Apollo 9 had two primary objectives. First was to test command module and lunar module rendezvous, docking and reentry functions in Earth orbit. To this end, several SPS engine firings took place along with tracking landmarks, experiments and photography tasks performed by its crew.
Armstrong kept a cloth bag of LM parts hidden for decades before his widow donated it to the Smithsonian Institution.
Apollo 9 launched from Kennedy Space Center LC 39A on 3 March 1969 as NASA’s third Apollo program mission and first demonstration of a complete spacecraft system for Moon landing. Over its 10-day low Earth orbit duration, this mission tested descent, ascent and rendezvous propulsion systems as well as docking capabilities between CSM and LM required for successful lunar landing.
Launch was initially scheduled for February 28, but due to an illness among crewmembers it was delayed until 0300 GMT (8:00 am EST) whereupon countdown resumed at 0100 GMT (0800 am EST). Once S-IVB third stage separated from command/service module, Lunar Module (LM) jettisoned from SLA attached to it and its descent engine fired for 467 seconds before maneuvering towards rendezvous orbit for rendezvous and docking with CSM Service Propulsion System (SPS) firing four times during its journey before docking with CSM Service Propulsion System (SPS).
On March 6, Schweickart went outside the LM for an EVA (extravehicular activity). He tested out his new Apollo spacesuit – the first with its own life support system – as he took photographs and described rain squalls over KSC from within LM. Unfortunately, due to space sickness effects he returned inside after 46 minutes only having gone a short distance from its hatch.
Apollo 9 continued its work on the Lunar Module’s descent, ascent, navigation and life support systems; including testing a new emergency backup power source. Schweickart and Scott began training to use its navigation and control systems prior to lunar landing; during this period it earned itself its name of Gumdrop due to its blue wrappings during shipping. On 13 March 1969 after 151 revolutions of flight testing the crew splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean near Puerto Rico near Puerto Rico for recovery by the USS Guadalcanal recovery vessel before splashdown into Puerto Rico where they were collected by USS Guadalcanal recovery vessel before splashdown took place 151 revolutions before splashdown and recovery by USS Guadalcanal recovery vessel for retrieval by USS Guadalcanal recovery vessel USS Guadalcanal recovery vessel USS Guadalcanal vessel collected them on 13 March 1969 by USS Guadalcanal recovery vessel USS Guadalcanal vessel after which crew of Apollo 9 splashed down near Puerto Rico on 13 March ’69 and were picked up by recovery vessel USS Guadalcanal.
This 10-day mission was the inaugural crewed flight of the lunar module (LM), serving as a dress rehearsal for Apollo 10 that would eventually take Armstrong and Aldrin around the Moon and back again. Its primary objectives included testing its systems as well as docking/dedocking maneuvers in earth orbit; as well as showing that both modules were capable of supporting astronauts on lunar surfaces – all successfully achieved by Commander James McDivitt, CM Pilot David Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot Russell Schweickart completing all these objectives successfully.
The CM, a cylindrical vehicle measuring 3.9 meters in diameter and 7.6 meters long, housed astronaut living quarters and spacecraft control sections for their living quarters and spacecraft control functions. It was attached to the LM via milled aluminum radial beams and docking tunnel, and during their mission conducted two series of telecasts to Earth as well as multispectral terrain photographs.
On March 5, McDivitt and Schweickart entered the LM through its docking tunnel, conducted system evaluations, evaluated their systems, and transmitted one of two telecasts. During a 37-minute extravehicular activity (EVA), they carried out various maneuvers such as walking between hatches of both units, moving on handrails, photographing Earth landscapes, photographing handrails with handrails attached and taking photographs with handheld digital cameras. On reentry Schweickart conducted an experiment that tested transmission capabilities of descent propulsion systems from ground controllers during reentry reentry.
After spending three and a half hours exploring the lunar surface, McDivitt and Schweickart returned to their Lunar Module (LM) and fired its descent engine, sending it into orbit at 14.5 kilometers with an altitude of 14.7 kilometers. At 11:15 AM local time on July 16, 1969, nearly one billion people watched McDivitt and Schweickart undock from their command module and begin powered descent toward Site 2. Their landing in the Sea of Tranquility at Site 2 happened perfectly according to preflight predictions and included an extended powered engine burn due to translation maneuvers necessary to avoid an obstacle on lunar craters.
Armstrong and Aldrin followed an exhaustive checklist when they embarked upon their lunar landing mission, one of the more well-known items being their call back to Houston to report “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind”. A significant portion of work across Apollo was performed manually – for instance applying heat shields by hand while sewing and folding parachutes by hand were two notable tasks that required manual labor.
After a long flight, Apollo 9 successfully docked their command module and lunar module – marking a first in human history! – successfully. This docking test ensured safe transfer between Gumdrop (Command Module) and Spider (Lander). In addition, this was also an opportunity to practice docking maneuvers that would occur upon final lunar landing of mission.
As Schweickart entered his suit, motion sickness struck. This put their mission at risk as vomiting would need to occur within its tight confines and risked choke-back if vomitting was performed too frequently – potentially endangering Schweickart himself in addition to any mission success.
James McDivitt was also feeling well, so they managed to enter and close up the hatch on their LM, then wait out several manoeuvres that needed to take place before leaving again.
A fourth firing of the SPS engine took only 110 seconds and produced oscillations that were one-third to one-half as large as expected during training. Sixteen hours after this short burst, crew performed another propulsion system burn lasting over two minutes that required gimbaling the engine.
This was a difficult challenge for both crew members, as it involved shifting their orbit around Earth by more than a third and forcing the LM away from and then back towards CSM before firing its descent and ascent engines for descent and ascent. This was one of several test flights conducted before making an actual lunar landing attempt.
After an intensive day of manoeuvres, the CSM and LM were detached from the S-IVB stage, transposed, and docked together. Following this step, an extensive checkout was performed on both spacecraft regarding rendezvous and docking procedures similar to what would occur during lunar landing operations.
Over their ten-day journey into space, Commander James McDivitt, Command Module Pilot David Randolph Scott and Lunar Module Pilot Russell Louis “Rusty” Schweickart thoroughly tested every system essential for a successful Moon landing. In particular, these astronauts tested out the lunar module’s engine, docking maneuvers, and other essential systems necessary for landing on the Moon.
Three days after launch, the crew began practicing docking procedures by firing the lunar module service propulsion system and successfully docking with the command module without using Earth-to-space laser communications link. They made two live broadcasts from both modules – which they called Gumdrop and Spider for their similarity to spiderwebs – as well as Schweickart trying out his new Apollo spacesuit equipped with backpack life support that eliminated umbilical cables; unfortunately during an EVA however he fell sick during EVA and had to return inside instead.
On the sixth day, Schweickart donned a special helmet fitted with cameras and display panel for communications with flight controllers in Houston. He conducted a 47-minute EVA while also testing his portable life support system (PLSS). His EVA was successful – depressurizing lunar module cabin and using his PLSS to operate spacecraft’s auxiliary power unit and solar array were accomplished as well as daystar and landmark sightings in daylight conditions.
Schweickart conducted tests of the Lunar Module descent engines by flying it up to an unfavorable distance from Gumdrop and then jettisoning its descent stage, providing evidence that this craft would allow future landers to safely land onto its surface.
Finally, the astronauts performed separation and redocking maneuvers between their command module and LM. They successfully undocked from each other before redocking successfully; this demonstrated that the Apollo system would work according to plan on the Moon. After another five-day orbit that simulated how long an LM might take to return home from its lunar mission, Schweickart fired its ascent engine which carried them back to their command module before they redocked with it after disengaging from their lander.