What was the Apollo program

Apollo 7 to 10: step by step to the moon

Apollo 7: Apollo spacecraft test flight in earth orbit

On October 11, 1968 at 4:02 p.m. CET, seven and a half years after the speech by American President John F. Kennedy to the US Congress announcing the plan to land on the moon, the first manned Apollo began with a Saturn IB launcher -Mission. The aim of this 'C mission' in the Apollo program was to demonstrate the capabilities of the command capsule and service unit as well as their suitability for the crew. The crew, the spaceship and the facilities on the ground should also be tested during a manned Apollo mission. Finally, the rendezvous capability of the command module and the service unit should be demonstrated. As in the later lunar flights, the crew consisted - for the first time - of three astronauts. The commanding officer was the experienced Walter 'Wally' Schirra, who already had space experience with Mercury VIII and Gemini VI-A. The pilots of the lunar module and the command module, Walter Cunningham and Donn Eisele, had not been in space before. During the eleven day mission, almost all systems in the spaceship worked as hoped. The propulsion system, which would later bring the command capsule first into lunar orbit and later out of it, worked perfectly with all eight test ignitions. The decoupling of the Apollo spacecraft from the second rocket stage and some rendezvous maneuvers with this stage worked perfectly: Only the mood on board was tense because Schirra caught a cold early and infected his two comrades; In the weightlessness of space, a cold has unpleasant side effects. Apollo 7 completed 163 orbits of the earth. It was the first mission with a live televised broadcast from orbit. Millions of people were given their first glimpses into space. The exit from orbit, the critical re-entry into the earth's atmosphere and the end of the mission on October 22, 1968 at 12:11 p.m. CET southeast of the Bermuda Islands formed a perfect finale.

Apollo 8: First manned flight to the moon

In 1968 things continued in quick succession: the next mission was to take off just two months after Apollo 7. Apollo 8 was a bang with which the US finally took the lead in the 'race' in space. For the first time, humans finally overcame the gravitational pull of the earth and flew to another celestial body, the moon. The crew consisted of Frank Borman (commander), James Lovell (pilot of the command module), and William Anders (pilot of the lunar module). However, with Apollo 8, NASA dared to take the 'next but one' step before the, from a technical point of view, logical next one: The development of the lunar module was not yet completed, so the coupling and uncoupling maneuvers could not be tested in Earth orbit. As a result, NASA preferred its first mission to the moon with Apollo 8. The US also wanted to create facts and prevent this psychologically important achievement from falling to the USSR, whose progress was uncertain. On December 21, 1968 at 7:51 a.m. local time, there was a manned launch for the first time with a Saturn V rocket, the 'real' moon rocket. For the first time, an Apollo spaceship with the third stage was shot from earth orbit into an orbit to the moon. Apollo 8 crossed the Van Allen radiation belt at a distance of 15,000 miles. The effects were predicted theoretically; To be on the safe side, however, the astronauts carried measuring devices: it turned out that the dose inside the capsule did not exceed normal levels. After 69 hours, Apollo 8 reached the moon on December 24th, ignited the engines and was in orbit. When the crew read the biblical creation story from the book of Genesis on Christmas Eve and millions of people watched the radio transmission on earth, they witnessed one of the most moving moments in space history. After 20 hours and ten orbits around the moon, Apollo 8 made its way back to Earth and landed safely in the northern Pacific on December 27, 1968 - a great success!

Apollo 9: test flight of the lunar module in earth orbit

At the beginning of 1969 a flight with a lunar module would have to be carried out for the first time in order to be able to achieve the goal set by John F. Kennedy "before the end of the decade" to land on the moon. The most important goal of the Apollo 9 mission was therefore to show that the rendezvous maneuvers of the lunar module with the command capsule and the service module can be carried out safely and reliably under realistic conditions. On March 3, 1969, James McDivitt (commander), David Scott (pilot of the command module) and Russell 'Rusty' Schweickart (pilot of the lunar module) started their mission from Cape Canaveral at exactly 11 a.m. local time. Ascent and launch into orbit followed the plan. The first serious maneuver was the docking of the command module with the lunar module and the separation of the third stage of the Saturn V. The next task was the separation of the two spaceships, and later to bring them together again from different orbits. With the help of computer and radar-based systems, McDivitt achieved the rendezvous with the lunar module. The first tests of the engines for the ascent and descent of the lunar module were also successful. In order to simplify radio communication, the command module and the lunar module were given nicknames: Gumdrop (rubber drops) and Spider (spider, because of the spider-like legs of the landing stage). For the first time during an Apollo mission, an external mission was also carried out to test the suitability of the space suits and the supply rucksacks intended for the moon landing. This test also went as expected, with Russell Schweickart doing some minor tasks outside of the lunar module. In further tests with the lunar module, McDivitt and Schweickart removed about 183 kilometers from the Apollo command module and flew the complete maneuver, which was later planned for the lunar orbit. After a ten-day mission in earth orbit, the crew landed safely in the Atlantic on March 13, 1969. The most important result: the lunar module was successfully qualified for the lunar operation.

Apollo 10: Test flight of the lunar module in lunar orbit

After three Apollo missions, NASA was now very confident that the landing on the moon could succeed. There were serious discussions about not doing another test in the lunar orbit, in which the rendezvous maneuvers successfully carried out with Apollo 9 should now be repeated 'on site'. In the end, a more security-conscious strategy was chosen and a 'dress rehearsal' was scheduled for the spring of 1969: Otherwise the Apollo 10 commander, Thomas Stafford, might have been the first person to set foot on the moon instead of Neil Armstrong. Nevertheless, Stafford, together with Eugene Cernan as pilot of the lunar module and John Young as pilot of the command module, succeeded in an enormously important mission as ultimately indispensable preparation for the last, big step to the moon. On May 18, 1969 at 11:49 a.m. local time, Apollo 10 launched a complete combination of command capsule, service module and lunar module to the moon for the first time. The naming of the command capsule and the lunar module after popular comic characters - Charlie Brown and Snoopy - caused some frowns in circles of NASA leadership and politics, but also demonstrated the increased self-confidence in the astronaut corps. On the moon, the performance of the command module and the service unit as well as the crew and the facilities on the ground were to be tested - and of course the suitability of the lunar module in the lunar environment. On the moon, all flight phases were then carried out except for the actual moon landing: On May 22nd, Stafford and Cernan separated with the lunar module from the command module and descended to a height of 14.5 kilometers above the surface. Except for an unplanned fast rotation when testing the automatic demolition control system during the ascent - an operator error - all tests worked flawlessly. The lunar module re-docked with the command module eight hours after the separation, and the crew initiated the return flight to Earth. The Apollo 10 command module hit the Pacific on May 26, 1969.

These texts were created in collaboration between the DLR Institute for Planetary Research and space expert Gerhard Daum for the exhibition "Apollo and Beyond" at the Technik Museum Speyer. Here, among other things, the history of the Apollo project is presented in detail in words and pictures. In addition, in a lunar landscape, full-size models of the Apollo 11 lunar module "Eagle", the Apollo 15 lunar car and an Apollo space suit for the lunar excursions as well as a 3.4 billion year old stone from the Apollo 15 landing site can be seen.