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Digital Subscriptions > Ad Astra > 2019 - 2 > A COMMANDING PRESENCE: The story of the APOLLO COMMAND MODULE


The Apollo Command Module was a critical component to the lunar missions, and the story of its development-including the tragic tale of Apollo 1—is central to understanding the story of the Apollo program.

Of the many incredible machines that took America to the Moon and won the space race, one that gets less attention than it should is the Apollo capsule, or in proper parlance, the Command and Service Module (CSM).

This workhorse spacecraft was often eclipsed in many of its accomplishments by its sibling, the Lunar Module, though the CSM did garner increased attention during troubled periods, such as the Apollo 1 fire and the Apollo 13 oxygen tank explosion. But it shined during the flights of Apollo 7 and 8, during which it flew alone.

The Command Module proceeded from concept to flight in only six years, an achievement as yet unmatched in spaceflight.


The history of the Apollo program actually pre-dates President Kennedy’s goal of “landing a man on the Moonand returning him safely to the Earth.” Once Project Mercury was up and running, design studies began on a follow up “multi-mission” spacecraft. Mercury would get Americans into space, and the next vehicle would allow astronauts to live and work there. The original plan was for this new craft to expand NASA’s capabilities in orbit. Over time the design project—now called Apollo—would evolve to allow astronauts to fly to lunar orbit and eventually land on the Moon’s surface. Project Gemini wouldn’t come along until 1961.

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