Apollo 9 Mission Overview
The Apollo 9 lunar module, Spider, in Earth orbit.
Apollo 9, with Commander James McDivitt, Command Module Pilot David Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot Russell “Rusty” Schweickart, launched on March 3, 1969, to test the lunar module (LM), nicknamed Spider, in Earth orbit. The first two days of the mission focused on tests of the Command and Service Modules (CSM), nicknamed Gumdrop. This included multiple long firings of the service module main engine to test the dynamical response of the combined CSM-LM system, including possible structural oscillations. On flight day 3, McDivitt and Schweickart performed 8 hours of activity in Spider. This included multiple firings of Spider’s descent engine, testing the ability to control the engine thrust both automatically and manually, as would be needed for future lunar landings. There were also tests of the landing and rendezvous radars and a 5-minute-long television broadcast from inside Spider. On flight day 4, Schweickart performed a 47-minute-long spacewalk on the external platform of Spider. This provided a test of the space suits that would be used on future moon walks. During this time, Scott stood in the open side hatch of Gumdrop to observe Schweickart’s activities.
The principal objective of the mission was achieved on flight day 5. While Scott remained in Gumdrop, McDivitt and Schweickart undocked in Spider to perform a 6 hour 23-minute-long flight. During the initial portion of this flight, Spider’s descent engine was again tested. After detaching the descent stage, the ascent engine was fired, simulating the rendezvous and docking sequence planned for use in lunar orbit. After McDivitt and Schweickart returned to Gumdrop, Spider’s ascent stage was discarded. During the remaining flight days, the crew focused on photography of various targets in the United States, Africa, Brazil, and Mexico using film that was sensitive to different wavelengths of visible and near infrared light. These observations were used for planning future experiments during the Skylab program. The crew landed in the Atlantic Ocean north of Puerto Rico on March 13 after a flight of ten days and one hour.