Friday, November 22, 2013

Apollo Spaceflight


The Apollo program, one of the most famous in American history, was the third human spaceflight program which was carried out by National Aeronautics and Space Administration NASA, the United State’s civilian space agency and was responsible for the landing of the first humans on the Earth’s Moon in 1969. It was first conceived during the time of Presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower with a three man spacecraft followed by one man Project Mercury putting the first Americans in space. Apollo later on was dedicated to President, John F. Kennedy’s national goal of landing a man on the Moon and bringing him back safely to Earth towards the end of 1960 when he proposed an address to Congress in May 25, 1961. Project Mercury was then followed by two-man Project Gemini between 1962–1966 and the first manned flight of Apollo was in the year 1968 and Kennedy’s goal was finally accomplished on the Apollo 11 mission when astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed their LM, Lunar Module on the Moon on July 20, 1969 and walked on its surface while Michael Collins stayed in lunar orbit in the command spacecraft and thereafter, all three landed safely back to Earth on July 24.

After this, five subsequent Apollo missions also landed astronauts on the Moon the last being in December 1972 and it included a large number of uncrewed test missions and 12 crewed missions: Apollo 7, 9 and Apollo Soyuz, three Earth orbiting missions with two lunar orbiting missions – Apollo 8 and 10, a lunar swing-by Apollo 13 together with 6 Moon landing missions Apollo 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, and 17. Two astronauts from each of these six missions walked on the moon and were the only humans who had the opportunity to set foot on another planet in the solar system. They were Neil Armstrong, Edwin Aldrin, Charles Conrad, Alan Bean, Alan Shepard, Edgar Mitchell, David Scott, James Irwin, John Young, Charles Duke, Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt. The twelve men, who walked on the Moon between 1969 and 1972, came back with around 1/3 ton of moon rocks with the total funding for the Apollo program was approximately $20,443,600,000. Apollo 15, 16 and 17 provided important data with regards to geological features and enabled the formation of theories in accordance to the formation of the moon’s core, crust and mantle. The Apollo mission started with Apollo 1 also known as Apollo 204 with crew Edward White, Virgil Grissom and Roger Chaffee. It was destroyed on January 27, 1967 and planned launched was on February 21, 1967.

Apollo 1
Apollo 1 faced the worst tragedies of spaceflight when the crew in Apollo Command Module was killed in a fire during a preflight test at Cape Canaveral and was training for the first Apollo flight, an Earth orbiting mission which was planned for February 21. While they were taking part in plug out test, where the Command Module was mounted on the Saturn 18 of the launch pad as they normally do for actual launch, the Saturn 18 was not fueled and the plan had to go through an entire countdown sequence. Several minor problems propped up delaying the test with failure in communication taking place which forced a hold in the count at 5.40 pm. At 6:31, when one of the astronauts reported a fire in the cockpit, which spread in the entire cabin within a span of few minutes, the last crew communication was heard 17 seconds after the fire had started and they faced loss of telemetry.

Since the cabin had pure oxygen atmosphere at normal pressure for the test, the oxygen had circulated in the cabin resulting in spreading the fire rapidly in the cabin and the astronauts with no chance to open the hatch though the technician made attempts to open the hatch but were unable to do so due to the heat and the smoke. Moreover the Apollo hatch could only be opened from inside which were closed by a number of latches which needed to be operated by ratchets. Besides, it was also held closed by the interior pressure which was much higher than the outside atmospheric pressure and required venting of the command module before opening the hatch and the process of opening the hatch took 90 seconds under an ideal condition. All these problems that came up disabled the technicians in reaching the astronauts and by the time they succeeded in getting the hatch opened, approximately 5 minutes after the fire had broken off, the astronauts had perished due to the smoke inhalation and burns within the first 30 seconds.

A detailed investigation was made on the accident and the Apollo program was kept on hold for some time and the conclusion they arrived at was, that it was the most likely cause that there could be a spark from short circuit in a bundle of wires which ran in front of Grissom’s seat towards the left and with flammable material present in the cabin together with the oxygen environment that enabled the fire to break out and spread quickly. A good many suggestions came up after this event, which included designing a new hatch which could be opened outward and quickly. Removing flammable material and replacing them with fire extinguisher, making nitrogen oxygen mixture at launch together with recordings of all changes and checking all modifications to spacecraft designs more intently.

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