Support crews were assigned to Apollo early in the programme to help lighten the training load on the prime and back-up crews due to the complexity of the lunar missions. These support crews would attend meetings, visit contractors, keep the crew up to date on a variety of issues related to their specific flight and fill in for some of the more mundane simulations and chores.
Ed Gibson was assigned to the support crew for Apollo 12 (with Jerry Carr and Paul Weitz), while Karl Henize, Robert Parker and Joe Allen formed the support crew for Apollo 15. Phil Chapman and Tony England were assigned to the support crew of Apollo 16 (with Hank Hartsfield) and Bob Parker served on the support crew for Apollo 17.
In the Capcom role, an astronaut served on a shift at Mission Control in Houston and communicated to the crew in space. He was essentially a ground-based crew representative and liaised with the Flight Control Director and team. The scientist-astronauts who filled some of these roles during Apollo 11-13 and 15-17 were:4
Apollo 11: Garriott, Schmitt
Apollo 12: Gibson
Apollo 13: Kerwin
Apollo 15: Allen, Henize, Parker, Schmitt
Apollo 16: England
Apollo 17: Parker, Allen
Owen Garriott found the Apollo 11 assignment useful in getting him closer to an actual flight crew and operational participation in a "real mission''. That experience helped the Skylab astronauts, especially the rookie ones, enter the programme with some experience of real space flight operations and activities. Soon after Apollo 11 landed on the Moon and while the crew rested prior to performing their EVA, Garriott served as Capcom. There was not much to do, but he had to be ready for any potential emergency.
As part of their Apollo training, astronauts were given at least one day's helicopter flight instruction, which closely simulated some of the characteristics of flying a Lunar Module. During one flight, Ed Gibson made a landing attempt on a dry looking area of the Houston ship canal. But the surface gave way and he crashed the helicopter, although he walked away from it. He thought his career as an astronaut was over -
and his helicopter flying certainly was - but despite being subjected to a lot of heat over the incident, he remained in the programme. However, his chances of receiving an Apollo assignment that would take him to the Moon diminished, like the other scientists, as the programme wound down. He did receive an assignment to the Apollo 12 support crew, working on procedures and timelines for the lunar EVAs and assisting in the development of the checklists to help ease the mental burden on the crew. They tested placing the checklists on the LM and on equipment, but Bob Roberts of flight crew support suggested a cuff-mounted checklist that was finally approved. It is still in use on today's ISS EVAs.
Kerwin could never work out why he was selected to Capcom on Apollo 13, but it may have been because of his work with pressure suits and environmental systems and his involvement in the thermal vacuum chamber tests. He was also leading Capcom, the one working on launch, the EVAs and entry, while Brand and Lousma worked on other phases of the mission. Specialising in areas of the mission was easier to train for than trying to cover the whole mission. Kerwin was on duty when the centre engine on stage two failed, but procedures worked and the crew made it to orbit. He was in bed when the call came that Apollo 13 had a serious problem. He had supported the work from Mission Control during the crisis and had trained as entry Capcom, but lost the lunar surface Capcom duties when the landing was abandoned. His memories of the mission are of long hours with the headset on listening to white noise (static) and picking up crew comments with the high gain antenna powered down. He was also the
Capcom who communicated instructions for the crew on how to construct the carbon dioxide scrubber.
Karl Henize learned of his assignment to Apollo 15 from Deke Slayton at the Apollo 12 post-flight party in late 1969. He had already realised that he would not get an Apollo flight, but was not overly concerned about missing out on the Moon. He always wanted a Skylab flight, which at that time was still a strong possibility.5 Henize worked on CSM issues, spending months at Downey in California participating in the Rockwell checkout of the CM scheduled to fly on Apollo 15. As the test programme progressed, Henize was inside the CM following procedures and throwing switches. Being the crew representative, he was then able to keep Dave Scott and his crew (and the back-ups) appraised of the myriad of small problems he encountered. "I worked extensively on the emergency procedures to ensure they were up to date for our CM. I got roughly eighty hours of training in the CM simulator, both as general experience when Al (Worden) was having a session and also on my own to confirm procedures." Henize was in the water tank at Marshal at least twice with Worden as he trained for the film cassette recovery EVA, and carried out chamber tests of the CM at the Cape along with Jack Schmitt, spending several hours in pressure suits in the vacuum chamber to confirm that critical systems actually worked in a vacuum. "I was the 'back-up CM Pilot' (a misnomer) during launch, the astronaut in the six-person crew that got the crew tucked into the CM on launch morning.''5
Was this article helpful?