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Apollo 7

The first crewed Apollo mission

Distance traveled
7,317,556 km
Launch Date
11 Oct 1968
Landing Date
22 Oct 1968
Destination
Earth orbit

Apollo 7 was the first crewed spaceflight of the Apollo program. On 11 Oct 1968, Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham blasted into Earth orbit atop a Saturn IB rocket. There, they spent almost 11 days testing out the Apollo command and service module, which would carry future astronauts to the Moon. One test involved a rendezvous with their rocket's discarded upper stage, to simulate extracting the lunar module. The mission ended 22 Oct 1968 with a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.

Apollo 7 launch

NASA

Apollo 7 launch
A Saturn IB rocket lifts off to start the Apollo 7 mission on 11 Oct 1968, carrying Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham into orbit.

One of the biggest successes of the mission was showing the service module engine could fire reliably after long periods of time in space. This was a crucial step before taking it to lunar orbit; if it failed to work there, the crew would be stranded.

Wally Schirra during Apollo 7

NASA

Wally Schirra during Apollo 7
Donn Eisele during Apollo 7

NASA

Donn Eisele during Apollo 7
Walter Cunningham during Apollo 7

NASA

Walter Cunningham during Apollo 7

The shakedown cruise also revealed a few problems that were corrected for future flights. One of the flower petal-like panels on the Saturn upper stage failed to open all the way, which could have prevented future crews from extracting the lunar module. Explosive bolts were added for later missions. Some of the fuel cells, which provide power to the astronauts, overheated; this could be disastrous if the crew was too far from Earth to return on batteries. Additionally, some of the command module windows fogged up due to improperly cured sealant.

Apollo 7 rendezvous training

NASA

Apollo 7 rendezvous training
During the Apollo 7 mission, astronauts approached the upper stage of their Saturn IB rocket to simulate extracting the lunar module during later missions.

The mission also featured some minor clashes between the astronauts and mission control. All three crew members developed head colds, and commander Wally Schirra allowed the crew to keep their helmets off during reentry and descent so they could blow their noses as pressure levels changed. Mission control argued otherwise, but the crew kept their helmets off anyway.

Apollo 7 capsule egress

NASA

Apollo 7 capsule egress
Wally Schrirra exits the Apollo 7 command module after spalshdown on 22 Oct 1968.

Lessons learned from Apollo 7 paved the way for Apollo 8, the first crewed flight of the Saturn V that blasted Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders on a flight around the Moon in December 1968.

Apollo 7 Timeline

EventTime (UTC)Date
Terminal countdown begins 14:30:00 10 Oct 1968
Crew boards spacecraft 12:35:00 11 Oct 1968
Liftoff 15:02:45 11 Oct 1968
First stage (S-IB) separation 15:05:10 11 Oct 1968
Upper stage (S-IVB) cutoff 15:13:01 11 Oct 1968
Separation of Command and Service Module (CSM) from S-IVB 17:57:47 11 Oct 1968
Service Module engine (SPS) ignition 1 (begin rendezvous with S-IVB) 17:27:40 12 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 2 19:03:41 12 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 3 18:50:45 14 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 4 15:45:45 16 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 5 12:02:45 18 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 6 09:10:45 20 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 7 14:08:57 21 Oct 1968
SPS ignition 8 (de-orbit burn) 10:42:01 22 Oct 1968
CM/SM separation 10:46:18 22 Oct 1968
Entry interface 10:56:11 22 Oct 1968
Drogue parachute deployed 11:06:08 22 Oct 1968
Main parachute deployed 11:06:58 22 Oct 1968
Splashdown 11:11:48 22 Oct 1968
Crew aboard recovery helicopter 12:00:00 22 Oct 1968
Crew aboard USS Sussex 12:08:00 22 Oct 1968

“Look at the sunrise, gang. There you go. That's the thrill of this business.”
- Walter Schirra, during Apollo 7

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Apollo 7 crew after recovery