Multiple Woes Plague First Manned Apollo Mission | This Week In Space History
by michael shinabery
For the Apollo 7 crew, addressing their basic needs was, at times, “annoying,” the website nasa.gov documented.
The first manned Apollo flight splashed down on Oct 22, 1968, after a mission that tested a new command service module incorporating a “docking probe and tunnel that would connect it to the lunar module,” said “Men From Earth” (Bantam/1989).
Commander Wally Schirra, Lunar Module Pilot Walt Cunningham, and Command Module Pilot Donn Eisele lifted off on a “hot” Oct. 11, nasa.gov said. For the first time, men rode atop a Saturn IB booster filled with “a lot of liquid hydrogen.”
Schirra was a well-seasoned commander. He was a test pilot when he learned NASA was recruiting. At first, he said in “We Seven” (Simon and Schuster/1962), he wasn’t “keenly interested.” At the initial briefing he informed a NASA representative “quite frankly that I was not about to chuck a thirteen-year career and a fairly promising career in the Navy on the basis of one short briefing.” He made his first spaceflight in 1962 aboard a Mercury capsule as the “fifth American to fly into space,” said wallyschirra.com. He was the first to exceed three orbits when NASA gave thumbs up for an additional three. He flew to a record 176 miles in altitude and reached a record 17,557 mph.
On Dec. 15, 1965, Schirra and Tom Stafford launched in Gemini VI. Eleven days earlier, Frank Borman and Jim Lovell had lifted off in Gemini VII. The two capsules met up and, nasa.gov said, “maneuvered, as Schirra later (described it) … ‘window to window and nose to nose’ close enough to wave to each other through the portholes.”
Subsequently, Gemini VI was the first live televised splashdown.
Apollo 7 made Schirra “the only astronaut to fly in all of America’s first three space programs,” wallyschirra.com said.
Cunningham, who joined the Navy in 1951, and Eisele, a Naval Academy graduate who chose the Air Force, joined NASA in 1963. For both, Apollo 7 was their only mission.
The woes the three endured began during “an ill-conceived hunting trip in the Florida marshes,” said “Men From Earth.” What they caught were colds. According to nasa.gov, the illnesses showed up “about 15 hours into the flight. … Several days before the mission ended they began to worry about wearing their suit helmets during re-entry, which would prevent them from blowing their noses. The buildup of pressure might burst their eardrums. Deke 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 re-entry and made it through the acceleration zone without any problems with their ears.”
There were other complications. “Three of the five spacecraft windows fogged because of improperly cured sealant compound,” nasa.gov said. “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.”
Their basic needs were a struggle as well. Nasa.gov said “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 certainly were not convenient and there were usually unpleasant odors. Each time they were used, it took crew members 45 to 60 minutes, causing them to wait for a time when there was no work to do and postponing it as long as possible. The crew had a total of only 12 defecations during a period of nearly 11 days. Urination was much easier, as the crew did not have to remove clothing.”
To the public, the crew endeared themselves during the first live television broadcasts from space, billed as The Walt, Wally, and Donn Show. They won an Emmy. “Genesis: The Story of Apollo 8” (Four Walls Eight Windows/1998), documented how the astronauts performed three times using “the world’s first handheld black-and-white video camera.” Schirra welcomed his audience to “ ‘The one and only original Apollo road show starring the greatest acrobats of outer space!’ ” Behind him, Cunningham and Eisele “did somersaults and pinwheels.” Worldwide, millions watched, seeing for the first time men float in space.
The “TV coverage was a key part of the public relations dividends of the flight,” said “Men From Earth.” “Their competence, their humor, and the Apollo spacecraft’s sophistication went a long way to raise the national mood in an extremely troubled year.”
“Although these early pictures were crude,” nasa.gov said, “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 on later missions.”
Post mission, the crew recalled their experience in a magazine article.
“The space age is very hungry,” Schirra wrote. “I have been completely devoured by this business.”
Eisele discussed photographing the 200-mile wide Hurricane Gladys. “There was nothing but white as far as you could see,” he said. “I grabbed the camera and hopped from one window to another, just using my feet and leg muscles to arc my body.”
Cunningham described dealing with his cold: “We had a stowage compartment with a little hole that you could stuff things into, and by 6 p.m. on the first day we realized this would make a good locker for our used handkerchief tissues. Over the next 10 days we used up the equivalent of about nine big boxes.”
Michael Shinabery is an education specialist and Humanities Scholar with the New Mexico Museum of Space History. E-mail him at email@example.com.