Apollo 7: the men who helped us land on the Moon

This week in history, in 1968, television viewers switched on their boxes and for the first time saw three men floating in zero gravity.

Most people's overriding memory of the space race is the day Neil Armstrong took his first steps on the lunar surface. But this wouldn't have happened without the brave pioneers of Apollo 7.

When Apollo 7's crew - Walter Schirra, Donn Eisle and Walter Cunningham - launched on October 11, 1968, their mission was simple: to test Block 2, a command service module designed for man's eventual landing on the Moon.

Whereas Block 1 had been designed for simple orbiting missions, Block 2 had a "nose" capable of docking a lunar landing module.

Block 2 lifted off perfectly, attached to a Saturn 1B rocket which had never before been tested with humans onboard. "She's riding like a dream," reported Schirra, after a bumpy take-off.

A key part of Apollo 7's mission was to test the service module engines. During a Moon landing mission, it would be crucial that they fired at certain specific moments in order for the crew to return home safely.

In contrast to the Saturn 1B's smooth launch, each engine firing jolted the crew, "plastering" them to their seats.

Nevertheless, each of the eight engine tests were a success. Although the issue of whether the engines would always fire at the right time still played on the minds of Apollo 11's crew a year later.

Apollo 7 splashed down October 22 in the Atlantic Ocean southeast of Bermuda, just over a mile from the planned impact point. Schirra, Eisle and Cunningham were then taken to the USS Essex.

The mission would be labelled a "101% success" by NASA, paving the way for man's first steps on the Moon.

The Apollo 7 crew
Apollo 7's Walter Schirra, Donn Eisle and Walter Cunningham


"The greatest acrobats in outer space"

Aside for Block 2's innovations, Apollo 7 also had the world's first handheld black and white video camera.

Block 2 was the first module large enough for the crew to move from their seats and float around. TV viewers on Earth marvelled as, for the first time, they watched the three space explorers float and perform stunts in zero gravity.

"Hello from the lovely Apollo room high atop everything," read a sign held up by Schirra, opening their first broadcast.

A later sign read: "The one and only original Apollo road show starring the greatest acrobats of outer space!" as Cunningham and Eisle did summersaults and pinwheels in the background.

Apollo 7's impressive technology, and the good humour of its crew in their live US TV broadcasts, did much to raise of the US's national moral in 1968.

The year had seen escalating war in Vietnam and the assassinations of Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy.

Apollo 7 memorabilia

At Bonham's highly successful "Space Sale" in July, Walter Schirra donated various items including a Fisher "space pen" - a five-inch metal ball point pen with an innovative pressure cartridge which allowed ink to flow in the absence of gravity.

The small, historic item sold for $3,050 (just exceeding its $2,000-3,000 estimate).

Elsewhere, a comb used by Schirra before the Apollo 7 space broadcasts sold for $1,464. "No doubt it helped me win my Emmy for those live space shows!" quips Schirra in an attached statement.

At Paul Fraser Collectibles, we have another rare and sought-after piece of Walter Schirra memorabilia: a beautiful vintage matte-finish, 10 x 8 inch photograph featuring the Mercury 7 crew, the very first US astronauts.

The photograph is cleanly signed in various inks by Schirra, John H Glenn, Virgil I Grissom, M Scott Carpenter, Donald K Slayton and Leroy S Cooper.

Walter Schirra would later become only the fifth person to walk on the surface of the Moon, and the oldest at 47 years of age.


For further information please contact Adrian Roose at adrianroose@paulfrasercollectibles.com or telephone +44 (0) 117 933 9503


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