HT This Day: May 19, 1969 -- ‘It’s fantastic, it’s the greatest’
The Apollo-10 astronauts rode a Saturn V rocket into orbit today, and prepared to break away from the earth and hurtle towards the moon, a quarter million miles away.
Air Force Col. Thomas P. Stafford and Navy Cmdrs. John W. Young and Eugene A. Cernan, flying a risky dress rehearsal mission for the first moon landing, just nine weeks from now, were thrust into a 115 by 118-mile orbit, the first step of their eight-day challenge of the moon.
The launch fam the Cape Kennedy, Florida space complex, came exactly on time: 12-49 p.m. (16-49 GMT).
“What a ride!” called Cernan to the ground as the 36-storey rocket flashed through the clouds. “We’re right on the line.”
“It is beautiful out there,” Cernan said. “Fantastic, man, really fantastic, man. This is the greatest.”
“You guys sound ecstatic,” replied the ground controller. The Saturn V rocket, the world’s mightiest, roared to life precisely on schedule. The 365-foot spacecraft stack-with its human cargo strapped inside a tiny cone on top-stood motionless for nine seconds while the rockets strained to a crescendo.
Then slowly the 3,000-ton spaceship rose from its nest, jolted into motion by a stream of fire twice its length.
It roared upward into a cloudy sky. Then turned toward the south-east and vanished from view. The first stage burned out and dropped away, followed, minutes later, by the second stage.
In less than 11 minutes after the first movement of the rocket, Apollo-10 was in orbit round the earth.
The crew rode in orbit aboard the command and service module at the head of a 115-foot bulletlike spacecraft. Beneath the crew’s cramped cabin, the lunar module rode in its space garage, protected by petal-like aluminum panels. Below the lunar module was the third stage of the rocket booster, called the S4B.
Space Centre, Houston, May 18 (AP)-The men of Apollo-10 fired a powerful rocket engine at 0-53 (IST) to boost them out of earth orbit, and start their three day trip to orbit the moon.
The crew was to circle the earth for almost two orbits, checking the systems of their spacecraft.
At 2 hours, 39 minutes after launch, the flight plan called for them to light up the powerful S4B rocket engine, accelerating to more than 23.000 miles an hour and streaking toward the moon.
Half an-hour later, the astronauts were to separate their command module from the lunar module and the stack. The panels housing the lunar module were to spring away, revealing a docking collar.
With Young at the controls, the command module was to go out several feet and turn around. Young was to then jockey the nose of the cone-shaped command module into the docking collar of the lunar module. The crafts were to lock together and Young was to back away, pulling the spider-like moon machine away from the S4B.
Apollo 10 will match all phases of a lunar landing mission except the actual moon touchdown.
After launching from the earth orbit toward the moon, Apollo 10 becomes the prize in a gravitational game of tug-of-war be- tween the earth and the moon.
The gravitational pull of the earth will try vainly for two and half days to pull the spacecraft back into its grasp. The speed of toe spacecraft slowly declines as it flashes outward.
Then, the space machine will pass the equi-gravisphere, where the gravity of the moon and the earth are equal, and Apollo-10 begins to speed up as the moon gain control.
As the spacecraft passes behind the moon for the first time and out of contact with the earth, the crew fires the powerful service propulsion system rocket engine to slow slightly and drop into the gravitational grasp of the moon. Stafford and his mates will ride in a 60 by 170 mile orbit of the moon for five hours.
Stafford and Young will drop the descent stage of the lunar module. They will fire the as- cent stage engine to lower their orbit and flash again behind the moon. There, they will fire the rocket engine again to line them up for rejoining Young in the command module.
Stafford and Cernan will crawl back into the command module and the lunar module will separate, ignite its engine on signal and rocket out of sight into a solar orbit.
The Apollo-10 crew will spend another day in orbit about the moon, performing photography experiments and gaining vital data about navigation around the moon.
After some 60 hours of circling the moon, the Apollo-10 crew will start the longest trip home anyone has ever taken. The moon is farther from the earth now than it was during the December moon flight of Apollo-8.
They will fire the service propulsion engine to break the gravitational lock of the moon and flash towards the earth, 423,000 kilometers away.
It will take 54 hours to return to the earth. The spacecraft will come scorching back into the earth’s atmosphere at more than 37,000 km an hour for a landing in the South Pacific not far from American Samoa.
Moscow: Tass reported the successful launching of Apollo-10 and named the three astronauts aboard within minutes of the blast-off.
The three astronauts aboard Apollo-10 cannot claim moon flight experience yet. But they do have, what can be called. “the next best things.”
The Commander of Apollo-10 Thomas P. Stafford. 38, has already spent 98 hours a space. The command module pilot. John W. Young, 38, has spent 75 and the lunar module pilot, Eugene A. Cernan has spent 72 hours.
A native of Weatherford, a town of fewer than 5,000 per- sons in Oklahoma, Stafford earned a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Naval Academy in 1952 and graduated from the Air Force experimental flight test school in 1959. He is married and has two daughters, aged 11 and 14.
John Young, like Stafford, was an aviation pioneer before he set space records.
Young was born in San Francisco, California, and received a Bachelor of Science Degree in aeronautical engineering from Georgia Institute of Technology in 1952. He and his wife have two children, a son, 10 and daughter, 11.
For Eugene Cernan, the youngest and relatively least experienced of the trio, the Apollo-10 mission is his second with Stafford as his commander. He was pilot of Gemini-9 in June, 1966, which was also commanded by Stafford.
A native of Chicago, Cernan graduated from Purdue University in 1956 with a Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering. He later earned a Master of Science degree in aeronautical engineering at the U.S. Naval Post-Graduate School in Monterey. California. He and wife have a five-year-old daughter.