Apollo 7 space mission

Walter M. Schirra, Jr.
CSM Pilot
Donn F. Eisele
LM Pilot
R. Walter Cunningham

Launch: Saturn 1B, AS-205
Landing (E): October 11, 1968, 11:02:45 a.m. EST
Duration: October 22, 1968, 7:11 a.m. EST
Recovery: 10 days, 20 hrs, 8 mins
Altitude (E): less than 2 km, U.S.S. Essex
Orbits (E): 140 x 183 miles
CSM: 163
Rocket: CSM-101

The primary objectives for the Apollo 7 engineering test flight, were simple: "Demonstrate CSM/crew performance; demonstrate crew/space vehicle/mission support facilities performance during a manned CSM mission; demonstrate CSM rendezvous capability."

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 about ten minutes later an elliptical orbit had been achieved, 140 by 183 miles above the Earth.

The service module engine performance was satisfying. This was one area where the crew could not switch to a redundant or backup system. At crucial times during a future 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 lasting from half a second to 67.6 seconds.

The ghost of Apollo 1 was exorcised forever as the new Block II Apollo vehicle and the CSM performed superbly. However, 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.

About 15 hours into the flight, Schirra developed a bad cold, and Cunningham and Eisele soon followed suit. A cold is uncomfortable enough here on earth but in the weightlessness of 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. 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 build-up of pressure might burst their eardrums. Schirra told his crew that they would make re-entry without their helmets on. Slayton, in mission control, tried to persuade them to wear the helmets but Schirra was adamant and felt he was ultimately responsible as commander on the flight. 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.

Apollo's flotation bags had their first try-out when the spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic southeast of Bermuda, less than two kilometres from the planned impact point and promptly turned upside down. When inflated, the brightly coloured bags flipped the command module upright. The crew was deposited on the deck of the U.S.S. Essex by 8:20 am EDT.

The crews defiance to not wear their helmets during re-entry was a costly one. The entire crew was "tarred and feathered" due to the actions of Schirra. He had announced his retirement before the flight and didn't care what anyone thought. Eisele and Cunningham were making their first flight and felt they had to follow their commander but, because of their actions, neither one would ever fly in space again.