Mutiny on Apollo 7: Reasons for Disagreement

| Updated on March 27, 2024

NASA sent astronauts into space for the first time almost exactly 50 years ago on the first manned Apollo mission, which was called Apollo 7. It was the first time a three-person American crew was sent into space, and it was also the first time live television was broadcast from space. The mission’s main goal was to test the latest spacecraft technology to ensure that humans could survive a long journey to the Moon. The stakes with Apollo 7 had been raised significantly. 

After Apollo 1 crew died in a cabin fire some 21 months earlier, NASA would not send humans into space again until Apollo 7’s launch on October 11, 1968. This was the first mission after which astronauts were flown into space by NASA. Although Apollo equipment had already demonstrated sufficient safety in Earth orbit, this trip was to be an important test of new technologies. According to a film produced by NASA, the mission purpose was to demonstrate that Apollo 7 command module and service modules would function effectively in space for a period sufficient to take a man to the Moon and back. But then, Apollo 7 mutiny occurred (or almost occurred). Read further to find out more.  

What Problems Did the Apollo Mission Have?

Although the Apollo spacecraft had nearly four times the space of its Gemini predecessors, conditions were still cramped and uncomfortable. Commander Walter Schirra Jr. noted that food in space was nothing like cuisine at home, nor was it a pleasure to get rid of it. In NASA’s own estimation, the waste disposal system for collecting solid body waste was acceptable but cumbersome. Those bags were obviously inconvenient to use, and some odors they often emitted were not pleasant. During an approximately 11-day trip, three astronauts apparently used them a total of only 12 times, as Apollo 7 flight journal should record.

After a smooth entry into orbit, the mission crew proceeded with equipment testing, encountering the first Apollo 7 crew problems and some defective equipment. In general, Apollo 7 crew did not encounter any problems that they could not solve. However, they were not always looking forward to solving some of those problems. Besides, astronauts got sick shortly after launch. As Orbital Today reports, about 15 hours into Apollo’s trip, Schirra came down with a severe cold, and the rest of the crew quickly joined him. Because there is no gravity to pull on one’s head and carry away mucus, a cold in space is far more troublesome than a normal cold, which already hurts one’s neck and shoulders. As a direct result, Apollo 7 crew suffered from the usual symptoms of stuffy noses, dry nostrils, and congestion without relief. 

How Did the Apollo 7 Mutiny Take Place?

In most cases, being in a difficult work environment and feeling bad at the same time is not a good combination. Apollo crew’s increasing “gasping” during their interactions with mission control was quickly picked up by reporters who listened in. When Schirra suggested postponing the very first live broadcast from TV to allow important mission tests to be completed, he was met with resistance from other crew members. Back on Earth, Deke Slayton tried several times to convince him to allow a few moments of camera time. Schirra wanted nothing to do with this nonsense, but still, most facts about Apollo 7 are recorded despite its crew’s resistance to carrying on live broadcasts.

Astronauts had been required to wear their helmets on all previous manned re-entries and landings, including those that occurred during Gemini and Mercury missions. However, Schirra and his crew had relieved sinus pressure by squeezing their nostrils and blowing them out; their helmets, which were new versions of Apollo 7 mission and had no visor openings, would make this more difficult for them. They were especially concerned that pressure shifts during re-entry would damage their sinuses and possibly even rupture their eardrums. Therefore, they did not put the helmets on their heads, and people in ground control were not pleased about this safety breach.

What Did Apollo 7 Accomplish?

NASA’s special book, Apollo Spacecraft – A Chronology, boasts that all core objectives of the Apollo 7 mission were met, as were all NASA’s detailed test objectives, as well as three test objectives that were not originally envisioned. The most significant contribution it made, however, was an additional “first” not mentioned in either NASA’s Chronology or its Summary Report on the Apollo program. This “first” is the revolt among some of the expedition’s crew members. 

So, even though Apollo 7 crew paved way for manned missions to the Moon, none of its pilots ever flew to space again. However, their names did make the history of space missions, whether the command center liked it or not.

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