Apollo 7 Mission Overview
Apollo 7 used the empty upper stage of its booster as a rendezvous target.
Apollo 7, the first Apollo mission with a human crew, was launched on October 11, 1968, for an Earth orbital mission. Walter “Wally” Schirra was Commander, Donn Eisele was Command Module Pilot, and Walter Cunningham was Lunar Module Pilot, although Apollo 7 had no Lunar Module. The principal objective of the mission was to thoroughly test all of the systems on the Command and Service Modules in preparation for the more complex missions that would follow.
During the first two days of the mission, the crew used the empty S-IVB upper stage of their booster rocket as a rendezvous target. On day 1, the crew used a target on the S-IVB to perform a simulated docking with the Lunar Module, which would be carried at the top of the S-IVB on future missions. After separating from the rocket by 90 miles, on day 2 Apollo 7 performed a series of maneuvers to return to a distance of just 70 feet and fly around the S-IVB. This demonstrated that the Command Module could be used to rescue the Lunar Module ascent stage in case there was a problem with the Lunar Module after returning from the Moon’s surface to lunar orbit. Throughout the mission, the crew performed a total of 8 test firings of the Service Module’s main engine. The longest test lasted 67 seconds and took Apollo 7 to an altitude of 280 miles. The crew also extensively tested the spacecraft navigation system and found that they could track the S-IVB stage out to a distance of 1000 miles using the sextant in the navigation system. The Apollo Command Module carried a radar transponder that allowed it to be tracked by the Lunar Module. On Apollo 7, ground radar was able to track the radar transponder to a distance of 475 miles.
During the latter part of the mission, the crew focused on photography of a variety of preplanned targets, including of Hurricane Gladys and Typhoon Gloria. The crew also made the first television broadcasts from space, making a total of 7 broadcasts, each about 10 minutes long, showing various aspects of life inside the spacecraft. After a total of 163 orbits and a flight of 10 days 20 hours, the crew landed in the Atlantic Ocean near Bermuda. Despite the fact that all three crewmembers had head colds for most of their time in orbit, the flight was considered a complete success, achieving virtually all of its objectives. The success of Apollo 7 paved the way for Apollo 8’s flight to the Moon just two months later.