The Apollo Project was a series of manned lunar landing missions. After the overwhelming success of the Gemini Project, the Apollo Project got underway.
NASA named the Apollo Program for the Roman god of music, poetry, prophecy, and medicine. It was the third and final program in the plan to send a man to the Moon. Its objective was to land an astronaut on the Moon, and bring him safely back home to Earth. The highlights of the Apollo Program included the first humans to leave Earth's orbit, and the first human to land on the Moon. Training for the Apollo mission lasted only eighteen months due to the knowledge gained during the first two programs. Each astronaut specialized in certain aspects of the Apollo Program.
There were some unique problems associated with the Apollo missions. In space, there is no protection from radiation. Solar radiation is strongest between two zones, at twenty-four hundred miles, and at ten thousand miles above the Earth's atmosphere. Dr. James A. Van Allen discovered these zones, now called the Van Allan Belt. The Mercury and Gemini spacecraft experienced only minor problems with radiation because they remained in earth's orbit, below the Van Allen Belt.
To execute a manned lunar landing, NASA devised a new spacecraft. The Apollo spacecraft consisted of two main parts, the Saturn 5 launch vehicle and the Apollo spacecraft. NASA engineers built the Apollo spacecraft for a three-man crew. It contained three components known as the Command Module, the CM; the Service Module, the SM; and the Lunar Excursion Module, the LEM.
NASA engineers conceived a special heat shield for the Apollo spacecraft. The shield melted, burned, and vaporized from the three thousand degree temperature it encountered as it dropped back into the atmosphere. Air surrounding the spacecraft blew particles of the shield away; taking with it some of the heat, in a process called ablation.
The astronauts ate, slept, and worked in the CM without their spacesuits because the atmosphere in the cabin of the Apollo spacecraft was closer to normal. Life support systems on board the CM provided food, water, and oxygen to the astronauts. The CM also had control and instrument panels, periscopes, and windows.
The SM carried the rocket engines and fuel supplies needed to propel the Apollo spacecraft into and out of, lunar orbit. The LEM took the astronauts down to the moon's surface and back into lunar orbit to dock with the CM and SM. The LEM contained rockets that decreased its speed before landing on the Moon.
The Apollo astronauts wore a protective suit and helmet designed with a distinct covering. The designers pressurized the space suits to prevent the astronauts' blood from boiling and to keep them from getting the bends. Oxygen circulated through the spacesuits to the helmets so that the astronauts could breathe while keeping their bodies cool.
The Apollo astronauts wore longjohns that incorporated a system of small tubes. The tubes carried cool water to and from the backpack. Backpacks developed for the Apollo astronauts enabled them to work on the Moon's surface for long periods at a time. The spacesuits' insulation kept out the extreme cold of space and the intense heat of the lunar day. Other coatings in the multi-layered spacesuit lessened the effects of cosmic rays and tiny meteorites. The one-piece Apollo spacesuit had a special outer visor to provide the astronauts with added protection from ultraviolet radiation.
With the splashdown of Apollo 17 on December 19, 1972. Project Apollo came to an end. Its goals were met and went beyond landing Americans on the Moon and returning them safely to Earth.
During the Apollo Program, NASA and the US astronauts realized the following goals:
Established technology to match other national interests in space
Achieved America's preeminence in space
Carried out a scientific exploration of the Moon program
Developed man's capability to work in the lunar environment.