“The selection procedures for Project Mercury were directed by a NASA selection committee, consisting of Charles Donlan, a senior management engineer; Warren North, a test pilot engineer; Stanley White and William Argerson, flight surgeons; Allen Gamble and Robert Voas psychologists; and George Ruff and Edwin Levy, psychiatrists. The committee recognized that the unusual conditions associated with spaceflight are similar to those experienced by military test pilots. In January 1959, the committee received and screened 508 service records of a group of talented test pilots, from which 110 candidates were assembled. Less than one month later, through a variety of interviews and a battery of written tests, the NASA selection committee pared down this group to 32 candidates.
“Each candidate endured even more stringent physical, psychological, and mental examinations, including total body x-rays, pressure suit tests, cognitive exercises, and a series of unnerving interviews. Of the 32 candidates, 18 were recommended for Project Mercury without medical reservations. On April 1, 1959, Robert Gilruth, the head of the Space Task Group, and Donlan, North, and White selected the first American astronauts. The “Mercury Seven” were Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., John H. Glenn, Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Alan B. Shepard, Jr., and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton.”
—40th Anniversary of the Selection of the Mercury Seven http://history.nasa.gov/40thmerc7/intro.htm
11 October 1968: at 15:02:45 UTC, Apollo 7, the first manned Apollo spacecraft, was launched aboard a Saturn IB rocket from Launch Complex 34, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida.
The flight crew were Captain Walter M. (“Wally”) Schirra, United States Navy, the mission commander, on his third space flight; Major Donn F. Eisele, U.S. Air Force, the Command Module Pilot, on his first space flight; and Major R. Walter Cunningham, U.S. Marine Corps, Lunar Module Pilot, also on his first space flight.
The mission was designed to test the Apollo spacecraft and its systems. A primary goal was the test of the Service Propulsion System (SPS), which included a restartable Aerojet AJ10-137 rocket engine which would place an Apollo Command and Service Module into and out of lunar orbit on upcoming missions.
The SPS engine was built by Aerojet General Corporation, Azusa, California. It burned a hypergolic fuel combination of Aerozine 50 (a variant of hydrazine) and nitrogen tetraoxide, producing 20,500 pounds of thrust. It was designed for a 750 second duration, or 50 restarts during a flight. This engine was fired eight times and operated perfectly.
The duration of the flight of Apollo 7 was 10 days, 20 hours, 9 minutes, 3 seconds, during which it orbited the Earth 163 times. The spacecraft splashed down 22 October 1968, approximately 230 miles (370 kilometers) south south west of Bermuda in the Atlantic Ocean, 8 miles (13 kilometers) from the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Essex (CVS-9).
The Apollo command module was a conical space capsule designed and built by North American Aviation to carry a crew of three on space missions of two weeks or longer. Apollo 7 (CSM-101) was the first Block II capsule, which had been extensively redesigned following the Apollo 1 fire which had resulted in the deaths of three astronauts. The Block II capsule was 10 feet, 7 inches (3.226 meters) tall and 12 feet, 10 inches (3.912 meters) in diameter. It weighed 12,250 pounds (5,557 kilograms). There was 218 cubic feet (6.17 cubic meters) of livable space inside.
The Saturn IB consisted of an S-IB first stage and an S-IVB second stage. The S-IB was built by Chrysler. It was powered by eight Rocketdyne H-1 engines, burning RP-1 and liquid oxygen. Eight Redstone rocket fuel tanks containing the RP-1 fuel surrounded a Jupiter rocket tank containing the liquid oxygen. Total thrust of the S-IB stage was 1,600,000 pounds and it carried sufficient propellant for 150 seconds of burn. This would lift the vehicle to an altitude of 37 nautical miles (69 kilometers).
The Douglas-built S-IVB stage was powered by one Rocketdyne J-2 engine, fueled by liquid hydrogen and liquid oxygen. The single engine produced 200,000 pounds of thrust and had enough fuel for 480 seconds of burn.
The Saturn IB rocket stood 141 feet, 6 inches (43.13 meters) without payload. It was capable of launching a 46,000 pound (20,865 kilogram) payload to Earth orbit.
3 October 1962: At 08:15:12 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8). This was the fifth U.S. manned space flight and the third orbital flight.
The spacecraft, which Wally Schirra had named Sigma 7, entered a low earth orbit with the altitude varying from 84 nautical miles (156 kilometers) to 154 nautical miles (285 kilometers). Each orbit took 88 minutes, 54.6 seconds.
Schirra experimented with the manual flight control systems, took photographs and performed spatial-orientation exercises. There were some difficulties with the cooling of his pressure suit.
Sigma 7 completed 6 orbits and at T+8:52, fired the retro rockets to de-orbit. Reentry was successful and Sigma 7 landed within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of the primary recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CVS-33).
The Mercury spacecraft, named Sigma 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 16th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. It was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, and, bell-shaped, had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.5 inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.
The rocket, a “1-½ stage”, liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 113-D, was built by Convair at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle. The LV-3B was 94.3 feet (28.7 meters) tall with a maximum diameter of 10.0 feet (3.05 meters). When ready for launch it weighed 260,000 pounds (120,000 kilograms) and could place a 1,360 kilogram payload into Low Earth orbit. The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Canoga Park, California. The XLR89 booster had two 150,000 pound thrust chambers, and the LR105 sustainer engine produced 57,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.
Schirra was the first astronaut to wear an Omega Speedmaster chronograph during spaceflight. (Omega Reference No. CK2998). The Speedmaster would become flight-qualified by NASA, and the Speedmaster Professional is known as the “moon watch.”
Sigma 7 is on display at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Titusville, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center.
Wally Schirra commanded Gemini 6A during the orbital rendezvous mission with Gemini 7. Later, he commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day orbital mission.
Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USN, died 3 May 2007 at the age of 84 years.