Friday, August 14, 2009

Name that Apollo!

I solicited images of the spacecraft displayed at JSC before Space Center Houston opened, and received several replies. Among them was Jonathan Ward description and pictures of his father's VIP visit to both JSC and KSC in June of 1969. Among his many pictures was this one of an Apollo spacecraft on display.

Ward writes, "Unfortunately, the number on the side of the vehicle is turned away from us, so I am not sure which one it is. Since there is so much of the Kapton foil still
attached to the CM (i.e., not burned away from the heat of re-entry from return from a Moon trip), I assume that it was from an Earth-orbital mission, either one of the unmanned flights or Apollo 7." This
presented itself as a challenge to me, as I'd like to place this in the Field Guide, but as which

Here are things we know:
1) It is a flown capsule (apparent)
2) It flew before June 1969 (Ward's description)
3) It is a Block 2 spacecraft (most visible, the side by side forward RCS thrusters above the hatch) and therefore a manned flight

This leads us to Apollo 7, 8, 9 or 10. Only Apollo 7 and 9 remained in Earth orbit (a good hypothesis by Ward to account for the foil thermal tape). So, let's compare these, with Apollo 8 and 10 thrown in for comparison.

OK, now this can get tough. But there is a distinct area on each spacecraft that could aid us in identification of our unknown. It is the burned area to the right of the hatch around the reaction control thrusters. Here are close-ups of each of these areas with our unknown.

Apollo 7
Apollo 8
Apollo 9
Apollo 10

I believe the pattern in the unknown most closely resembles that of Apollo 9. There are also some correlations in the patterns of the foil tape, although there appears to have been a cleaning and possibly some tape removed before it was placed on display. Pictures of Apollo 9 at the Michigan Air & Space Center show very little difference to the display at San Diego, so any cleaning was done before hand.

You may also note that in the unknown picture the outer window frames are removed. Of the four, only Apollo 9 shows signs the attachment screws were accessed . With these clues in place, I believe we can call this unknown Apollo on display at JSC in 1969 the Apollo 9, returned to Earth earlier that year on March 13.

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