No doubt this summer will see a tsunami of articles looking back fifty years to Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s first walk on the moon (and Michael Collins’ pivotal role in the mission)
Oft forgotten is the sheer risk involved, and the missions without which Apollo 11 would not have happened. Famously, President Nixon prepared
for the eventuality the moon landing succeeded but leaving the moon again proved impossible. There was also the ultimate sacrifice made by the Apollo 1 crew.
On March 3rd 1969 Apollo 9 was launched. Interestingly, of this writing all three Apollo 9 astronauts are alive, with Mission Commander James McDivitt turning 90 this coming June. David Scott, who is a few weeks younger than my own father would have been if he was still alive, went on to command Apollo 15, and is the only living Commander of a moon landing mission.
Finally Russell “Rusty” Schweickart, the youngest crew member, now 83, around whom the human drama of Apollo 9 focused:
Schweickart spent just over 241 hours in space, and performed the first extravehicular activity (EVA) of the Apollo program, testing the portable life support system that was later used by the 12 astronauts who walked on the Moon. The flight plan called for him to demonstrate an emergency transfer from the lunar module to the command module (CM) using handrails on the LM, but he began to suffer from space adaptation syndrome on the first day in orbit, forcing the postponement of the EVA.
The rather bald language of Wikipedia masks a frightening reality (a feature in the current Sky At Night magazine, not available online, is the source for what follows) That night Schweickart found it difficult to sleep; if Apollo 9 could not demonstrate safe performance of the EVA, the schedule of Apollo missions would be pushed back, and Schweickart worried he would be responsible for the failure to meet President Kennedy’s end of the decade target.
At the very last minute, McDivitt put the spacewalk back on. In 45 minutes rather than the planned hours, Schweickart was able to demonstrate the required tasks could be performed safely; and so another link in the chain that would put Armstrong and Aldrin on the moon a few months later was forged.