Saturn I

Saturn IAn unmanned Saturn I rocket is launched, the first practical demonstration of the multiple-engine design which has already been earmarked for future Apollo missions to the moon. Designed by expatriate German rocket engineer Werhner von Braun, the Saturn I is the first iteration of a family of heavy-lift rockets that will include the Saturn IB and the Saturn V; in this configuration, the Saturn I is the first stage of a Saturn V with no second stage.

Apollo unveiled

ApolloWeeks before an American astronaut first makes it to orbit, NASA unveils the design of the two Apollo spacecraft: a command/service module (large compared to the Mercury capsules Americans have already seen) and a completely un-aerodynamic lunar module whose unique shape, designed solely for landing on the moon, will never need to operate inside an atmosphere. Though further refinements in both designs are still to come, NASA has already decided on the basic shape of its crash lunar exploration program whose goal is to land a man on the moon before 1970.

The Vehicle Assembly Building

Vehicle Assembly BuildingConstruction commences on NASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building (originally named the Vertical Assembly Building), where the giant Saturn V rockets for Apollo lunar missions will be constructed, tested, and then rolled out to the launch pad atop huge mobile crawlers. Covering eight acres of land on Merritt Island, Florida, the building must withstand Florida’s notorious hurricane seasons (and protect any rockets under construction within) as well as the shockwaves of Saturn V rocket launches taking place only three miles away; special ventilation and humidity control systems have to be built as well, as the interior space is so voluminous that the building has its own internal weather! The VAB will later transition to the assembly of the Space Shuttle launch system elements and the Space Launch System boosters for the 21st century Orion program.

Vehicle Assembly Building open for business

Vehicle Assembly BuildingNASA’s massive Vehicle Assembly Building is completed at the spaceport rapidly taking shape on Cape Canaveral ahead of the Apollo lunar missions. Topped off at a total cost of $117,000,000, the VAB is where Saturn V rockets are assembled for the Apollo moonshots, and the huge, eight-acre building will later transition to the assembly of the Space Shuttle launch system elements and the Space Launch System boosters for the 21st century Orion program.

Apollo 1

Crew of Apollo 1During a ground test of the Apollo 1 spacecraft, a fire breaks out in the 100% oxygen atmosphere of the Apollo capsule, leaving the crew – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chaffee – unable to operate or open the hatch. The searing heat burns through their oxygen hoses, suffocating the three astronauts in short order. Months of investigations and accusations follow, leading to changes of management at both NASA and North American Aviation, the aerospace company contracted to build the Apollo command/service module. Extensive redesign of the Apollo vehicle follows, including a switch to a nitrogen/oxygen atmosphere and a complete rethink of the hatch, and manned flights won’t resume until late 1968.

This event is dramatized in the Apollo One episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 4: Saturn V’s first flight

Apollo 4As questions over the safety of the Apollo spacecraft continue to rage, NASA performs the first “all-up” test of the Saturn V rocket with an unmanned launch officially designated Apollo 4. Unsure of what to expect, onlookers and press are stunned by the roar of the five huge F-1 engines; the vibrations case CBS news anchor Walter Cronkite’s broadcast booth to partially collapse while he’s on the air – over three miles away. The entire vehicle performs flawlessly, propelling the empty (but active) Apollo command/service module to a distance of 10,000 miles before commanding it to return to Earth, simulating the speed and return angle of a vehicle returning from the moon.

Apollo 7

Apollo 7After a year of redesign and reorganization, NASA resumes manned flights with Apollo 7, the first of the successful Apollo flights. An 11-day Earth-orbit shakedown cruise for the Apollo command/service module, the mission becomes contentious when the three-man crew – Wally Schirra, Walt Cunningham and Donn Eisele – is loaded down with a jam-packed mission plan. Worse, Schirra comes down with a cold which quickly spreads to his crewmates in the enclosed biosphere of the Apollo command module. The flight’s technical goals are met with flying colors, though the crew’s snippy responses to ground controllers keep them off the crew rotation for future Apollo flights.

This mission is dramatized in the We Have Cleared The Tower episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 8

Apollo 8Moved ahead in the schedule due to ongoing difficulties with the construction of the lunar module, Apollo 8 lifts off from Cape Canaveral on a mission that represents NASA’s biggest gamble yet in the race for the moon: on only the second manned Apollo flight, astronauts Frank Borman, Jim Lovell and Bill Anders will go to the moon, orbit it in their command/service module, and return to Earth (the lunar module is still in the late stages of development). Mission planners plot out a free return trajectory – ensuring that without engines, Apollo 8 could loop around behind the moon and swing back toward home.

This mission is dramatized in the 1968 episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Live From The Moon

Apollo 8Broadcasting live black & white television pictures from lunar orbit on Christmas Eve, the crew of Apollo 8 delivers one of the most-watched broadcasts of 1968. As the surface of the moon rolls silently outside the windows of their command/service module, the astronauts take turns reading the first chapter of Genesis, dedicating it to “all of you on the good Earth.” After ten orbits of the moon, Apollo 8 fires its engine, putting it on a return trajectory to Earth; it splashes down safely three days later.

This mission is dramatized in the 1968 episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 9

Apollo 9Apollo 9 lifts off on a ten-day mission to test the first lunar lander, but only in Earth orbit. Jim McDivitt and Rusty Schweickart put the lunar module, nicknamed Spider, through its paces, while David Scott mans the command module Gumdrop. This is the first flight of the completely non-aerodynamic lunar module, and various docking maneuvers and spacewalk scenarios are practiced. The crew returns to Earth in the Apollo command module, while Spider is left in a low orbit which decays two weeks later, allowing it to disintegrate in Earth’s atmosphere.

This mission is dramatized in the Spider episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

NASA solicits shuttle, station proposals

Space ShuttleNASA formally asks various major players in the aerospace industry for proposals for what the agency sees as its two major projects for the 1970s: an orbiting space station and a reusable Space Shuttle to make routine flights from Earth to the station – which NASA hopes will be a “50 man space base” – and back again, with supplies, experiments, and new crew members. (Within mere weeks, the hypothetical station’s equally hypothetical crew will be downsized to a dozen.) In the event that the development curve on the Space Shuttle proves to be a long one, NASA says it will keep Apollo and even Gemini spacecraft in service to make flights to the station.

Apollo 10

Apollo 10Apollo 10 lifts off for a dress rehearsal over the moon. Thomas Stafford, Gene Cernan and John Young fly a complete Apollo stack – both the command/service module and the lunar model – to the moon, conducting practice maneuvers in lunar orbit. Over eight days, the Apollo 10 crew does everything but land on the moon. With the mission requirements fulfilled, NASA announces that the next Apollo mission will attempt an actual landing.

This mission is dramatized in the Spider episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 11: first manned lunar landing

Apollo 10The Apollo 11 lunar module touches down in the Sea of Tranquility, a flat plain on the moon. Astronaut Neil Armstrong is the first human being to set foot on another body in the solar system, followed by “Buzz” Aldrin; the two spend roughly two and a half hours on the moon and gather nearly 50 pounds of samples of lunar soil and rock. This feat effectively ends the Cold War space race, though both the United States and the Soviet Union continue their lunar efforts: more Apollo missions are still on the schedule, and the Soviet continue trying to mount a successful launch of their giant N1 rocket.

This mission is dramatized in the Mare Tranquilitatis episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 12

Apollo 12Apollo 12 lifts off, with astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean set to become the next pair of human moonwalkers aboard the lunar module Intrepid, while Dick Gordon observes from orbit in the command/service module Yankee Clipper. The Intrepid crew is also assigned to deploy an instrument package called ALSEP (Apollo Lunar Scientific Experiment Package) which will be left on the surface even after their departure. The mission lasts ten days.

This mission is dramatized in the That’s All There Is episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 12: more footprints on the moon

Apollo 12Astronauts Pete Conrad and Alan Bean land on the moon in the Apollo 12 lunar module Intrepid, a mere 600 feet away from the 1967 landing site of the unmanned Surveyor 3 probe. Pieces of Surveyor 3 are gathered for return to Earth to study the effects of prolonged exposure to the lunar environment. Conrad and Bean conduct two moonwalks, each lasting nearly four hours.

This mission is dramatized in the That’s All There Is episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 20 hardware reassigned to Skylab

SkylabNASA formally cancels the planned Apollo 20 mission to the moon’s Copernicus crater in order to begin converting the upper stage of the mission’s Saturn V rocket into the Skylab space station, to be launched in the early 1970s. Construction of the Apollo command/service module and lunar module scheduled to fly this mission was halted before either vehicle was completed. The crew would have consisted of Stu Roosa, Paul Weitz and Jack Lousma; ironically, Weitz was transferred to the first Skylab crew, while Lousma was part of the second Skylab crew. Both later flew on shuttle missions.

Apollo 13

Apollo 13The third planned lunar landing mission, Apollo 13, lifts off. Astronauts Jim Lovell and Fred Haise are scheduled to walk in the Fra Mauro region of the moon. Command module pilot Ken Mattingly falls victim to a medical condition, leaving NASA to make a rare substitution, rotating the backup crew’s command module pilot, Jack Swigert, to the prime crew prior to launch.

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 13: “Houston, we’ve had a problem”

Apollo 13Halfway between Earth and the moon, a fuel cell rupture in the Apollo 13 service module causes a massive explosion. The crew has to activate the landing module, Aquarius, to use it as a “lifeboat”; the oxygen and power reserves of the command module, Odyssey, have been compromised by the explosion and must be preserved for re-entry. The crew endures extreme cold and must ration consumables to survive. Fortunately, there’s enough fuel in Aquarius’ descent stage to put the combined vehicle on a free-return trajectory, looping it around the far side of the moon for an immediate return to Earth.

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 13 returns home

Apollo 13Having become the stuff of round-the-clock news coverage (though few media outlets bothered to cover any aspects of the mission before the emergency took place), the reactivated Apollo 13 command module Odyssey successfully reenters Earth’s atmosphere and returns its crew safely. (The lunar module, Aquarius, has been discarded in Earth orbit, where it eventually disintegrates, upon reentry; rather than landing on the moon, its fuel and air reserves have served the much more important function of keeping the crew alive.)

This mission is dramatized in both the We Interrupt This Mission episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon, as well as the 1995 movie Apollo 13.

Apollo 18 & 19 cancelled

ApolloAfter the Congressional budget for the fiscal year of 1971 delivers a major blow to the budget for continued space exploration, NASA cancels Apollo 18 and 19, having already taken Apollo 20 off the schedule to use its Saturn V to launch a space station into Earth orbit. Both lunar landing missions are scrapped purely due to budgetary concerns, rather than to repurpose their hardware for other missions. The Saturn V rockets constructed to send these two missions to the moon become very large, expensive museum pieces. Barring any changes to crew rosters or destination, Apollo 18 would have taken Dick Gordon, Vance Brand and Harrison Schmitt to Copernicus crater, while Apollo 19 would have seen astronauts Fred Haise, William Pogue and Gerald Carr exploring the Hadley Rille, which became Apollo 15’s destination.

Apollo 14: back in business

Apollo 14After nearly a year of examining the problems that nearly doomed the crew of Apollo 13, the third lunar landing is achieved by the crew of Apollo 14, commanded by Alan Shepard, the only one of the seven original Mercury astronauts to walk on the moon; lunar module pilot Edgar Mitchell joins him on the surface while Stu Roosa orbits in the command module Kitty Hawk. The Apollo 14 lunar module, Antares, makes the most accurate landing of the Apollo program in the Fra Mauro highlands (the landing site originally assigned to Apollo 13), where soil samples are collected, instruments are deployed, and Shepard becomes the first human being to hit a golf ball on the moon.

Apollo 15

Apollo 15The Apollo 15 mission lifts off, carrying astronauts David Scott, James Irwin and Al Worden on a 12-day mission to the moon and back. Aboard the lunar module Falcon, Scott and Irwin become, respectively, the seventh and eighth men to walk on the moon, exploring the mountainous Hadley Rille region, while Worden pilots the command/service module Endeavour. The service module for this mission is equipped with a suite of sensors and instruments designed to be exposed to space in lunar orbit. Scott and Irwin become the first men to drive on the moon, covering over seven miles in the first lunar rover “moon buggy.”

This mission is dramatized in the Galileo Was Right episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo 16

Apollo 16NASA launches the Apollo 16 mission to the moon, lasting 11 days total. Astronauts John Young and Charlie Duke descend to the lunar surface in the lander Orion, while Ken Mattingly pilots the command/service module Casper in orbit. Again, a lunar rover is tucked into one side of the lunar module, allowing Young and Duke to reach distances of 16 miles from their landing site. They spend a total of 20 hours walking on the moon’s surface, collecting over 200 pounds of soil and rock samples from the Descartes highlands region.

This mission is dramatized in the Original Wives’ Club episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Apollo: the Shuttle’s lifeboat?

Space Shuttle with Apollo capsuleSpace shuttle contractor North American Rockwell submits a safety study to NASA concerning safety and escape systems for the upcoming space shuttle, including a study of smaller vehicles with potential use as “lifeboats” in the event that a shuttle is unfit for return to Earth due to heat shield or other catastrophic damage. The various proposals, which include the possibility of permanently berthing an Apollo command module (another vehicle contracted to North American Rockwell) in the shuttle’s cargo bay for use as a lifeboat, are rejected by NASA due to the impact that each proposal would have on available space and weight for cargo.

Apollo 17: the last man on the moon

Apollo 17The final manned lunar landing mission lifts off atop a Saturn V rocket. Apollo 17 is the first mission to include a qualified geologist, Harrison Schmitt, in its crew; Gene Cernan and Schmitt descend to the surface aboard the lunar lander Challenger, where the last two men to walk on the moon spend a total of 22 hours exploring the Taurus-Littrow valley. For the third mission in a row, a lunar rover is stowed into one side of the lander. Astronaut Ron Evans orbits overhead in the command/service module America. The astronauts return on December 19th, bringing home nearly 250 pounds of lunar soil and rock samples.

This mission is dramatized in the La Voyage Dans La Lune episode of HBO’s 1998 series From The Earth To The Moon.

Skylab 2: save the station!

SkylabThe first three-man Skylab crew lifts off to undertake a mission far different from the one for which they had trained. Their primary objective is now to save the crippled station from the damage it suffered during launch; as it is, Skylab is uninhabitable, with temperatures in its workshop and crew quarters soaring above 100 degrees, threatening to heat up items inside enough to fill the space with toxic gases. The first repair spacewalk takes place less than 24 hours after the crew arrives in an Apollo capsule, and succeeds in starting to drop the temperature inside.

Skylab 2: mission accomplished

SkylabHaving repaired and secured the damaged Skylab over the course of three spacewalks, the space station’s first three-man crew leaves the station and returns to Earth after 28 days in space, experiencing gravity after nearly a month of zero-G.

The first Skylab crew’s stay in space sets a new record, twice as long as the previous longest American manned spaceflight, Gemini 7 in 1965.

Skylab 3

Skylab 3With the first Skylab crew having salvaged the first American space station, the second crew – designated Skylab 3 – lifts off for another long-term stay in space. Alan Bean, Jack Lousma and Owen Garriott spend 59 days aboard Skylab, performing a spacewalk to conduct further repairs to their damaged space station, investigating the effects of long-duration weightlessness and space travel on the human body, and observing the sun through Skylab’s solar telescope system. A thruster leak in the Apollo command/service module forces NASA to consider a rescue mission.

Skylab rescue mission prepared

Skylab Rescue at KSCA thruster leak in the Skylab 3 crew’s Apollo command/service module forces NASA to consider a Skylab Rescue mission using a modified five-seater Apollo vehicle, mounted atop a Saturn IB and rolled out to the pad in readiness for the emergency flight. NASA brings in enough engineers and employees to have shifts working around the clock, seven days a week, to get the emergency mission ready for launch on September 9th. The thruster issue is later resolved, and the first-ever planned space rescue mission stands down. Astronauts Vance Brand and Don Lind are assigned to the rescue mission; both men later flew the Space Shuttle, though Brand will also fly in the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. The modified command/service module and Saturn rocket are retained in case a rescue is needed for the final Skylab flight, and then as an Apollo-Soyuz backup vehicle, before being retired and displayed at the Smithsonian and Kennedy Space Center.

Skylab 4

Skylab 4The third and final crew of the first American space station, Skylab 4, lifts off for an 84-day stay. The crew’s tasks include medical and biological experiments, solar observations (including the first space-based recording of solar flare origination), and observations of Comet Kohoutek. Crewmembers Gerald Carr, William Pogue and Edward Gibson have a frank discussion with ground controllers about their extremely busy work schedule (similar to heated discussions between Apollo 7’s crew and Houston) halfway through the nearly-three-month mission. Skylab is left powered down, but still habitable, at the end of the crew’s stay, in anticipation that future Space Shuttle crews will someday occupy Skylab.

Apollo-Soyuz and Soyuz 19

Apollo-SoyuzThe final launch of an Apollo spacecraft takes place as the last Saturn rocket carries the American component of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project into orbit. A cooperative international mission intended to see the Apollo capsule dock with a Soviet-launched Soyuz, the ASTP will be the last Apollo flight as the push toward the reusable Space Shuttle takes over NASA’s resources and planning. Aboard the Apollo command/service module are Commander Thomas Stafford, command module pilot Vance Brand, and docking module pilot Deke Slayton, the last of the seven original Mercury astronauts to reach space (heart conditions have prevented him from taking part in a mission until now). Soyuz 19, carrying cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Valery Kubasov, lifts off a few hours earlier.

Apollo’s final descent danger

Apollo-SoyuzThe “age of Apollo” comes to an unbreathable end in an incident during the return of the final Apollo spacecraft. Returning from their successful Apollo-Soyuz Test Project flight, astronauts Thomas Stafford, Deke Slayton and Vance Brand are exposed to fumes from their vehicle’s own reaction control thrusters, thanks to the thrusters firing after the capsule’s air vents open during descent toward the Pacific Ocean. Brand reportedly passes out momentarily due to the toxic fumes. All three astronauts are hospitalized for two weeks in Hawaii.

Pete Conrad, astronaut, dies

Pete Conrad, spacewalkingPete Conrad, the Apollo 12 commander who was the third human to walk on the moon, dies at the age of 69 from injuries suffered in a motorcycle accident. Conrad went to the moon in November 1969, and flew two earlier Gemini missions, one of which was a new human endurance record at the time. Conrad later went on to set a new record for time spent by a human in space (28 days, unprecedented at the time) in 1973 as a member of the first Skylab crew. Conrad and fellow Skylab astronaut Joseph Kerwin performed an extended and very hazardous spacewalk to repair the station, which had been heavily damaged during launch a few weeks before its crew arrived.

One giant can of whoop-ass for mankind

Get 'em BuzzAs Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin leaves a speaking engagement in Beverly Hills, a self-proclaimed skeptic accosts him, demanding that the astronaut swear on the Bible that he actually went to the moon. With a Japanese news crew’s cameras rolling, Aldrin proceeds to punch the man in the face. The heckler and self-proclaimed “ambush journalist” tries to file assault charges, though police decide in Aldrin’s favor – especially since this is the third time the man has ambushed Aldrin with his theory that all of the Apollo flights to the moon were hoaxes.

Apollo rides again?

Apollo command moduleLast flown in the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission, the Apollo command/service module is – briefly – given strong consideration by NASA to serve as a “lifeboat” for the crew of the International Space Station, even to the point of conducting a study about un-mothballing the surviving unused Apollo hardware sitting in museums around the world. Part of the reason for this unusual study is that NASA’s budget has run out for finding a workable solution to keeping a “lifeboat” available to station astronauts in the anticipated long gap before the Space Shuttle’s return to service. Ultimately, even the seemingly unthinkable return of Apollo is nixed, since at least a Saturn IB booster would need to be similarly refitted – at huge expense – to lift a 30-year-old Apollo capsule into space.

The longest-serving astronaut retires

Gemini 3A veteran of the Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs, 74-year-old astronaut John Young retires from NASA, capping off a 42-year career with the space agency. Young joined NASA in 1962 after hearing President Kennedy’s historic directive to launch a manned mission to the moon, and only three years later Young flew with Mercury veteran Gus Grissom on Gemini 3, the first manned two-person NASA mission. Young commanded Gemini 10 in 1966, was the command module pilot for the moon-orbiting Apollo 10 mission, and in 1972, Young commanded Apollo 16, landing in the moon’s mountainous Descartes region. Young commanded the first space shuttle mission, the maiden flight of Columbia in 1981, and commanded the ninth shuttle flight in 1983. Young had also served as the Chief Astronaut, determining crew assignments and making personnel decisions. In the wake of the Challenger disaster in 1986, Young became one of NASA’s most outspoken critics, and was reassigned to the position of special assistant for engineering, operations and safety – a move he regarded as a political one.

Saturn V F-1 engine revived for tests

Saturn V engineNASA recalls an actual 1960s F-1 engine – of which clusters of five once launched the mighty Saturn V rockets during the Apollo lunar program – from the Smithsonian for refurbishment and, for the first time in over four decades, re-firing on a test stand at Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama. NASA engineers examine the properties of the F-1 engine – whose performance still outrates the engines used during the Space Shuttle program – to learn how to improve the J-2X engines planned for use in the first stage of the SLS (Space Launch System) booster that will launch Orion vehicles.

Ed Mitchell, Apollo 14 astronaut, dies

Astronaut Ed MitchellOn the eve of the 45th anniversary of the Apollo 14 moon landing, astronaut Edgar “Ed” Mitchell dies at the age of 85. The sixth human being to set foot on the moon, Mitchell accompanied Alan Shepard to the lunar surface aboard the Apollo 14 lander. Following his visit to the moon, Mitchell had become interested in researching human consciousness and extra-sensory perception, but later surrounded himself with controversy by claiming that he was certain that UFOs had visited Earth.

Gene Cernan, Apollo 17 astronaut, dies

Gene CernanApollo 17 Commander Eugene Cernan, the last human to leave the surface of the moon in the 20th century, dies at the age of 82. One of the members of NASA’s second astronaut class, recruited in 1963 to take part in the Gemini program, Cernan first flew into space aboard Gemini 9 in 1966, a mission in which he became the second American spacewalker, though his assigned tasks outside the Gemini spacecraft proved to be dangerously exhausting. His second flight, as the lunar module pilot for Apollo 10, saw him flying a lunar lander to within miles of the moon’s surface in May 1969, a dress rehearsal for the upcoming Apollo 11 mission. He commanded the final Apollo moon landing mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972, where he earned the title of “last man on the moon” by being the last astronaut to leave the lunar surface to re-enter the Apollo 17 lander. He later wrote an autobiography about his spaceflight experiences, and was frequently outspoken about his disappointment that no one walked on the moon again in his lifetime.