Today marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 7, the first to carry astronauts, for an eleven-day shake-down run of the Command & Service Modules (CSM), the mother ship for the moon landings. If this flight doesn’t come off perfectly, Apollo 8 will not fly around the moon in December and the entire program could be endangered.
A reminder of the dangers of launch that continue fifty years later, this morning Soyuz MS-10 with Alexey Ovchinin and Tyler “Nicky” Hague aborted when the second stage failed. The crew rode the capsule through a high-g ballistic arc to a successful landing.
The ghosts were everywhere. Pad 34, its concrete pedestal and spike like latticed tower, the same as twenty-one months before. The catwalk and white room at the 236-ft. level, the same as when Grissom, White, and Chaffee walked them. To the eye he Saturn 1B/Apollo appeared the same as the one that sat on the pad on January 27, 1967. Yet this is October 11, 1968. We will be the first and last crew launched from Pad 34. In a few years, all that will remain will be the concrete pedestal like a Stonehenge marker.
Although the Saturn is number 205, not 204, and the Apollo is CSM 101 of advanced Block 2 design, the ghosts inhabited every bolt and electrical circuit. Grissom, White, and Chaffee are there. We feel them as we ride the elevator to the 236-level. As we enter through the redesigned quick-opening hatch. They ghost our every move. They are there, in the bloom of of fire of the eight engines 224 ft. below us, shaking us with a ghostly wind that reaches all the way to the moon.
As we await the call: “Liftoff and the clock has started.”