, beautiful facility, and very friendly, knowledgeable staff.

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(7 March 1969) — A view of the Apollo 9 Lunar Module (LM), “Spider”, in a lunar landing configuration, as photographed from the Command and Service Modules (CSM) on the fifth day of the Apollo 9 Earth-orbital mission. The landing gear on the “Spider” has been deployed. Lunar surface probes (sensors) extend out from landing gear foot pads. Inside the “Spider” were astronauts James A. McDivitt, Apollo 9 commander, and Russell L. Schweickart, lunar module pilot. Astronaut David R. Scott, command module pilot, remained at the controls in the Command Module (CM), “Gumdrop”, while the other two astronauts checked out the Lunar Module.

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     Every rocket has a payload; even the small, solid fuel rocket that I built and fired while attending Space Camp as a child. My rocket launched an earthworm as its payload, carrying it about 1,000 feet above the ground. A parachute opened and brought my payload it back to the ground, alive and unscathed. Obviously, larger rockets tend to carry larger payloads. The Saturn V Moon rocket was the largest launch vehicle ever successfully flown. The whole point of the Saturn V was to lift this, the Lunar Stack, off of Earth, insert it into a brief period of Earth orbit, then push it toward the Moon.

     The Lunar Stack consisted of several systems. The very tip of the rocket is a component called the Launch Escape System. This was a tower fixed to the nose of the manned capsule during launch, which contained a solid rocket motor that would be fired if the rocket started to break up, pulling the crew to safety. Luckily, this never had to happen in the Apollo program. If everything was performing nominally, the Launch Escape System would be jettisoned away from the capsule after ignition of the S-II second stage.

     The next major system down the line is the Command-Service Module (CSM). This two-part component consists of the Command Module (CM) and the Service Module (SM). The CM carried all three astronauts during the whole flight, from launch, all the way to splash-down, excluding the time when two of the three astronauts would transfer to the Lunar Module (LM) for their excursion to the moon. The particular Command-Service Module pictured here is called CSM-115, which was manufactured for the cancelled Apollo 19 mission. It is only partially completed. Normally, the unflown Command Modules are a shiny silver color, but this module sat outside for decades, and has taken the appearance of one that has suffered an entry into the atmosphere. 

     The conical structure aft of the CSM is the Spacecraft-Lunar Adapter, which housed and protected the Lunar Module (LM), and the CSM engine during launch. Once the Lunar Stack was on a path to the moon, the CSM would detach from the SLA cone, which would open up like flower petals, exposing the LM. The CSM would turn 180°, dock with the LM, and pull it away from the S-IVB third stage. Then, the CSM and LM would continue their path to the Moon, separate from the S-IVB third stage.

     Each small component of the Apollo System, from the launch, to the Escape Tower, and everything in between, is incredible to me. I could go into endless detail about each small component within these systems, but that will have to wait for future articles.

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Apollo 7 Completes Transposition & Docking Procedures (11 Oct. 1968) — The expended Saturn S-IVB stage as photographed from the Apollo 7 spacecraft during transposition and docking maneuvers at an approximate altitude of 125 nautical miles, at ground elapsed time of three hours and 16 minutes (beginning of third revolution). This view is over the Atlantic Ocean off the coast of Cape Kennedy, Florida. The Florida coastline from Flagler Beach southward to Vero Beach is clearly visible in picture. Much of the Florida peninsula can be seen. Behind the open panels is the Gulf of Mexico. Distance between the Apollo 7 spacecraft and the S-IVB is approximately 100 feet. The round, white disc inside the open panels of the S-IVB is a simulated docking target similar to that used on the Lunar Module (LM) for docking during lunar missions.