183. Roll Call for the Unremembered

Next week contains the anniversary of the first moon landing, and I intend to dedicate all posts to that event.

I grew up with Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, but even I could not call out the names of all twelve men who landed on the moon without a crib sheet. The past seems to fade from memory as soon as it disappears from the rear view mirror. In the case of the early space program, that is a shame.

Here’s that crib sheet —-

Apollo 1 — Almost two dozen unmanned launches by various boosters tested hardware during the unmanned phase of Apollo. The scheduled first manned launch, AS-204, was renamed Apollo 1 after the capsule fire which killed Gus Grissom, Roger Chaffee, and Ed White on February 21, 1967. There had been growing anger in the astronaut corps over shoddy workmanship in the Apollo capsule, which boiled over after this unnecessary loss of life.

Apollo 7 — Don’t worry about the numbering oddity. It’s a mare’s next which is not worth untangling. Apollo 7 was the first manned Apollo flight. Apollo 1 was not a launch, since the disaster took place on top of an unfuelled rocket. Wally Schirra, Walt Cunningham, and Donn Eisele left the pad on October 11, 1968 to spend eleven days in orbit. Schirra had been particularly relentless in pushing for quality and safety during the year and a half delay. He retired from NASA after the flight, the only man to fly for all three programs.

Apollo 8 — The lunar lander was not ready and the Russians looked like they were about to attempt a moon landing., so NASA decided to gamble. Frank Borman, Bill Anders, and Jim Lovell launched December 21, 1968 for the moon without a lander. They entered lunar orbit, circled the moon ten times, then returned to Earth. They were the first humans to see the back side of the moon directly, although pictures had been sent back as early as 1959 – by the Russians.

Apollo 9 — James McDivitt (Commander), Rusty Schweickart (Lunar Module Pilot), and David Scott (Command Module Pilot) launched into Earth orbit on March 3, 1969 for a ten day mission. This was the first flight of a Lunar Excursion Module, and the first time the designations of individual astronauts became fully meaningful. After entering orbit, the command module with service module attached, moved away from the final stage of the Saturn, reversed, docked with the lunar excursion module which had been carried beneath it, and extracted the LEM. This head to head orientation allowed McDivitt and Schweickart to enter the LEM, detach it and test it in free flight while CM pilot Scott stayed in the command module.

Apollo 10 — The dress rehearsal. Launched May 18, 1969, Apollo 10 achieved lunar orbit, where Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan entered the lander, leaving John Young in the command module. They fired retros and descended to within 16 kilometers of the surface of the moon, did not land, reentered lunar orbit, and rendezvoused with the command module.

I have always felt that this has to be the most frustrating event in the history of space travel. Except, maybe, for Apollo 13. Or, maybe, for the six command module pilots who watched their crewmates successfully land on the moon.

Apollo 11 gets its own post next Wednesday, and the rest of the crib sheet comes after that.

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