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Apollo Spacecraft Systems Development Diaries
Apollo CSM
Apollo CSM
Apollo CSM with Launch Escape Tower
Credit: © Mark Wade
Detailed chronologies of development of Apollo spacecraft systems, arranged by system and configuration.....

Follow the technical development of Apollo spacecraft systems and configurations. Entries from official NASA project chronologies, rearranged according to topic.


LM Simulator LM Simulator Development Diary

LM Source Selection LM Source Selection Diary

LM Structural LM Structural Development Diary - The LM had to be as light as possible but still survive rough launch environments.

LM Ascent Propulsion LM Ascent Propulsion Development Diary - The Lunar Module Ascent Engine had to work - otherwise the crew would be stranded on the moon, and there was no backup. It was difficult to develop, and was qualified for flight only a few months before the first manned mission.

LM Communications LM Communications Development Diary - The lunar module had to communicate with the CSM, the astronauts on the surface of the moon and Houston - while being nested in the S-IVB stage, in flight around the moon, and on the surface. No wonder there were constant problems and compromises....

LM Crew Station LM Crew Station Development Diary - How to arrange the LM so that the crew would have good landing visibility, good docking visibility, be able to determine their landing point -- and the decision for the crew to stand, contrary to all prior aerospace practice.

LM Descent Propulsion LM Descent Propulsion Development Diary - The LM Descent Engine - which had to be throttled in flight to make a soft landing on the moon - had enormous development problems, and it was necessary to have two companies develop competing designs in parallel.

LM ECS LM ECS Development Diary

LM Electrical LM Electrical Development Diary - At first the LM was to use fuel cells, like the CSM. But problems during development led to their abandonment and replacement by an 'all battery' LM.

LM Guidance LM Guidance Development Diary

LM Hatch LM Hatch Development Diary - Originally the LM was to have two docking ports, at the top and front. But during development it was decided to change the front port to a hatch only, saving weight but making docking very uncomfortable for the crew…

LM Landing Gear LM Landing Gear Development Diary - The landing gear had to be designed without knowing what the lunar surface was actually like. How to do this, and the changing configurations and tribulations during development…

LM Mode Debate LM Mode Debate Diary - How to get to the moon? It may seem strange, but the Saturn V booster and Apollo CSM were under contract before this basic decision was made. There was much controversy, with equally expert committees supporting either of the three methods - earth orbit rendezvous, lunar orbit rendezvous, and direct landing. The final lunar orbital rendezvous decision did not turn out to be the great weight and schedule saver that it was supposed to be...... but, that's 20-20 hindsight....

LM Original Specification LM Original Specification Development Diary

LM RCS LM RCS Development Diary - The LM and CSM reaction control system jets were the only item NASA could actually convince the two contractors to use in common.

LM Television LM Television Development Diary - Use of television on Apollo naturally was a big issue for management. Here's how the decisions were made.

LM Weight LM Weight Development Diary - The LM was originally to weigh 24,500 pounds. It grew and grew and grew, until it seemed that Apollo could not be launched towards the moon by the Saturn V. It was only the above-specified performance of the Saturn V that allowed the final 32,000 pound spacecraft to make its voyage.

CSM Block I CSM Block I Development Diary - In 1964 it was decided to build Apollo spacecraft in two 'blocks'. Block I spacecraft, designated by serial numbers below '100', would carry no rendezvous and docking equipment and would be used for earth-orbital missions only. Delays in the project and the death of astronauts in the on-pad fire of Block I CSM 012 resulted in no manned Block I mission ever being flown.

CSM Block II CSM Block II Development Diary - Apollo Block II spacecraft were flight-ready vehicles with the final design configuration for the lunar missions. They were substantially different from the Block I Apollo and finally incorporated many changes resulting from the Apollo fire.

CSM Cockpit CSM Cockpit Development Diary - Follow the course of decisions that resulted in the Apollo cabin you see in the movies…

CSM Communications CSM Communications Development Diary - There were quality problems with the S-band antenna, but in general development of the Apollo communications systems were one of the least troublesome areas.

CSM Docking CSM Docking Development Diary- Read of some of the wilder early ideas for how to dock two spacecraft in space…

CSM ECS CSM ECS Development Diary - The early decision to save 30 pounds by using an all-oxygen cabin atmosphere would lead to terrible consequences in the Apollo fire…

CSM Electrical CSM Electrical Development Diary - Not a point of too much controversy during development, the Apollo fire investigation revealed huge problems in the spacecraft wiring....

CSM Fuel Cell CSM Fuel Cell Development Diary - The Apollo fuel cells were specified from the dawn of the program.....the explosion of a fuel cell tank on Apollo 13 would nearly result in the first in-flight loss of life in the American space program

CSM Guidance CSM Guidance Development Diary - Guidance was considered the biggest problem for Apollo, and MIT was contracted to start work on it even before the spacecraft contractor was selected…

CSM Hatch CSM Hatch Development Diary - Apollo originally might have had an airlock - and the size of the hatch varied considerably during development. At one point transfer of the astronauts by space-walking from the CSM to the LM was considered (as was done in the Russian program). Finally, the hatch was implicated in the Apollo fire, leading to a complete redesign and large weight increase in the CM.

CSM Heat Shield CSM Heat Shield Development Diary - Developing a heat shield to withstand the vacuum of space and re-entry at twice the energy of orbital vehicles would seem to be a great challenge. But NASA's biggest problem turned out to be having a shield that didn't crack apart on landing....

CSM LES CSM LES Development Diary - The Launch Escape System was one of the earliest items developed and tested. It gave rise to an interminable debate about the best way to guide it during its brief mission of pulling the capsule away from an exploding booster.

CSM Original Specification CSM Original Specification Development Diary

CSM Parachute CSM Parachute Development Diary - Getting the parachutes to work correctly turned out to be a major problem, resulting in several demolished boilerplate capsules. See why the 'simple' low-tech things are often the ones that give the most trouble.

CSM RCS CSM RCS Development Diary - The reaction control system thrusters provided orientation of the spacecraft. But an early design requirement was that they be able to deorbit the CSM in the event of a main engine failure.

CSM Recovery CSM Recovery Development Diary - For some time recovery of the Apollo on land was considered. If you thought only Soyuz used soft landing engines, read here of those planned for Apollo, and how the spacecraft was designed to allow the crew to survive a 'land landing'.

CSM Simulator CSM Simulator Development Diary

CSM Source Selection CSM Source Selection Diary

CSM SPS CSM SPS Development Diary - If you always thought the Apollo CSM Service Propulsion System engine looked too big, it's because it was originally sized to lift a much larger CSM off the lunar surface and send it toward earth in the original direct-landing scenario. The design was frozen early, but development went relatively well compared to the lunar module's engines.

CSM Structural CSM Structural Development Diary

CSM Television CSM Television Development Diary

1951 September - .
  • Second International Congress on Astronautics - . Nation: USA. Spacecraft Bus: Apollo Spacecraft Systems Development Diaries. Spacecraft: LM Source Selection.

    The uses of rendezvous techniques in space were discussed in a paper read to the Second International Congress on Astronautics in London, England. The problems involved in refueling in space might be simplified considerably if astronauts could maneuver freely, perhaps using a gas-jet pistol and a lifeline. The construction of a space station might then be possible. Mechanical linkage of objects in space was described as the most difficult task of all. While computing the position of an object in orbit might be comparatively easy, linking up with the object without damage by impact would require human intelligence to anticipate error in the attitude of approach.

1961 February 10 - .
  • Air Force interest in spacecraft similar to the Apollo - . Nation: USA. Program: Lunex. Spacecraft Bus: Apollo Spacecraft Systems Development Diaries. Spacecraft: CSM Source Selection.

    At the first meeting of the House Committee on Science and Astronautics, during the first session of the 87th Congress, Charles F. Ducander, Executive Director and Chief Counsel of the Committee staff, outlined a number of proposed subjects for study. One subject was the Air Force's interest in a three-man spacecraft similar to the Apollo spacecraft planned by NASA. A Committee staff member had been assigned to investigate this duplication of effort. On February 22, testifying before the Committee, Air Force Undersecretary Joseph V. Charyk stated that the Dyna-Soar program was a direct approach to manned military space applications. The Air Force interest in an Apollo-type spacecraft was part of the post-Dyna-Soar program, Charyk said.

1968 November 8 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn V.
  • Proper spacecraft deployment during the Apollo 8 flight - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: Petrone. Program: Apollo. Flight: Apollo 7, Apollo 8. Spacecraft Bus: Apollo Spacecraft Systems Development Diaries. Spacecraft: CSM Electrical. ASPO Manager George M. Low asked Rocco A. Petrone, Launch Operations Director at KSC, to set up a special task team to review all paperwork and to inspect visually all hardware, to ensure proper spacecraft deployment during the Apollo 8 flight. . Additional Details: here....

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