Technical assignments and the AAP Office

At the time the new group began their training, many of the other NASA astronauts had begun receiving Astronaut Office (CB) technical assignments on future programmes. This included early studies in extending the range of Apollo flights to include more scientifically orientated missions.

At a meeting held on 6 August 1964, Astronaut Chief Alan Shepard outlined several technical assignments that would be conducted prior to any further assignments to specific flight crews. Most of these were associated with the Gemini and Apollo programmes, but Russell (''Rusty'') Schweickart from the third astronaut group was also assigned to ''future programmes and in-flight experiments'' within the Apollo branch office, which pointed to the extended Apollo flights under serious discussion at that time. Fellow Group 3 astronaut Walt Cunningham also picked up an assignment to non-flight (ground) experiments in the same branch office.

In the absence of their three scientist-astronaut colleagues, Kerwin and Michel were handed technical assignments on 23 September. Kerwin was given technical duties in pressure suits and EVA in the Operations and Training branch, and would also play a key role in the thermal vacuum tests of the Apollo Command and Service Modules. Michel found himself with an assignment in experiments and future programmes within the Apollo branch.

The preparation of hardware and experiments for any flight into space consumes a considerable amount of time. It involves many evaluations and mock-ups before a design is even considered qualified for assignment to a flight. The technical tasks given to the astronauts involved reviewing the ideas and proposals and evaluating their suitability for flight in areas of operational use and crew safety. As a consequence, hundreds of plans, proposals and ideas passed through the office. Many would never reach the stage of design configuration, let alone be assigned to a flight. The Gemini and Apollo programmes were also consuming so much of people's time and energies that no one in the Astronaut Office would give more than scant attention to paper studies on plans for future extended Apollo missions. That would change when the Apollo Applications Program (AAP) Office was finally set up at MSC in late 1965.

The AAP Branch Office was established once proposals for the development of a series of extended Apollo missions had progressed sufficiently to warrant a serious examination of all future plans and possible hardware. It became responsible for crew activities within the programme, and several astronauts were assigned to help carry out initial work studies.

Six months later, on 3 February 1966, Shepard issued a CB memo announcing the creation of yet another new branch office within the CB structure. This would be known as the Advanced Programs Office. It would be associated with the CB Apollo Program Office and headed by former Mercury astronaut Scott Carpenter, who had recently returned from a temporary assignment to the USN Sealab underwater habitation project. This office would assimilate Kerwin, assigned to pressure suits and EVA development, and Michel on experiments. Shepard's memo went on to state that Garriott, Gibson and Schmitt would be joining the branch in September, following their return from jet pilot school. On 23 March 1966, NASA unveiled its first AAP schedule, and it was a staggering concept. It projected a total of forty-five missions, made up of twenty-six Saturn IB and nineteen Saturn V launches, in both lunar and Earth orbit phases of the programme, by the mid-1970s. AAP would be an autonomous programme, separate from the mainstream Apollo lunar landing missions. Among the launches then envisaged would be three Saturn S-IVB Spent Stage Experiment Support Modules, otherwise known as ''wet'' workshops, three Saturn V-launched orbital laboratories, and four Apollo Telescope Mount missions. The first AAP launch was anticipated to take place in April 1968, although this depended on progress within the Apollo lunar landing programme and assumed minimum modifications to the hardware and launch schedules.

There was some early astronaut input into AAP development, as outlined in a memo dated 6 May, with Kerwin and Slayton expressing the concerns of the Astronaut Office over the lack of experiment planning and hardware operational safety in the Saturn IVB wet workshop configurations then under consideration. Then, in August, after completing his backup work on Gemini 10, Alan Bean was reassigned from the astronaut flight line to become the first Chief of the AAP Branch in the Astronaut Office. The following month, the three newly-qualified jet pilot scientists returned to Houston.

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