Apollo VII

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USNS Wally Schirra



Apollo 7 was by far your longest flight, with over ten days set as the target
for a successful moon mission did you feel that Apollo was up to the task
or were there any significant changes made after Apollo 7?

Video © Courtesy of
Apogee Books
Used with Permission

The Apollo 7 design itself highlighted the earth orbital nature of the mission. It was our original
intention to emphasize the first manned Apollo (Gus Grissom's flight) and the recovery from the
fire on the pad aspects as well. We considered a spacecraft rising from a ball of fire and calling
it the Phoenix. The patch designed was subject to NASA approval and we abandoned the
Phoenix theme feeling it would be rejected as in bad taste. I zeroed in on a circle (for the
Earth) and an ellipse (for orbit). The orbital plane was tilted for artistic reasons.
--Walt Cunningham, "The All-American Boys"

Apollo VII
The Wally, Walt and Donn Show

"Live from The Apollo Room - High Above Everything"

Pad LC-34
Launch Vehicle: Saturn 1b - AS-205
Spacecraft: CM-101 

    Walter M. Schirra Jr., Commander 
    Donn Eisele, Command Module Pilot
    R. Walter Cunningham, Lunar Module Pilot

    1st Block II CSM
    1st Manned CSM Mission
    1st Three Man American Crew
    1st Live TV Downlink

Payload: Apollo CSM 101 - 1st block II Apollo Spacecraft

Mission Objective:  
To demonstrate Command/Service Module (CSM) and crew performance; demonstrate crew/space vehicle and mission support facilities performance during a manned Command/Service Module mission; demonstrate Command/Service Module rendezvous capability.


Altitude: 140 x 183 miles
    Orbits: 163
    Duration: 10 Days, 20 hours
    Distance: 4,500,000 miles

Launch:  October 11, 1968, 11:02 am EST. October 11 at Cape Kennedy was hot but the heat was tempered by a pleasant breeze when Apollo 7 lifted off in a two-tongued blaze of orange-colored flame. The Saturn IB, in its first trial with men aboard, provided a perfect launch and its first stage dropped off 2 minutes 25 seconds later. The S-IVB second stage took over, giving astronauts their first ride atop a load of liquid hydrogen, and at 5 minutes 54 seconds into the mission, Walter Schirra, the commander, reported, "She is riding like a dream." About five minutes later an elliptical orbit had been achieved, 140 by 183 miles above the Earth.

  October 22, 1968, 7:11am EST. The CSM's service propulsion system, which had to fire the CSM into and out of Moon orbit, worked perfectly during eight burns lasting from half a second to 67.6 seconds. Apollo's flotation bags had their first try-out when the spacecraft, a "lousy boat," splashed down in the Atlantic southeast of Bermuda, less than two kilometers from the planned impact point. Landing location was 27deg 32min North and 64deg 04min West. The module turned upside down; when inflated, the brightly colored bags flipped it aright. The tired, but happy, voyagers were picked up by helicopter and deposited on the deck of the U.S.S. Essex by 08:20am EDT. Spacecraft aboard ship at 09:03am.

Mission Highlights:  Once Apollo 7 cleared the pad, a three-shift mission control team-led by flight directors Glynn Lunney, Eugene Kranz, and Gerald D. Griffin -- in Houston took over. Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham inside the command module had listened to the sound of propellants rushing into the firing chambers, had noticed the vehicles swaying slightly, and had felt the vibrations at ignition. Ten and a half minutes after launch, with little bumpiness and low g loads during acceleration, Apollo 7 reached the first stage of its journey, an orbital path 227 by 285 kilometers above the earth.

The S-IVB stayed with the CSM for about one and one-half orbits, then separated. Schirra fired the CSM's small rockets to pull 50 feet ahead of the S-IVB, then turned the spacecraft around to simulate docking, as would be necessary to extract an LM for a Moon landing. Next day, when the CSM and the S-IVB were about 80 miles apart, Schirra and his mates sought out the lifeless, tumbling 59-foot craft in a rendezvous simulation and approached within 70 feet.

Walter Cunningham reported the spacecraft-lunar module adapter panels had not fully deployed- which naturally reminded Stafford, on the capsule communicator (CapCom) console, of the "angry alligator" target vehicle he had encountered on his Gemini IX mission. This mishap would have been embarrassing on a mission that carried a lunar module. but the panels would be jettisoned explosively on future flights.

After this problem, service module engine performance was a joy. This was one area where the crew could not switch to a redundant or backup system; at crucial times during a lunar voyage, the engine simply had to work or they would not get back home. On Apollo 7, there were eight nearly perfect firings out of eight attempts. On the first, the crew had a real surprise. In contrast to the smooth liftoff of the Saturn, the blast from the service module engine jolted the astronauts, causing Schirra to yell "Yabadabadoo" like Fred Flintstone in the contemporary video cartoon. Later, Eisele said, "We didn't quite know what to expect, but we got more than we expected." He added more graphically that it was a real boot in the rear that just plastered them into their seats. But the engine did what it was supposed to do each time it fired.

The Apollo vehicle and the CSM performed superbly. Durability was shown for 10.8 days - longer than a journey to the Moon and back. With few exceptions, the other systems in the spacecraft operated as they should. Occasionally, one of the three fuel cells supplying electricity to the craft developed some unwanted high temperatures, but load-sharing hookups among the cells prevented any power shortage. The crew complained about noisy fans in the environmental circuits and turned one of them off. That did not help much, so the men switched off the other. The cabin stayed comfortable, although the coolant lines sweated and water collected in little puddles on the deck, which the crew expected after the Kerwin team's test in the altitude chamber. Schirra's crew vacuumed the excess water out into space with the urine dump hose.

A momentary shudder went through Mission Control when both AC buses dropped out of the spacecraft's electrical system, coincident with automatic cycles of the cryogenic oxygen tank fans and heaters; but manual resetting of the AC bus breakers restored normal service.

Three of the five spacecraft windows fogged because of improperly cured sealant compound (a condition that could not be fixed until Apollo 9). Visibility from the spacecraft windows ranged from poor to good, during the mission. Shortly after the launch escape tower jettisoned, two of the windows had soot deposits and two others had water condensation. Two days later, however, Cunningham reported that most of the windows were in fairly good shape, although moisture was collecting between the inner panes of one window. On the seventh day, Schirra described essentially the same conditions.

Even with these impediments, the windows were adequate. Those used for observations during rendezvous and stationkeeping with the S-IVB remained almost clear. Navigational sighting with a telescope and a sextant on any of the 37 preselected "Apollo" stars was difficult if done too soon after a waste-water dump. Sometimes they had to wait several minutes for the frozen particles to disperse. Eisele reported that unless he could see at least 40 or 50 stars at a time he found it hard to decide what part of the sky he was looking toward. On the whole, however, the windows were satisfactory for general and landmark observations and for out-the-window photography. 

Most components supported the operations and well-being of the spacecraft and crew as planned, in spite of minor irritations like smudging windows and puddling water. For example, the waste management system for collecting solid body wastes was adequate, though annoying. The defecation bags, containing a germicide to prevent bacteria and gas formation, were easily sealed and stored in empty food containers in the equipment bay. But the bags were certainly not convenient and there were usually unpleasant odors. Each time they were used, it took the crew member from 45 to 60 minutes, causing him to postpone it as long as possible, waiting for a time when there was no work to do. The crew had a total of only 12 defecations over a period of nearly 11 days. Urination was much easier, as the crew did not have to remove clothing. There was a collection service for both the pressure suits and the inflight coveralls. Both devices could be attached to the urine dump hose and emptied into space. They had half expected the hose valve to freeze up in vacuum, but it never did. 

Chargers for the batteries needed for reentry (after fuel cells departed with the SM) returned 50 to 75 percent less energy than expected. Most serious was the overheating of fuel cells, which might have failed when the spacecraft was too far from Earth to return on batteries, even if fully charged. But each of these anomalies was satisfactorily checked out before Apollo 8 flew.

Some of the crew's grumpiness during the mission could be attributed to physical discomfort. About 15 hours into the flight, Schirra developed a bad cold, and Cunningham and Eisele soon followed suit. A cold is uncomfortable enough on the ground; in weightless space it presents a different problem. Mucus accumulates, filling the nasal passages, and does not drain from the head. The only relief is to blow hard, which is painful to the ear drums. So the crewmen of Apollo 7 whirled through space suffering from stopped up ears and noses. They took aspirin and decongestant tablets and discussed their symptoms with the doctors.

Several days before the mission ended, they began to worry about wearing their suit helmets during reentry. which would prevent them from blowing their noses. The buildup of pressure might burst their eardrums. Slayton, in mission control, tried to persuade them to wear the helmets, anyway, but Schirra was adamant. They each took a decongestant pill about an hour before reentry and made it through the acceleration zone without any problems with their ears.

Apollo 7 accomplished what it set out to do- qualifying the command and service module and clearing the way for the proposed lunar-orbit mission to follow. And its activities were of national interest. A special edition of NASA's news clipping collection called "Current News" included front page stories from 32 major newspapers scattered over the length and breadth of the nation. Although the postmission celebrations may not have rivaled those for the first orbital flight of an American, John Glenn in 1962, enthusiasm was high- and this fervor would build to even greater heights each time the lunar landing goal drew one step closer.

In retrospect it seems inconceivable, but serious debate ensued in NASA councils on whether television should be broadcast from Apollo missions, and the decision to carry the little 4 1/2- pound camera was not made until just before this October flight. Although these early pictures were crude, I think it was informative for the public to see astronauts floating weightlessly in their roomy spacecraft, snatching floating objects, and eating the first hot food consumed in space. Like the television pictures, the food improved in later missions.

Apollo 7's achievement led to a rapid review of Apollo 8's options. The Apollo 7 astronauts went through six days of debriefing for the benefit of Apollo 8, and on October 28 the Manned Space Flight Management Council chaired by Mueller met at MSC, investigating every phase of the forthcoming mission. Next day came a lengthy systems review of Apollo 8's Spacecraft 103. Paine made the go/no-go review of lunar orbit on November 11 at NASA Headquarters in Washington. By this time nearly all the skeptics had become converts.  

Wally's Favorite, And Not So Favorite, Flight Milestones:

  • First US three man crew.
  • First to have hot coffee in flight.
  • When scheduled in flight plan of over two years,
    the first live TV from space won an Emmy.
  • 10.8 days of what can we do now?
  • Can't eat out
  • We can vacuum up water condensation
  • We can reboot the computer that mission control
    screwed up
  • We can do a rendezvous with the booster without
    radar when mission control was more interested
    in a TV show
  • We can almost run out of Actifed and Kleenex
    tissues and then I can do a promo after Actifed
    is over the counter, and become a Director of
    Kimberly Clark.


Click on photo to enlarge



When you're sitting on top of a rocket like Apollo 7, there's a sense of anticipation that's finally rewarded by the "bolts firing", when the rocket is finally released from the pad. We used to laugh at comedian Bill Dana's fearful astronaut character, José Jimenez, who would look miserable and say "Blast off? Oh, I hope not!" We all hoped it was liftoff. The real point is, on Apollo 7 we were taking off after the loss of what was called the Apollo 1 crew, who died during a test on the launch pad a year and half earlier. Gus Grissom, who commanded Apollo 1, had been a close friend and neighbor of mine. With our launch, the Apollo program was starting up again, getting back on track. So, the Apollo 7 liftoff was pretty momentous to us, symbolically as well as for the fact that we were heading into space.

The Apollo spacecraft was a big thing like a multi-engine passenger jet, compared to the jet fighter experience of the Gemini spacecraft and the experimental feeling of Mercury. By the time of Apollo, the computer was a big part of everything, and we all had to become computer gurus to fly the ship. Back in Mercury, we had a wristwatch and a wind-up clock.

A lot happened in just a few years back then.


I suggest that you pay a visit to the Apollo 1 Memorial Foundation web site

The Apollo One Memorial Foundation have been working since 1998 to preserve the Apollo 7 launch site, which is also the site of the Apollo 1 tragedy, from further decay and corrosion. To this end they have worked with the Air Force and with teams of volunteers to replace missing fire bricks, repaint the metal surfaces, and keep the site weeded and trimmed. Of the Mercury, Gemini and early Apollo launch pads, this may well be the only pad that survives for future generations, in large part because of their hard work. Their work will also allow future generations to remember the loss of Apollo 1 crew and learn from that tragedy. They are a 501(c)(3) corporation, and so can accept tax-deductible donations to help them continue their work.

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