NAME: Walter M. Schirra
BIRTHPLACE AND DATE: Schirra was born in Hackensack, NJ, on March 12, 1923.
EDUCATION: Graduated United States Naval Academy in 1945
EXPERIENCE: Schirra received his Naval Flight Training at Pensacola Naval Air Station, Florida, in 1947. He served as a carrier-based fighter pilot and operations officer and then attended the Naval Test Pilot School at Patuxent River, Maryland. During the Korean War he flew 90 combat missions in the F-86 Sabre as an exchange pilot with the U. S. Air Force and received the Distinguished Flying Cross
NASA selected Schirra as one of the original seven Mercury astronauts in 1959. He flew on the fifth Project Mercury flight, orbiting the earth in his Sigma 7 capsule six times in 9 hours 13 minutes on Oct. 3, 1962. Following the fiasco of Carpenter’s preceding flight, he conducted a ‘textbook mission’, with minimal experiments.
Schirra commanded Gemini 6, flying with astronaut Tom Stafford. They were to have tracked down and docked with an Agena satellite, but the Agena exploded after lift-off on Oct. 25, 1965. Innovative planners decided Gemini 6 would rendezvous with Gemini 7, a 14-day endurance flight manned by Frank Borman and James Lovell. Gemini 7 was launched Dec. 4, 1965. Gemini 6 was to take off December 12 but was aborted when the Titan 2 booster rocket engine shut down after ignition. Schirra coolly did not pull the ejection handles and stayed on the live booster until it could be safed. Three days later, Schirra and Stafford were launched and the rendezvoused with Gemini 7. After five hours of formation spaceflight, Schirra moved away from Gemini 7. He and Cernan returned to earth the next day while Gemini 7 continued its gruelling flight.
Schirra was commander of Apollo 7 - the first flight test of the redesigned Apollo after the first crew died in the Apollo 1 launch pad fire on January 27, 1967. Following launch on October 11, 1968, the flight was a complete success and provided NASA with confidence to send the next Apollo crew into orbit around the moon. However the Schirra and his crew suffered head colds and had numerous arguments with ground controllers. NASA management secretly decided that none of them would be allowed to fly in space again.
Schirra had already decided to retire from the Navy and NASA before the mission. In 1969 he entered a new business career. He served as an officer and director of several companies and eventually formed his own consultant company, Schirra Enterprises.
Scott Carpenter in Aurora 7 is enthralled by his environment but uses too much orientation fuel. Yaw error and late retrofire caused the landing impact point to be over 300 km beyond the intended area and beyond radio range of the recovery forces. Landing occurred 4 hours and 56 minutes after liftoff. Astronaut Carpenter was later picked up safely by a helicopter after a long wait in the ocean and fears for his safety. NASA was not impressed and Carpenter left the agency soon thereafter to become an aquanaut.
Astronaut Deke Slayton was to have been the second American in orbit. When Slayton was selected as an astronaut in 1959, it was known he had a minor heart fibrillation. This however did not prevent him from being an Air Force test pilot or being selected as an astronaut. But on January 23, 1962 John Glenn's wife refused to do a television appearance with Vice President Lyndon Johnson after a launch scrub of Glenn's mission. Soon thereafter rumours began in McNamara's Pentagon that Glenn had a secret heart condition. It was not Glenn, and his flight went as planned, but in the process Slayton's heart fibrillation came up. After a series of quick developments, Slayton was told he couldn't fly, and was forced to appear at a press conference making that announcement on March 16. The action was seen by many as a warning to the astronauts who was really in charge, although Slayton didn't think there was a direct cause and effect. Slayton's three orbit flight would have been called Delta 7. Instead Carpenter was selected for the mission, and Schirra, Slayton's backup, was moved to the Mercury 8 flight.
The Sigma 7 spacecraft with Astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr., as pilot was launched into orbit by a Mercury-Atlas vehicle from Atlantic Missile Range. In the most successful American manned space flight to date, Schirra traveled nearly six orbits, returning to earth at a predetermined point in the Pacific Ocean 9 hours, 13 minutes after liftoff. Within 40 minutes after landing, he and his spacecraft were safely aboard the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Kearsarge. Schirra attempted and achieved a nearly perfect mission by sticking rigorously to mission plan.
First manned test flight of Gemini. Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young entered an elliptical orbit about the earth. After three orbits, the pair manually landed their spacecraft in the Atlantic Ocean, thus performing the first controlled reentry. Unfortunately, they landed much farther from the landing zone than anticipated, about 97 km (60 miles) from the aircraft carrier U.S.S. Intrepid. But otherwise the mission was highly successful. Gemini III, America's first two-manned space mission, also was the first manned vehicle that was maneuverable. Grissom used the vehicle's maneuvering rockets to effect orbital and plane changes. Grissom wanted to name the spacecraft 'Molly Brown' (as in the Unsinkable, a Debbie Reynolds/Howard Keel screen musical). NASA was not amused and stopped allowing the astronauts to name their spacecraft (until forced to when having two spacecraft aloft at once during the Apollo missions). The flight by Young was the first of an astronaut outside of the original seven. Young, who created a media flap by taking a corned beef sandwich aboard as a prank, would go on to fly to the moon on Apollo and the Space Shuttle on its first flight sixteen years later.
The primary objective of the mission, crewed by command pilot Astronaut Walter M. Schirra, Jr., and pilot Astronaut Thomas P. Stafford, was to rendezvous with spacecraft No. 7. Among the secondary objectives were stationkeeping with spacecraft No. 7, evaluating spacecraft reentry guidance capability, testing the visibility of spacecraft No. 7 as a rendezvous target, and conducting three experiments. After the launch vehicle inserted the spacecraft into an 87 by 140 nautical mile orbit, the crew prepared for the maneuvers necessary to achieve rendezvous. Four maneuvers preceded the first radar contact between the two spacecraft. The first maneuver, a height adjustment, came an hour and a half after insertion, at first perigee; a phase adjustment at second apogee, a plane change, and another height adjustment at second perigee followed. The onboard radar was turned on 3 hours into the mission. The first radar lock-on indicated 246 miles between the two spacecraft. The coelliptic maneuver was performed at third apogee, 3 hours 47 minutes after launch. The terminal phase initiation maneuver was performed an hour and a half later. Two midcourse corrections preceded final braking maneuvers at 5 hours 50 minutes into the flight. Rendezvous was technically accomplished and stationkeeping began some 6 minutes later when the two spacecraft were about 120 feet apart and their relative motion had stopped. Stationkeeping maneuvers continued for three and a half orbits at distances from 1 to 300 feet. Spacecraft No. 6 then initiated a separation maneuver and withdrew to a range of about 30 miles. The only major malfunction in spacecraft No. 6 during the mission was the failure of the delayed-time telemetry tape recorder at 20 hours 55 minutes ground elapsed time, which resulted in the loss of all delayed-time telemetry data for the remainder of the mission, some 4 hours and 20 minutes. The flight ended with a nominal reentry and landing in the West Atlantic, just 10 km from the planned landing point, on December 16. The crew remained in the spacecraft, which was recovered an hour later by the prime recovery ship, the aircraft carrier Wasp.
Gemini 6 was to have been the first flight involving docking with an Agena target/propulsion stage. However the Agena blew up on the way to orbit, and the spacecraft was replaced by Gemini 7 in the launch order.
For lack of a target, NASA decided to have Gemini 6 rendezvous with Gemini 7. This would require a quick one week turnaround of the pad after launch, no problem with Russian equipment but a big accomplishment for the Americans. The first launch attempt was aborted; the Titan II ignited for a moment, then shut down and settled back down on its launch attachments. Schirra waited it out, did not pull the abort handles that would send the man catapulting out of the capsule on their notoriously unreliable ejection seats. The booster was safed; Schirra had saved the mission and the launch three days later went perfectly. The flight went on to achieve the first manned space rendezvous controlled entirely by the self-contained, on-board guidance, control, and navigation system. This system provided the crew of Gemini 6 with attitude, thrusting, and time information needed for them to control the spacecraft during the rendezvous. Under Schirra's typically precise command, the operation was so successful that the rendezvous was complete with fuel consumption only 5% above the planned value to reach 16 m separation from Gemini 7.
The first manned flight of the Apollo CSM, the Apollo C category mission, was planned for the last quarter of 1966. Numerous problems with the Apollo Block I spacecraft resulted in a flight delay to February 1967. The crew of Virgil I. Grissom, Edward H. White II, and Roger B. Chaffee, was killed in a fire while testing their capsule on the pad on 27 January 1967, still weeks away from launch. The designation AS-204 was used by NASA for the flight at the time; the designation Apollo 1 was applied retroactively at the request of Grissom's widow.
It was originally planned to make a second solo flight test of the Block I Apollo CSM on a Saturn IB. This flight was referred to by everyone outside of the astronaut office as AS-205 or CSM-014. This flight was finally seen as unnecessary; the decision to cancel it came on November 16 and was officially announced on December 22, 1966; the Schirra crew instead became, briefly, the backup crew to Apollo 1 (replacing the original backup crew of McDivitt, Scott, Schweickart). After the Apollo 1 fire on January 27, 1967, the Schirra crew was assigned to Apollo 7, the first manned flight test of the new Block II Apollo CSM-101.
Apollo 7 (AS-205), the first manned Apollo flight, lifted off from Launch Complex 34 at Cape Kennedy Oct. 11, carrying Walter M. Schirra, Jr., Donn F. Eisele, and R. Walter Cunningham. The countdown had proceeded smoothly, with only a slight delay because of additional time required to chill the hydrogen system in the S-IVB stage of the Saturn launch vehicle. Liftoff came at 11:03 a.m. EDT. Shortly after insertion into orbit, the S-IVB stage separated from the CSM, and Schirra and his crew performed a simulated docking with the S-IVB stage, maneuvering to within 1.2 meters of the rocket. Although spacecraft separation was normal, the crew reported that one adapter panel had not fully deployed. Two burns using the reaction control system separated the spacecraft and launch stage and set the stage for an orbital rendezvous maneuver, which the crew made on the second day of the flight, using the service propulsion engine.
Crew and spacecraft performed well throughout the mission. During eight burns of the service propulsion system during the flight, the engine functioned normally. October 14, third day of the mission, witnessed the first live television broadcast from a manned American spacecraft. The SPS engine was used to deorbit after 259 hours 39 minutes of flight. CM-SM separation and operation of the earth landing system were normal, and the spacecraft splashed down about 13 kilometers from the recovery ship (27.32 N 64.04 W), the U.S.S. Essex, at 7:11 a.m. EDT October 22. Although the vehicle initially settled in an apex-down ("stable 2") attitude, upright bags functioned normally and returned the CSM to an upright position in the water. Schirra, Eisele, and Cunningham were quickly picked up by a recovery helicopter and were safe aboard the recovery vessel less than an hour after splashdown.
All primary Apollo 7 mission objectives were met, as well as every detailed test objective (and three test objectives not originally planned). Engineering firsts from Apollo 7, aside from live television from space, included drinking water for the crew produced as a by-product of the fuel cells. Piloting and navigation accomplishments included an optical rendezvous, daylight platform realignment, and orbital determination via sextant tracking of another vehicle. All spacecraft systems performed satisfactorily. Minor anomalies were countered by backup systems or changes in procedures. With successful completion of the Apollo 7 mission, which proved out the design of the Block II CSM (CSM 101), NASA and the nation had taken the first step on the pathway to the moon.
Although the systems worked, the crew became grumpy with head colds and talked back to the ground. As a result, NASA management determined that none of them would fly again.