Chamber testing the Block I CSM

Initial vacuum tests of a Block I Command Module took place in a smaller chamber at the primary manufacturer, North American Aviation, in Downey, California, during the summer of 1966. The full CSM test conducted in Houston's Chamber A covered a period of eighty-three days, with a ninety-two-hour unmanned test followed by a 163hour manned test (almost seven days). Astronauts Ed Givens (recently selected in the Group 5 intake) and Joe Kerwin were chosen for the test, along with USAF Captain Joe Gagliano, who was on assignment to the Flight Crew Support Division at MSC.2

The purpose of the test was to evaluate procedures and hardware prior to committing the Block I to manned orbital operations with Apollo 1 early in 1967. As a result of the test, a number of issues had to be addressed prior to clearing the Apollo 1 mission for flight. During the August 1966 review of the CSM-008 test programme, Director of Flight Crew Operations, Deke Slayton, put forward a suggestion that in future, a flight surgeon should be assigned to the next CSM chamber test crew scheduled to evaluate the Block II CSM for lunar missions (using CSM 2TV-1) to help define medical requirements for Apollo and to provide baseline data that could be used in developing crew training and test objectives. At that time, the only medical doctor in the astronaut corps was Joe Kerwin. Having already experienced the CSM-008 test, it was logical to assign him to the next one.

Kerwin recalls this period in his 2000 Oral History: "I had a fun assignment in there as a member of the crew. The first one was to precede Apollo 1. Three of us were assigned to spend a week in Chamber A in Building 32 (which was brand new at that time), testing the spacecraft out, and we had a good time doing it. We utilised equipment and procedures which were the same as those that killed the crew of Apollo 1, so we considered ourselves, in retrospect, very fortunate that we didn't have a spark [in the 100 percent oxygen atmosphere of the CM].''

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