Vacuum Testing Apollo

Manned flights in Apollo would, like Mercury and Gemini before it, be preceded by a series of unmanned flights to qualify the hardware, systems, procedures and infrastructure. As part of this test programme, NASA planned a series of simulated missions in vacuum chambers, which would reproduce the characteristics of the space environment without leaving the ground. Though engineers from the prime contractors could and would participate in some of these tests, having astronauts aboard the simulations would enable the CB to be represented in such critical developmental tests of the spacecraft. It would also give rookie astronauts some experience of working as a crew and in the confinement of a spacecraft under as close to space conditions as possible.

Located in Building 32 at the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory comprised two separate vacuum chambers, one of 17 m diameter by 36 m in height (Chamber A) and the other 14 m by 13 m (Chamber B). As well as being able to reproduce the vacuum of space to a simulated altitude of 240 km, there was a battery of carbon-arc lights that were used to reproduce the intensity of solar heating to 95 degrees Celsius, while cryogenic panels in the walls of the chambers could reduce temperatures to —140 degrees Celsius. With air in the chamber, the door could be opened to insert or remove the spacecraft being tested and evaluated. The two chambers were completed in 1965 and Chamber B was first used during January 1966 for testing Gemini pressure suits and EVA equipment. Later that year, a Block I Apollo CSM (planned for Earth-orbital missions only) was installed for qualification tests in Chamber A.

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