The Apollo Command Module Was A Difficult Nut To Crack.

by Daniel Russ on February 20, 2016


Creating the Lunar Command Module was the primary mission of NASA flight engineers in 1961. The Soviets were ahead in the space race. They had launched the first artificial satellite. They had put a man in space and brought him back safely.


Not us.


So we made due with the rocket boosters we had: the nuclear warhead delivery vehicles. So the Cold War provided the necessary tools of destruction, and science was the impetus behind pounding these swords into ploughshares. On July 2nd, 1961, Gus Grissom was the first American to orbit the Earth, launched in a rocket originally built for something else.


When Grissom came down in the ocean, the Mercury space module blew the door open and took on water during the rescue and Grissom was moments away from a watery demise.


The original idea to reach space was in a craft not unlike the X-15, basically a high-powered rocket with wings on it. They wanted people to climb into the air and fly out of the atmosphere. It wouldn’t make sense at the end of the day to fly into space that way.


The Command Module had to house: Propulsion, electrical power, a heat shield, oxygen production and circulation, clean water, food supply and storage, waste management, thrust controls, hygiene, shaving facilities, sleeping, and protection against micrometeorites.


Problems existed with three men living in close quarters for two weeks. The module had to be big enough to allow some easy movement and a tiny modicum of privacy for the men. The command module also had to weigh little enough to lift it off the ground. So the idea was then that the command module would become the tiny flight capsule and the cylindrical service module would house all the necessities. Some technical problems were easily solved. Battery power would be provided by hydrogen fuel cells that also produced good clean drinking water.


So the new command module would be a pilots cockpit, have solar power, some fuel cells as back up and it’s shape was optimized for water landings. This sat atop the service module and that sat atop a series of boosters that carried 300,000 tons of fuel.


An emergency launch escape rocket sat atop the command module that would yank the astronauts off the rocket should anything go wrong.


The almost disastrous recovery of Grissom from the Mercury splashdown prompted NASA officials to put pressurized air into the chamber so it would not allow water in accidentally. The air was pure O2.


During a routine systems check on January 27th, 1967, Gus Grissom, Chaffe and Ed White were strapped in, suited up and going through procedures. A spark caused a fire and all three perished. This is why testing is so necessary to creating high technology. We know the rest of the story. This was simply a bump in the process we often forget.




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Louis October 13, 2017 at 5:03 am

Well, to get Gagarin into space, the Soviets did the same: take an ICBM and tinker with it, until it lifts someone into space.

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