October 11, 1968 — Space Launch Complex 34, Cape Canaveral Florida — Today in Space History we remember the launch of Apollo 7, with NASA astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walt Cunningham accomplished many “firsts” in space history. The 11-day Earth-orbital mission “firsts” include:
Apollo 7 was the first manned launch of the Apollo program (Apollo 204, now known as Apollo 1, was scheduled to be the first manned Apollo launch, but an on-pad fire killed the Apollo 1 crew on January 27, 1967. The Apollo 7 crew had been the back-up crew for Apollo 1).
Apollo 7 was the first manned test flight of the re-designed Command Module.
Apollo 7 was the first 3-astronaut flight for NASA and the United States.
Apollo 7 was the first and only manned launch from Space Launch Complex 34 (site of the Apollo 1 fire. Apollo 7 was the last launch ever from that pad. The Space Race Leadership blog header photo is of the ruins at pad 34 at sunrise, as it appears today).
Apollo 7 was the first manned launch of a Saturn 1B rocket. The mission was a proved the capability of the newly-designed capsule, and led to the decision to send the next NASA spaceflight — Apollo 8 — around the Moon using the Saturn V rocket.
Let’s talk mutiny. During the flight of Apollo 7 the crew experienced motion sickness, bad food, and head-colds… all of which contributed to many strained interactions with the CapComs (Capsule Communicators — the people in Houston who communicated directly with the crew while they were executing their mission). The terse and often testy interchanges between the crew (particularly Schirra) and Houston has led some to call this the first space mutiny… although I think the term “mutiny” is a little strong, you can read about the exchanges on wikipedia and other sites (search for “Apollo 7”). None of the Apollo 7 astronauts were ever selected to fly in space again.
Whenever I visit the Cape, I never forget to visit Pad 34. It’s the source of a lot of strength and motivation, and it was the inspiration for my writing The Seven Forgotten Leadership Lessons of the Space Race.