Opening the road to the moon


Fifty years ago today


On Apollo 7’s 263th revolution of the earth, over Hawaii, fifty years ago today, October 22, we fire the big Service Propulsion System (SPS) engine at the spacecraft’s tail for the eighth and final time.  A twelve-second burn — that’s all it takes.  The retro maneuver sends us on a course to splashdown in the Atlantic after a flight of 260 hr. 9 min. 3 sec., nearly eleven days.

For us, the crew, with test objectives front-loaded in the flight plan, the final days have been something not associated with spaceflight — boring.  But boredom is good, meaning that all systems are operating smoothly even beyond the time needed for a standard eight-day moon mission.

We’ve proven that the SPS engine is ready to take a crew to the moon.  We’ve proven every spacecraft system, completing 36 Detailed Test Objects (DTOs), as well as three added — to our complaints — while the mission was underway. More than Wally Schirra’s head cold, more than his refusal to initially turn on the TV camera, more than our seven TV broadcasts themselves, more than the publicity over our resistance to the added tests, our flight should be remembered for providing a confidence in the Apollo mother, bringing the moon closer to earth.

Heroes?  Our Command Module flips over after splashdown into what is called “Stable 2,” nose down until inflation bags right it.  Hanging upside down in our straps before the balloon-like bags do the trick, we become sea sick.

Our reward?  To be a forgotten flight.   Although the crew began training for the moon in August, the firm decision is only made on November 11after reviewing all the data from our flight:   Apollo 8 will venture to lunar orbit and history in December.

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