Supporting Apollo

While Harrison Schmitt was the only one of the scientist-astronauts to set foot on the lunar surface during Apollo, the others all had roles to play in support of the programme to ensure that Schmitt and his eleven fellow moonwalkers successfully achieved their missions.

On 23 September 1965, three months after being selected as astronauts, Joe Kerwin and Curt Michel received technical assignments within the Astronaut Office (CB) while their colleagues were at flight school. For Kerwin, the only physician in the group, it became very clear that he would probably receive an assignment that was something to do with medical research on long-duration space flight rather than a

Houston Space Center Gene Cernan
On 6 January 1966, Joe Kerwin and Rusty Schweickart were inside the crew compartment of a Lunar Excursion Module (LEM) simulator at Houston's Manned Spacecraft Center during stowage tests.

short mission. When the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) evolved to support such long-duration missions, it dawned on Kerwin that "I had a role and a mission to shoot for.''1

He was assigned to environmental control systems and then to pressure suit and EVA issues in the Operations and Training Branch, while Michel worked with experiments and future programmes within the Apollo Branch. Most of this work would be reassigned to the Apollo Applications Office in late 1965. The two men received additional assignments over the Apollo years in support of the developing Apollo lunar programme.

Kerwin asked Astronaut Chief Al Shepard if he should keep up his medical skills at the clinic for a couple of days each week. Shepard informed the new astronaut that he would have more than enough to do without clinical medicine proficiency, and he was right. Assigned initially to the environmental control systems (taking over from William Anders who had been reassigned to back-up Gemini XI), he found himself dealing with life support, spacesuit and cabin atmosphere issues. But it soon became clear to Kerwin that his medical background would be useful in understanding such issues. He had to pick up on the engineering aspects of his assignments, and in this he was guided by Anders, who told him to stop learning every nut and bolt, reduce the tasks to the simplest things and keep notes on small file cards.

When Ken Mattingly received a support assignment in the early Apollo missions, Kerwin was given the technical assignment for pressure suits, participating in the Source Evaluation Board for the Apollo suits examining prototypes from Hamilton Standard and David Clark. This included evaluating their design, material and mobility. This assignment also involved technical assignments in AAP relating to suits and EVAs, running concurrently with his Apollo assignments. It is not unusual for NASA astronauts, even today, to receive two, three, four or more concurrent technical assignments while between flight crew assignments.

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