A Museum Tour Through Aviation History

Apollo to the Moon (Galleries 112 & 210)

The Apollo to the Moon gallery provides displays that follow the major American manned spaceflight projects that led to the successful landing of men on the Moon in 1969.


Historic Photo: NASM
Museum Photo: Author

Mercury "Freedom 7" Spacecraft

In May 1961, less than a month after the historic first manned flight of Russia's Yuri Gagarin, American Alan Shephard rode the Mercury "Freedom 7" spacecraft to a 15 minute suborbital flight, becoming the first American in space. Shephard's short flight was duplicated less than 3 months later by Gus Grissom and followed, in February 1962, by the 3-orbit flight of John Glenn. Other Mercury missions took the American flight record up to 34 hours by May 1963.


Historic Photo: NASM
Museum Photo: Author

Gemini 7 Spacecraft

The United States took the lead in the space race for good in December 1965, when Gemini 7 took astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell on a record-setting 14-day mission that also saw the first rendezvous in space of two manned spacecraft -- the other one being the Gemini 6 craft of astronauts Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford. Later Gemini missions perfected the art of rendezvous and docking and also fine-tuned the skills needed to perform productive work during space walks -- both of which would be need on missions to the Moon.


Historic Photo: NASM
Museum Photo: Author

Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter Spacecraft

Before the first humans travelled to the Moon, robotic probes were sent to scout out the territory and provide information needed to select potential landing areas and prepare for the surface conditions that could be expected by landing astronauts. Two of the most successful of these robotic probes were Surveyor and Lunar Orbiter. During 1966 to 1968, five Surveyors successfully landed on the Moon and returned data about the composition of the lunar soil. During 1966 to 1967, five Lunar Orbiters successfully entered lunar orbit and photographically mapped most of the Moon's surface. These photos formed the basis upon which manned lunar landing sites were selected.


Historic Photo: NASM
Museum Photo: Author

Apollo Lunar Module

The Apollo Lunar Module first flew in 1968 in Earth orbit as part of the Apollo 9 mission and was tested in lunar orbit on the Apollo 10 mission, which was a "dressed rehearsal" for the first lunar landing attempt. Then on July 20, 1969, astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin piloted the Lunar Module "Eagle" to a successful landing in the Sea of Tranquility. They were followed to the Moon by five other successful lunar landing missions. On the ill-fated Apollo 13 flight of April 1970, the Lunar Module served as a life boat that allowed the crew to return to Earth safely after an explosion in the Apollo Command Module.


Historic Photo: NASM
Museum Photo: Author

Apollo Lunar Rover

To extend the distance that lunar landing astronauts could explore during the limited number of hours they were on the Moon, Apollos 15, 16, and 17 took with them Apollo Lunar Rovers -- essentially dune buggies designed to function in the harsh lunar environment. All three Lunar Rovers functioned almost to perfection, allowing the astronauts to explore many miles away from the Lunar Module landing sites. The three Lunar Rovers are still on the Moon and, given the Moon's lack of atmosphere, are possibily still in operating condition except for needing new batteries.


Historic Photo: NASM
Museum Photo: Author

Skylab 4 Command Module

After the final lunar landing mission of Apollo 17 in 1972, the remaining Apollo command modules were used to transport astronaut crews to the Skylab Orbital Workshop. The Skylab 4 Command Module was used for the third and final Skylab mission. [Note: The Skylab Orbital Workshop was designated by NASA as Skylab 1, with the three manned missions being designated as Skylab 2, 3, and 4.] The Skylab 4 crew was launched in November 1973 and stayed aboard the Skylab Orbital Workshop for 84 days.

Exploration beyond the Moon has been the sole territory of unmanned spacecraft, and these are the subjects of our next stop -- the Exploring the Planets and Stars gallery.

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Copyright © 1996-2015 Arnold E. van Beverhoudt, Jr.
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Last Updated: January 1, 2003