BORING HOLES IN THE SKY

AS-205 lifted off from Pad 34 at 15:02:45 GMT on 11 October 1968 to fly the ‘C’ mission. Flown by Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham, Apollo 7 was

to be open-ended up to 11 days and its purpose was to assess the performance of the Block II spacecraft.

The ascent phase was nominal and the S-IVB achieved a 123 x 152-nautical mile orbit. Prior to separating from the spent stage, the crew temporarily took command of the Instrument Unit and manually manoeuvred the combined vehicle in pitch, roll, and yaw, then they returned control to the launch vehicle. By the time the spacecraft separated at 002:55:02.40, venting of S-IVB propellants had raised the orbit to 123 x 170 nautical miles. The spacecraft moved clear, flipped and moved back in as if to retrieve the LM (which was absent). Since one of the four panels of the SLA had not fully deployed, it was decided that in future the panels would be jettisoned. One of the primary objectives was to demonstrate Apollo’s rendezvous capability using the spent stage as the target. At Schirra’s insistence, one man was awake at all times to monitor the spacecraft’s systems, even though the ongoing work made sleeping difficult. The rendezvous rehearsal was successfully achieved on the second day.

Although this was the first US spacecraft to have sufficient habitable volume for a man to leave his couch and move around, the crew suffered no disorientation in the weightless state, despite efforts to induce motion sickness. However, all three men developed head colds early on, making them grumpy, and in-flight TV, which was a secondary objective, provided a focus for their frustration. When the monochrome camera was finally switched on, however, it delivered excellent results and the crew played up to their audience. But it was a long and tedious flight of monitoring the systems to evaluate their performance, always prepared to intervene in the event of a problem. In fact, it was an exercise in would later be derided as “boring holes in the sky’’.

At 11:11:48 GMT on 22 October the command module splashed in the Atlantic 1.9 nautical miles from the target point. It initially assumed an apex-down attitude, but was soon turned apex-up by the inflatable bags on its nose. The astronauts were retrieved by helicopter and arrived on USS Essex an hour later.

The Apollo 7 mission was successful in every respect, with the service propulsion system firing perfectly eight times. Indeed, afterwards Schirra described the flight as a “101 per cent success’’. In combination with previous missions and ground tests, it certified the CSM for use in Earth orbit and for tests in the cislunar and lunar orbital environments.

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