Apollo Spacecraft


The Apollo Spacecraft consisted of three modules: Command, Service and Lunar. Project Apollo was the third NASA human spaceflight program.

Apollo Spacecraft Picture

Command Module

The Command Module (CM) was the spacecraft’s control centre and housed the three-man crew of astronauts. The Apollo capsule was conical in shape. It was 12 feet high and 13 feet in diameter and weighted 10,000 pounds. The launch escape system, a tower-like structure above the Command Module, provided power to lift the Command Module up and away from the Saturn launch Vehicle should an emergency occur after fuelling and before injection in orbit. Solid propellant rockets provided this standby emergency power.

Service Module

Below the Command Module was the Service Module. It was 2.8 feet in diameter, 22 feet long and contained the propulsion system for midcourse corrections, retrofire to achieve lunar orbit and thrust to return from lunar orbit into an Earth Trajectory.

Lunar Module

The Lunar Module (LM – pronounced lem) was stored between the Service Module and the Saturn V rocket in the Lunar Module Adapter. This section was 29 feet long and 21.7 feet in diameter where it joined the S-IVB stage. The LM housed in this section was designed to carry 2 astronauts from lunar orbit to the surface of the Moon and return them to the Command Module. The LM was 21 feet high and 11 feet in diameter, weighing 30 pounds. There were 2 engines, one with controllable thrust for descent to the surface of the moon, and the other with a fixed 35,000 pound thrust for ascent to rendezvous with the Command Module in lunar orbit.


The Saturn V was used for all lunar flights. The Earth orbit flights used the Saturn IB booster. The three modules that made up the spacecraft sat on top of a Saturn V or Saturn IB launch vehicle.

Apollo missions 1 and 7 through 10 were designated Earth and Lunar Orbital Missions. Missions 11 through 17 were Lunar Landing Missions, although Apollo 13 failed to reach the moon’s surface.

The six successful lunar landings yielded almost 400 kilograms of samples. Astronauts returned 21 kilograms of samples from the Apollo 11 mission. This amount increased during each expedition, ultimately resulting in 110 kilograms of samples from the Apollo 17 mission.

Astronauts spent increasingly more time on the surface as well. During Apollo 11, Neil Armstrong and Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin spent just two hours and 24 minutes on the moon’s surface. By Apollo 17, Eugene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt enjoyed 22 hours and five minutes of spacewalking.

Experiments performed during the Apollo missions studied soil mechanics, meteoroids, seismic activity, heat flow, lunar ranging, magnetic fields and solar wind.

Apollo 1 

The first manned Apollo flight in earth orbit, scheduled for 21 February, 1967, was delayed when on 27 January, 1967, during a countdown rehearsal, a fire broke out inside the spacecraft cabin and spread rapidly in the concentrated oxygen environment at higher than sea level pressure. Three astronauts lost there lives – Virgil “Gus” Grissom, Roger Chaffee and Edward White.

Apollo 7

On 11 October, 1968 a Saturn 1B with three astronauts tested the Command Module in a 163 earth orbit flight. This was the first spaceflight of the Apollo Spacecraft.

Apollo 8 – Christmas in Space

Apollo 8 was launched on 21 December, 1968, after Earth orbit was injected into a trans-lunar trajectory, inserted into lunar orbit and for ten orbits and then returned to Earth safely. Broadcast were made during the flight and while orbiting the moon.

On May 25, 1961, U.S. President Kennedy, reacting to Soviet advances in space exploration, put forth a challenge in the House of Congress. “I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth,” he said.

Several methods to reach the moon were considered and documented, but only one idea had a chance to succeed by Kennedy’s deadline. Scientists chose to use a technique called the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous, which in a way involved using two sets of spacecraft for one flight.

The ultimate result was the Apollo Stack. It was made up of three modules and a booster. The command module (CM) served as the crew’s quarters and flight control section. The Service Module (SM) was used for the propulsion and spacecraft support systems. The command and service modules together were called the Command-and-Service Module, or CSM. The Lunar Module, or LM, pronounced “lem,” transported two crew members to the lunar surface and back to the waiting CSM.

Apollo 8

In December 1968, Frank Borman commanded Apollo 8, the first human space flight mission to orbit the Moon.

Apollo 8 was the second crewed flight in the program and the first manned lunar orbit mission. It was the first human space flight to use a Saturn V rocket. Borman and fellow astronauts Jim Lovell and William Anders became the first humans to see the far side of the Moon. The mission gained operational experience for future lunar missions and tested the Apollo command module systems. The crew photographed the lunar surface, obtaining topographical and landmark information as well as other scientific information necessary for lunar landings.

Apollo 13

The Apollo 13 spacecraft went farther into space than any other U.S. human space flight. It traveled 400,171 kilometers (248,655 miles) from Earth during its flyby of the Moon.

Apollo 13 was NASA’s third lunar landing attempt. The mission was aborted after the Service Module’s oxygen tank ruptured. Though the crew never landed on the Moon, the mission was deemed a “successful failure” because the crew returned home safely.

Apollo 17

The Lunar Module Challenger was the last one to land on the Moon.

30 astronauts flew into space aboard Apollo missions from the launch of Apollo 7 to the splashdown of Apollo 17.

Top Ten Apollo Discoveries:

1. The moon has evolved and has a similar internal zoning to Earth.

2. The history of the moon’s first billion years is preserved and is likely the same as all terrestrial planets.

3. The moon’s youngest rocks are approximately as old as Earth’s oldest rocks. Affects from early events that had an impact on both Earth and the moon can now only be observed on the moon.

4. The moon and Earth were made out of the same materials in different proportions.

5. The moon is void of life. No living organisms, fossils or native organic compounds were found.

6. All moon rocks are basalts, anorthosites or breccias. Water was not necessary for their formation.

7. An ocean of magma existed on the moon in its earlier years. Remnants of rocks that floated to the ocean’s surface are still found on the surface.

8. Asteroid impacts created basins, later filled by lava from the magma ocean.

9. The moon is asymmetrically formed. It has a thicker crust on the far side and larger mass concentrations on the near side.

10. Rock fragments and dust, called the lunar regolith, cover the moon’s surface. This provides a history of the sun’s radiation, which is important to studying climate change on Earth.

Did you know?

How many astronauts flew on two Apollo missions?

Jim Lovell, John Young and Eugene Cernan each flew on two Apollo missions.


Virtual LM : A Pictorial Essay of the Engineering and Construction of the Apollo Lunar Module by Scott P Sullivan
Amazon.com, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.ca, ecampus.com 

Stages to Saturn: A Technological History of the Apollo/Saturn Launch Vehicles by Roger E. Bilstein
From Amazon.comAmazon.co.ukAmazon.ca


Apollo DVD

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