Launch Day 26 July 1971

"Okay, guys, this is it,'' Deke Slayton announced to Scott, Irwin and Worden as he woke his crew at 4:19 a.m. on the third floor of the crew quarters at Kennedy Space Center. They each put on bathrobes and walked down the hall to the medical examination room for a quick pre-launch physical. Dr. Clarence Jernigan checked each astronaut and gave them a clean bill of health. Scott and Irwin went back to their quarters to get dressed for breakfast, but Worden chose to have the traditional pre-launch breakfast of steak and eggs in his robe. All three men appeared to be relaxed, but were quieter than usual, lost in their thoughts of the imminent launch. The backup crew was there having breakfast also, but there was little conversation. Breakfast over, the crew went down to the suit room. They undressed, received a second examination by Dr. Jernigan, had bio-medical sensors applied to their bodies, and then began the methodical process of suiting up with the help of technicians. They were now breathing pure oxygen to purge all traces of nitrogen from their bloodstreams prior to launch, which was still several hours away. After a period of rest on recliners, Slayton received the call from the launch pad that the mighty

Saturn V was finally ready for the crew. With their portable air conditioning units in hand, the crew of Apollo 15 left the building at 6:30 a.m., waved to the press photographers and well-wishers as they got into the crew transport van with Slayton, and rode out to Pad 39B.

The crew took the elevator of the Launch Umbilical Tower (LUT) to the top and walked one by one across the last swing arm to the closeout room that surrounded the Command Module Endeavor. Waiting for them was Guenther Wendt, the always-smiling pad leader who, with his crew, assisted the astronauts into the capsule, made the necessary air conditioning and communications connections, and securely strapped them into their couches. He wished them a safe flight, and the heavy capsule door was closed and locked. A panel that covered the capsule door as part of the Boost Protective Cover was secured in place and Wendt and his crew left the closeout room, took the elevator down to ground level and left the pad. The countdown of Apollo 15 proceeded smoothly with no delays right to the moment the launch window opened at 9:34 a.m.

At T minus nine seconds, the ignition sequence started. The turbopumps of the five F-1 engines started simultaneously, injecting the liquid oxygen and RP-1 into the combustion chamber and igniting the volatile mixture. The engines roared to life, quickly building up to more than 1.5 million pounds of thrust each. It took several seconds for the thundering cacophony to reach the press and spectators at the viewing area near the VAB. Like some erupting volcano, huge clouds of smoke billowed from beneath the launch platform and shot into the sky. The swing arms pulled away from the shuddering rocket that was now generating 7.7 million pounds of thrust. The four hold-down arms restraining the Saturn suddenly released, the astronauts heard the voice of Mission Control bark, ''Liftoff!'' and the largest rocket in the world quickly accelerated, clearing the Launch Umbilical Tower in a matter of seconds. Watching from the launch control room were Gen. Samuel Phillips, director of the Apollo program within the Manned Spacecraft Office, Dr. Wernher von Braun, NASA Administrator Dr. James Fletcher and NASA Deputy Administrator Dr. George M. Low. Von Braun was confident that he would see the Lunar Rover traveling across the Hadley Plains several days hence.

At 57 seconds, the Saturn was already at 25,000 feet. At 2 minutes 30 seconds, the event some astronauts call the ''train wreck'' but which is officially known as staging, took place. The center engine shut down first, but the moment the remaining four F-1 engines shut down, the three astronauts were thrown against their restraining harnesses. The first stage dropped away, followed by the inter-stage ring. The five J-2 engines of the second stage then ignited, thrusting the astronauts back into their couches. At 3 minutes and 21 seconds, the Launch Escape System, no longer needed in the event of an abort, was jettisoned, taking with it the Boost Protective Cover.

''After the cover blew we were going straight up, and we saw blue sky that got blacker and blacker,'' Jim Irwin wrote in his autobiography To Rule the Night. ''Once into Earth orbit, we could see blue skies below and black skies above. Right in the middle of my window was a full Moon. Seeing the full Moon was a terrific omen. I knew we were going to have a great mission.''

The Apollo 15 landing site did not feature many large boulders as was originally suspected, but the area was heavily populated with blocks, as shown here during EVA-3. These conditions gave the LRV's suspension and wheels a real workout. Dave Scott is seen holding his Hasselblad camera with 500mm lens. (NASA)

The Apollo 15 landing site did not feature many large boulders as was originally suspected, but the area was heavily populated with blocks, as shown here during EVA-3. These conditions gave the LRV's suspension and wheels a real workout. Dave Scott is seen holding his Hasselblad camera with 500mm lens. (NASA)

The S-II stage continued to burn smoothly until 9 minutes and 16 seconds when the engines shut down and staging took place once more. The crew of Apollo 15 was now 1,800 km downrange at 175 km altitude and traveling at more than 7,000 meters per second. The single J-2 of the S-IVB fired to place them in their proper orbit, and shut down at 11 minutes and 34 seconds.

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