The Apollo Spacecraft - A Chronology.

Part 3 (B)

Man Circles the Moon, the Eagle Lands, and Manned Lunar Exploration

December 1968


December 6

Several scientific experiments had been deferred from the first to the second lunar landing mission, Apollo Program Director Phillips informed the ASPO Manager at MSC: S-031, Lunar Passive Seismology; S-034, Lunar Tri-axis Magnetometer; S-035, Medium Energy Solar Wind; S-036, Suprathermal Ion Detection; S-058, Cold Cathode Ionization Gauge; and S-059, Lunar Geology Investigation. Substituted was a more conservative group that included Lunar Passive Seismology (S-031); a Laser Ranging Retroreflector (S-078); and Solar Wind Composition (S-080). Also assigned to the first landing mission, included among operational tasks, were sampling activities and observations of lunar soil mechanics.

TWX, Phillips to Low, "Experiment Assignments to Lunar Missions," Dec. 6, 1968.

December 8

During a routine flight of lunar landing training vehicle (LLTV) No. 1, MSC test pilot Joseph S. Algranti was forced to eject from the craft when it became unstable and he could no longer control the vehicle. The LLTV crashed and burned. A flight readiness review at MSC on November 26 had found the LLTV ready for use in astronaut training, and 10 flight tests had been made before the accident. An investigating board headed by astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr., was set up to find the cause of the accident. And on January 8, 1969, NASA Acting Administrator Thomas O. Paine asked the review board that was established in May 1968 to restudy its findings on the May 6 crash of lunar landing research vehicle No. 1 (LLTV-1).

Memo, George E. Mueller, OMSF, NASA, to Acting Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - December 9, 1968," Dec. 9, 1968; NASA Release 69-5, "Review Board Reconvened," Jan. 8, 1969.

December 9

Launch preparations for Apollo 8, scheduled for flight December 21, were on schedule, the NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight reported. Recent significant steps included a leak and functional test of the service propulsion system on November 26, fuel servicing of the CM reaction control system and the SPS on the following day, hypergolic loading on November 30, and loading of the S-IC stage with RP-1 fuel on December 2. All testing of the Mission Control Center in Houston and the Manned Space Flight Network had also been completed; both support systems were ready for full operational support. Recovery briefings had been given to the flight crew and the final flight plan for Apollo 8 had been issued. If all preparations continued to go smoothly, the final countdown for launch would begin on December 16.

Memo, Mueller to Acting Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - December 9, 1968," Dec. 9, 1968.

December 14

The ASPO Manager asked Wilmot N. Hess, MSC Director of Science and Applications, to devise a crew fit and functional check of lunar handtools before the LM-5 crew training tests. Functional check of the handtools, as well as the Early Apollo Science Experiments Package (EASEP), had been agreed on at a November 26 review. Actual flight hardware would be used by the crewmen to verify operation of tools and experiments. Flight handtools - as well as the EASEP, if available - would also be subjected to thermal vacuum tests in the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory, preferably during LM-5 crew training in the facility.

Memo, George M. Low to Hess, "Lunar Handtools and EASEP (Early Apollo Science Experiments Package," Dec. 14, 1968.

December 15

Final countdown for the launch of Apollo 8, the second manned Apollo mission, began on schedule at KSC. Significant launch preparation events included the "wet" countdown demonstration test on December 10, three days of flight simulations, an operational review, and launch site recovery exercises. Mission preparations were on schedule for launch on December 21. Launch preparations were also on schedule for the next two flights, Apollo 9 and 10.

Memo, George E. Mueller, NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight, to Acting Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - December 16, 1968," Dec. 16, 1968.

December 16

NASA Apollo Program Director Samuel C. Phillips asked ASPO Manager George M. Low for comments on potential uses for television aboard all Apollo spacecraft (both CMs and LMs). Although plans called for TV cameras in both spacecraft for the F and G missions, on the combined CSM-LM earth-orbital D mission only the LM was to contain a camera. Phillips asked Low to assess the feasibility and schedule impact of including a TV camera on the D-mission CSM as well (CM 104), thus employing television on all the remaining Apollo spacecraft. In particular, the Apollo Director sought Low's advice on the feasibility and usefulness of television transmissions for engineering, operations, scientific, and public information purposes. (See December 24.)

Ltr., Phillips to Low, "Apollo On-board TV," Dec. 16, 1968.

December 17

Apollo Program Director Phillips described to MSC Director Robert R. Gilruth two reviews of testing and checkout procedures, conducted by the Apollo Test Office and MSC's Crew Systems Division, at Hamilton Standard September 23-26 and at International Latex September 30-October 4. (The reviews were a follow-on to similar test and checkout reviews at North American Rockwell and at Grumman earlier in the year.) The review at "Ham-Standard," manufacturer of the portable life support system, uncovered only two minor discrepancies, which the company immediately corrected. At International Latex, manufacturer of the Apollo spacesuit, however, the review teams found what Phillips termed a "disappointing situation despite extensive management direction by the Crew Systems Division." The NASA review group made several recommendations to improve the situation:

  • Improved management control of suit processing and checkout to afford higher confidence in configuration, inspection, and performance integrity.
  • Stricter enforcement of the acceptance data package on each delivered suit.
  • Compulsory contractor updating and enforcement of specifications to meet MSC spacesuit requirements.
  • Improved and rigidly enforced discipline and cleanliness.
These problems, Phillips noted, had not impaired flight readiness of the spacesuit, "but it does explain the delivery problems we have been experiencing."

Ltr., Phillips to Gilruth, Dec. 17, 1968.

December 17

Apollo Program Director Phillips asked ASPO Manager Low to hasten work on the study at North American to define reusability of systems aboard the CM. He asked Low for a review of the area in mid-February 1969 if sufficient data were available by then. Also, Phillips asked Low's recommendations for an effectivity date on any recovery operations to increase reusability of either spacecraft systems or of the complete vehicle. (North American submitted Space Division Report No. 69-463, dated August 29, 1969, recommending preflight preservation treatment and postflight refurbishment that could be accomplished on CMs and its components to enhance reusability. Removal of heatshield access ports and flushing with fresh water on the recovery ship was the only recommendation implemented, because the others were not judged cost effective.)

Ltr., Phillips to Low, Dec. 17, 1968.

December 19

Crew briefings on flammability tests and fire extinguishing methods should be expanded, ASPO Manager Low recommended to MSC Director of Flight Operations Donald K. Slayton. Short briefings had been given to the crews of spacecraft 101 and 103, Low said, but these limited briefings should be expanded to ensure further a fire-safe spacecraft. At a minimum, he urged review of all flammability deviations inside the spacecraft, review of flammable crew storage items, review of significant fire testing films on propagation paths, and review of emergency procedures for extinguishing fires. The chief objective of this expanded program, said Low, was to familiarize the crews with the flammable items in the cockpit that could not be replaced, with potential propagation paths, and with methods of extinguishing fires.

Memo, Low to Director of Flight Crew Operations, "Crew training program on fire safety," Dec. 19, 1968.

December 20

The lunar closeup stereo camera on Apollo missions was not a separate scientific experiment, NASA Associate Administrator for Manned Space Flight wrote MSC Deputy Director George S. Trimble. An adjunct to the field geology experiment, the camera's stereoscopic photographs of fine details on the lunar surface would document individual material samples. Additional photography where no samples were taken would provide information on the range of surface textures near the landing site. Following deployment by the crew of emplaced experiments, the field geology investigation - and thus the stereo camera - had priority. Mueller stated that inclusion of the camera on all early Apollo landing missions was desirable, including the first. However, it was doubtful that the contractor could deliver the first flight article in time for that mission, although the camera could be ready for the second landing if granted waivers in documentation, reliability, and quality controls. Mueller affirmed his desire to grant these relaxations in the normally rigid Apollo hardware demands - to the extent that such waivers could be granted without jeopardizing crew safety or overall mission success. As an added benefit, the Associate Administrator said, "the experiment of giving a qualified contractor a relatively free hand in managing a development project within his particular field of competence should be instructive in the planning of future procurements of this type."

Ltr., Mueller to Trimble, Dec. 20, 1968.

December 21-27

Apollo 8 (AS-503) was launched from KSC Launch Complex 39, Pad A, at 7:51 a.m. EST Dec. 21 on a Saturn V booster. The spacecraft crew was made up of Frank Borman, James A. Lovell, Jr., and William A. Anders. Apollo 8 was the first spacecraft to be launched by a Saturn V with a crew on board, and that crew became the first men to fly around the moon.

All launch and boost phases were normal and the spacecraft with the S-IVB stage was inserted into an earth-parking orbit of 190.6 by 183.2 kilometers above the earth. After post-insertion checkout of spacecraft systems, the S-IVB stage was reignited and burned 5 minutes 9 seconds to place the spacecraft and stage in a trajectory toward the moon - and the Apollo 8 crew became the first men to leave the earth's gravitational field.

The spacecraft separated from the S-IVB 3 hours 20 minutes after launch and made two separation maneuvers using the SM's reaction control system. Eleven hours after liftoff, the first midcourse correction increased velocity by 26.4 kilometers per hour. The coast phase was devoted to navigation sightings, two television transmissions, and system checks. The second midcourse correction, about 61 hours into the flight, changed velocity by 1.5 kilometers per hour.

The 4-minute 15-second lunar-orbit-insertion maneuver was made 69 hours after launch, placing the spacecraft in an initial lunar orbit of 310.6 by 111.2 kilometers from the moon's surface - later circularized to 112.4 by 110.6 kilometers. During the lunar coast phase the crew made numerous landing-site and landmark sightings, took lunar photos, and prepared for the later maneuver to enter the trajectory back to the earth.

On the fourth day, Christmas Eve, communications were interrupted as Apollo 8 passed behind the moon, and the astronauts became the first men to see the moon's far side. Later that day , during the evening hours in the United States, the crew read the first 10 verses of Genesis on television to earth and wished viewers "goodnight, good luck, a Merry Christmas and God bless all of you - all of you on the good earth."

Subsequently, TV Guide for May 10-16, 1969, claimed that one out of every four persons on earth - nearly 1 billion people in 64 countries - heard the astronauts' reading and greeting, either on radio or on TV; and delayed broadcasts that same day reached 30 additional countries.

On Christmas Day, while the spacecraft was completing its 10th revolution of the moon, the service propulsion system engine was fired for three minutes 24 seconds, increasing the velocity by 3,875 km per hr and propelling Apollo 8 back toward the earth, after 20 hours 11 minutes in lunar orbit. More television was sent to earth on the way back and, on the sixth day, the crew prepared for reentry and the SM separated from the CM on schedule.

Parachute deployment and other reentry events were normal. The Apollo 8 CM splashed down in the Pacific, apex down, at 10:51 a.m. EST, December 27 - 147 hours and 42 seconds after liftoff. As planned, helicopters and aircraft hovered over the spacecraft and pararescue personnel were not deployed until local sunrise, 50 minutes after splashdown. The crew was picked up and reached the recovery ship U.S.S. Yorktown at 12:20 p.m. EST. All mission objectives and detailed test objectives were achieved, as well as five that were not originally planned (see Appendix 5).

The crew was in excellent condition, and another major step toward the first lunar landing had been accomplished.

MSC, "Apollo 8 Mission Report," Feb. 1969, pp. 1-1, 1-2; NASA OMSF, "Apollo Program Flight Summary Report, Apollo Missions AS-201 through Apollo 8," Jan. 1969, pp. 32-35; Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1968, (NASA SP-4010, 1969), pp. 318-23.

December 24

ASPO Manager George M. Low apprised Program Director Samuel C. Phillips of MSC's plans for television cameras aboard remaining Apollo missions. With the exception of spacecraft 104 (scheduled for flight as Apollo 9), television cameras were to be flown in all CMs. Also, cameras would be included in all manned LMs (LM-3 through LM-14).

Ltr., Low to Phillips, "Television," Dec. 24, 1968.

December 27

C. H. Bolender, ASPO LM Manager at MSC, wrote Ralph H. Tripp, LM Program Manager at Grumman, regarding open spacecraft failure items. Although he acknowledged Grumman's recent progress in reducing the number of open failures, Bolender said that the approaching manned phase of the LM program dictated a fundamental change in the method of handling those open problems. Apollo required "zero open problems." Moreover, all failures must receive NASA approval of closeout before launch. Bolender called on Tripp to revamp his failure closeout procedures with several objectives: all closeout packages must contain sufficient documentation to permit NASA approval of the action; each package should be available as a reference for any future review of problem definition, analysis, and correction; and the contractor should further improve the discipline applied to technical resolution of open items and to the preparation of closeout packages. Bolender anticipated that Grumman's actions to meet these objectives would greatly reduce the number of open failure closeout disapprovals by NASA. But when a disagreement did exist, both parties must act quickly to resolve the issue. "Prompt attention to NASA disapprovals has been a problem," noted the LM Program Manager.

Ltr., Bolender to Tripp, Dec. 27, 1968.