Home Table of Contents What's New Image Index Copyright ScienceViews Search


Apollo 11 Crew Makes Ready

As backup crew for Apollo 8 since late 1968, the prime crew of Apollo 11 had already rehearsed many of the procedures for a lunar mission; but as the first crew that would attempt a lunar landing, they had to prepare for much more. From January 9, when they were named, until launch day their days were filled with activity: briefings on all the spacecraft systems, fitting of spacesuits, lessons in geology and astronavigation, rehearsal of procedures for rendezvous, practicing unloading the lunar surface experiments, and whatever else the training officers could squeeze into their schedule. For some time they had little access to their primary training devices, the lunar module and command module simulators. Until March, when Apollo 9 flew, they were third in line for those simulators, and only after Apollo 10 was launched in May did they have first priority.14

For Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin and their counterparts in the backup crew, practicing the lunar landing itself was among the most important parts of training. The lunar module pilots used a simulator built for the purpose by engineers at Langley Research Center in Virginia. It consisted of a mockup of the lunar module, suspended by cables from a long overhead trestle so that all but one-sixth of its weight was neutralized. Since it did not provide complete freedom of movement in all three directions, the Langley device was inferior as a lunar-module simulator to the vehicle on which the mission commanders trained.15 This free-flying lunar landing training vehicle (LLTV), developed at the Flight Research Center in California and built by Bell Aerosystems, was a skeleton framework of tubing supporting a control station, fitted in the center with a downward-thrusting jet engine to offset five-sixths of its weight and on the periphery of the structure with a group of small thrusters to provide attitude and directional control. It was a skittish and somewhat unstable vehicle; on two occasions in 1968 pilots had to eject from it.16 Nonetheless, it was the only device that could accurately simulate the last few hundred feet of the lunar landing approach and commanders of lunar landing missions and their backups were required to perform as many landings in the LLTV as time permitted.17

The crews went through many rehearsals of the lunar surface activity - deploying the experiments and collecting surface samples - during the last few months of training, but they were given comparatively little refresher work in field geology. The last formal geology briefings for the Apollo 11 crew came in mid-April.18 As launch came closer, Armstrong became concerned about collecting samples and making scientific observations. When he expressed his fear that he might do something wrong, MSC geologist Elbert King emphasized that everything he said and every specimen he collected would be valuable, simply because he would be the first man ever to make scientific observations on the lunar surface. King's advice was not to worry about making mistakes. If he talked as much as possible about what he saw and collected all the samples he could, no reasonable scientist could fault his efforts.19

By the time the Apollo 10 crew left on their mission and the crew of Apollo 11 could get first priority on the simulators, training had become the "pacing item" in the launch schedule.20 Throughout May and June the spacecraft and its launch vehicle went through preflight preparations with no major problems, staying on schedule for a July 16 launch, while crews spent long hours in the simulators.21 When the White House proffered an invitation for the Apollo 10 and Apollo 11 crews to dine with the President, Deke Slayton was obliged to notify Headquarters that taking one day out of the training regimen was likely to cost a month's delay in launch.22 On June 9 the photomosaics of their landing site were delivered to the Cape so that Armstrong and Aldrin could practice the approach to their touchdown point in the lunar module simulator.23 Armstrong completed his required flights in the lunar landing training vehicle on June 16.24

The final days wound down without major interruption, however. The Lunar Receiving Laboratory was certified by the Interagency Committee on Back Contamination, two mobile quarantine facilities - including a spare, just in case - were delivered to the recovery ship, and it appeared that humans would indeed attempt a lunar landing as scheduled.25

14. Ibid., pp. 318-26; MSC, "Apollo 11 Crew Training Summaries (Jan. 31-July 15, 1969)," folder in box 081-13, JSC History Office Apollo files.

15. Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson, Chariots, pp. 322-25; Langley Research Center, "Lunar Landing Research Facility and Landing Loads Track," presentation at Field Inspection of Advanced Research and Technology, Hampton, Va., May 18-22, 1964, copy in box 081-45, JSC History Office Apollo files; George E. Mueller to Robert R. Gilruth, Feb. 19, 1969; Gilruth to Mueller, Apr. 1, 1969.

16. Bell Aerosystems Co. release, Jan. 20, 1967, in box 081-45, JSC History Office Apollo files; several good photographs of the LLTV in flight are found in "Series of Lunar Landings Simulated," Aviation Week & Space Technology, June 30, 1969. See also David F. Gebhard, "Factors in the Choice of LEM Piloting and Testing Techniques," SAE Preprint 866F, April 1964; Gene J. Matringa, Donald L. Mallick, and Emil E. Kleuver, "An Assessment of Ground and Flight Simulators for the Examination of Manned Lunar Landing," AIAA Paper 67-238, presented at AIAA Flight Test, Simulation and Support Conference, Cocoa Beach, Fla., Feb. 6-8, 1967; and James P . Bigham, Jr., "The lunar landing training vehicle," Simulation, July 1970, pp. 17-18, copies in box 08l-46, JSC History Office Apollo files; Richard H. Holzapfel, TWX to NASA, attn.: B. P. Helgeson, May 7, 1968; T. O. Paine to LLRV-1 Review Board, "Investigation and Review of Crash of Lunar Landing Training Vehicle #1," Dec. 11, 1968; idem, "Investigation and Review of Crash of Lunar Landing Research Vehicle #1," Dec. 31, 1968.

17. Bigham, "The Lunar Landing Training Vehicle."

18. "Apollo 11 Crew Training Summary."

19. Elbert A. King, Jr., interview with Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., May 17, 1971, tape in JSC History Office Apollo files.

20. Mueller to Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Report - May 26, 1969."

21. Idem, Manned Space Flight Reports: May 26, June 2, 9, 16, 23, 30, 1969; "Apollo 11 Crew Training Summary"; Slayton, Flight Crew Operations Directorate Weekly Activity Reports: May 30, June 6, 13, 20, July 3, 11, 18, 1969.

22. Julian Scheer to Slayton, June 3, 1969; Slayton to Scheer, "Attendance of Apollo 10 and 11 crews at White House dinner," June 9, 1969.

23. Mueller to Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - July 7, 1969."

24. Slayton, "Weekly Activity Report - June 14-20, 1969, Flight Crew Operations Directorate."

25. Mueller to Administrator, "Manned Space Flight Weekly Report - June 23, 1969"; ibid., June 9, 1969; Brooks, Grimwood, and Swenson, Chariots, pp. 318-26, 332-34.

[Previous Page] [Next Page] [Table