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Apollo Expeditions to the Moon



In December 1958, plans had been made to post civil service notices inviting applications for astronaut service, GS-12 to GS-15, salary $8,330 to $12,770. President Eisenhower thought this ridiculous, and decided that the rolls of military test pilots would furnish all the astronauts necessary. "It was one of the best decisions he ever made", said Robert Gilruth sixteen years later. "It ruled out the matadors, mountain climbers, scuba divers, and race drivers and gave us stable guys who had already been screened for security." From the records of 508 test pilots, 110 were found to meet the minimum standards (including the height and age limitations, 5 feet 11 inches and 40 years).

After further examination, the 110 were narrowed to 69, then to 32, who were put through strenuous physical tests: How much heat could the man stand? How much noise? How many balloons could he blow up before he collapsed? How long could he keep his feet in ice water? How long could he run on a treadmill?

Worst of all, the astronauts thought, were the 25 psychological tests that entailed minute and painful self-examination ("Write 20 answers to the question: 'Who am I?'") From the 18 survivors, seven were chosen in April 1959, and they would remain the Nation's only astronauts for three and one-half years. Their IQs ranged from 130 to 145, with a mean of 136. Even before they had accomplished anything they became instant heroes to small boys and other hero-worshipers around the world.

Among those who flunked the first round were James Lovell and Charles Conrad, who were picked up in the Second Nine in 1962 and went on to make four spaceflights apiece - a record they shared only with John Young and Tom Stafford. The Second Nine proved even more stable than their predecessors. Excepting Ed White, killed in the spacecraft fire of January 1967, and Elliott See, who died in a plane crash, all commanded Apollo flights.

The Second Nine were test pilots, too, but two of them were civilians: Neil Armstrong, who had flown the X-15 for NASA, and See a General Electric flier. By the time the third group of fourteen was selected in 1963 the test-pilot requirement had been dropped - as had most of the outlandish physical tests - but the educational level had risen to an averacye of 5.6 years of college, even though the 10 average fell a couple of points below the first two groups. Four of the fourteen would die in accidents without making a spaceflight.

The fourth group of six men wasn't even required to be pilots because they were scientists (doctors of geology, medicine, physics, and electrical engineering) who, after selection, had to take an extra year to learn to fly. Because three missions were cut from the program, only one, Harrison Schmitt, was to fly in Apollo. Three others flew in Skylab.

The fifth group was the biggest of all, nineteen pilots, of whom twelve would fly in Apollo, three in Skylab, and one in Apollo-Soyuz. The sixth group, eleven more scientists, scored the highest mean IQ, 141, but they came too late to fly and six resigned before 1975. The final group of seven transferred from the Air Force's defunct Manned Orbital Laboratory in 1969 and their hope had to rest on the resumption of flight with the Space Shuttle about 1979.

One thing all astronauts had in common: hard work. Each astronaut was assigned one or more specialties, which he had to learn with dizzying completeness. Neil Armstrong, for example, was assigned trainers and simulators, John Young environmental control systems and personal and survival equipment, Frank Borman boosters. In the third group Buzz Aldrin, who had earned a doctorate with a dissertation on orbital rendezvous, was a natural for mission planning; Bill Anders, who had a master's degree in nuclear engineering, drew the environmental control system; Mike Collins had the spacesuit and extravehicular activity. The astronauts worked with and learned from scientists and engineers, and suggested many ideas from a crewman's viewpoint.