Quick overview of the Apollo program ...
The Apollo program was based on the idea of processing one step at a time, aach one of the mission (from 7 to 17) bringing more knowledge, expertise and tests than the previous and this, starting with the first manned mission. Here's the major accomplishments of the missions leading to the first moon landing:
As an engineering flight, Apollo VII spent 11 days in LEO (Low earth orbit) performing check-out and test of the CSM (Command and Service Module). Docking simulations were also performed with the S-IVB stage as well as several rendez-vous.
Apollo VIII is well known for being the first human flight to orbit the moon, but its main goal was to gain operational experience and further testing of the CSM and S-IVB. A few scientific tasks were also performed by the crew (as well as navigation using stars). In fact, this mission wasn't really planned to reach the moon but because of delay in the LM (Lunar Module) flight readiness, the initial mission was pushed back and new goals sets.
During the 10 days they spent in LEO, the 3 members of the Apollo IX crew did a record number of firsts:
- first docking and extraction of the LM from the S-IVB
- first manned flight of the LM
- first undocking, rendez-vous and re-docking of the CSM and LM
- first Apollo's EVA (Extra-Vehicular Activity)
Mostly known as a dress re-hearse-al for the lunar landing attempt planned for the next mission, Apollo X brought the crew, the CSM and the LM all the way in moon orbit where both spacecraft were tested some more, including rendez-vous and solo flight of the LM.
What was accomplished in Apollo XI was made possible by all the missions that were staged before. The crew took on where Apollo X left off and landed the LM on the moon, following this by over 2 hours of EVA on the surface. The next missions, far from just been some rerun were following the same step-by-step method that so well characterise the Apollo program. I will talk about them later in this blog (read: in a few years).
Obviously, most of what needed to be known in term of spaceflight (orbit, re-entry, rendez-vous, EVA ...) was worked out during the pre-Apollo programs, so this is something that will need to be taken into consideration when divising my own program in the following days/weeks...