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Digital Subscriptions > Ad Astra > 2019 - 2 > SETTING THE STAGE

SETTING THE STAGE

Landing humans on the Moon was an enormous undertaking. The massive Saturn V had to be designed, tested and tamed. The Lunar Module had to be developed from whole cloth, and many other machines and systems perfected before the first mission to the lunar surface could be successful. This is the story of that preparation.
Eagle on the Moon.
Credit: James Vaughan

FIRST ACT of an EPIC LUNAR JOURNEY

Three days after landing on the Moon, and with splashdown looming, the crew of Apollo 11 flicked on the television camera for a final broadcast from space. Taking turns before the lens, Armstrong, Aldrin, and Collins discussed the symbolic and practical aspects of their flight to a still Moon-struck world.

Then, in measured tones and barely suppressed emotion, the commander of Apollo 11 closed the broadcast by thanking the men and women who had labored for almost a decade to make the first lunar landing possible.

At its peak, the Apollo program employed 400,000 people and was supported by over 20,000 industrial firms and universities. They designed and built the spacecraft, composed the mission plans, and conducted the tests that led to Tranquility Base. That harnessing of energy and ingenuity represented the greatest surge in technological creativity and largest pledge of resources (about 107 billion in 2016 dollars) ever in peacetime. After six Mercury and ten Gemini flights, Apollo 1 finally stood poised on the launch pad in early 1967.

FIRE IN THE COCKPIT

On January 27, 1967, the Command and Service Module (CSM) for the first crewed Apollo mission—an Earth-orbiting flight—was perched on a Saturn 1B rocket at Launch Complex 34. Although liftoff was just a few weeks away, Apollo 1 (AS-204) had been a troubled spacecraft plagued by abraded wires, a leaky coolant system, and a faulty environmental control system. On Friday, January 27, the three-astronaut crew of Grissom, White, and Chaffee lay strapped in their couches for a “plugs-out” launch rehearsal. The hatch was bolted shut and the cabin pumped full of pure oxygen at 16. 7 pounds per square inch (psi), two psi higher than sea level.

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