Artifacts From America's Lunar Progress
America's Moon Ship The American decision to go to the Moon wasn’t rooted in a desire to explore the cosmos but in a need to beat an adversary, the Soviet Union, in the new realm of space. The Moon was the goal in this race and the core module of the spacecraft that took Apollo astronauts to the finish line was the gumdrop shaped Apollo Command Module (CM). It was their main living quarters, the only vehicle that could re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and became the workhorse of the space race era.
Museum Exhibit: Tha Kapton Foil Samples
To protect astronauts from the extreme temperatures of space, NASA coated its Apollo Command Module in kapton foil (a polyimide film covered with aluminum and oxidized silicon monoxide that stays stable across a wide range of temperatures). Silver on one side and gold on the other, the kapton was applied to the CM such that the silver side faced out, giving the spacecraft a mirror-like finish. But the kapton couldn’t survive the heat of atmospheric re-entry. It burnt and peeled away, revealing the gold underneath. It’s what makes samples like these recovered from Apollo 12 and Apollo 13 gold toned. Beginning with Apollo 17, NASA adopted newer acrylics that made the kapton silver on both sides. Pieces removed from these spacecraft, like the one shown from Apollo-Soyuz, are generally silver all over.
Fun Fact 1: Gum Issue?
Apollo astronauts ate roughly 2,800 calories per day and each meal was packaged in a fire-proof container color-coded for each astronaut. Along with food, each meal pack included hygiene items: a piece of chewing gum, a toothbrush, a wet cleansing cloth, and towels. The gum, which astronauts could eat as a snack before using it to stick items to the spacecraft walls like sticky tack, was a favorite among the moon-bound men.
Every Apollo mission ended with a parachute-assisted splashdown. There were three main parachutes as part of the Apollo landing system; the third was a safety measure since the spacecraft could land safely with two. The parachute deployment started with one small drogue parachute for each main. Designed to stabilize the capsule’s descent, these deployed at 24,000 feet. They were followed by the three 80-foot ringsail type parachutes, which deployed at 10,000 feet. They would inflate, acting as a break on the falling spacecraft. With two chutes deployed, the spacecraft would land at a safe 36 feet per second. With all three chutes, it would land at 32 feet per second. The parachutes worked perfectly every time except on Apollo 15 when one chute failed. After every splashdown, the crews were recovered in perfect health.
Fun Fact 2: Deke Slayton's Triumph
The Apollo-Soyuz mission was the first flight for Deke Slayton, but not because he was a new astronaut at the time. Slayton had been selected in 1959 as one of NASA’s original seven Mercury astronauts, but a heart condition kept him from flying until the early 1970s.
The Apollo program met its goal with Apollo 11’s Moon landing in 1969. The space race was won, but it wasn’t the end of the Apollo spacecraft’s life. It reprised its role as the main crew module during the short-Skylab program and the Apollo-Soyuz Test Program. Flown in July of 1975, the mission marked the end of an era of competition in space. It was a cooperative mission between the Americans and the Soviets during which a specially designed docking module built by NASA allowed the Apollo and Soyuz crews to dock and share a spacecraft in orbit. Their two days of coordinated activities was the first instance of international cooperation in space.