Previously this blog covered a few aspects of training performed by the Apollo 11 prime crew in preparation for the mission to the Moon. This time we’ll dive deeper (literally, as you’ll see below) into Apollo 11 astronaut training. We last featured the use of the KC-135 reduced-gravity aircraft for simulating the 1/6th gravity of the Moon. Astronauts used their time aboard the aircraft to practice maneuvering in their cumbersome spacesuits and perform run-throughs of the scientific experiments they would conduct on the lunar surface. However, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) did have other methods of simulating 1/6th gravity.
The Manned Spacecraft Center in Houston, Texas, operated the Water Immersion Facility, a large water tank in which astronauts would train underwater to experience weightlessness similar to that of the 1/6th gravity of the Moon. The clip below shows Neil Armstrong’s Extravehicular Activity (EVA) training, just three months before the Apollo 11 launch. Armstrong, fully dressed in the spacesuit and life support equipment that he would need to wear on the lunar surface, is submerged in the water tank and practices climbing up and down the ladder of a mock lunar module. Similar to the KC-135 training, there is a moment where Armstrong falls onto his back and is expected to right himself without help from nearby technicians. Note the divers with underwater cameras swimming around the tank, capturing this training from every angle for later review.
The Manned Spacecraft Center also housed the Space Environment Simulation Laboratory, in which vacuum chambers were used to simulate expected atmospheric conditions of the Moon, such as air pressure and temperature. The following clip again shows Astronaut Armstrong, this time in Chamber B of the simulation laboratory, about one month after the underwater EVA training. As with the KC-135 training, Armstrong practices a run-through of setting up the Early Apollo Scientific Experiments Package. After one successful maneuver, Armstrong turns and salutes the camera.
Here is a closer look at Astronaut Michael Collins suiting up for his turn in Chamber B. NASA technicians assemble the pressure suit and test the life support system as Collins sits back in a comfortable-looking leather recliner.
Of course, not all skills can be learned in the field… even astronauts have to hit the books! These still images from film 255-FR-2978 depict Astronaut Collins studying and taking notes in his office. The title from this film reads “Curriculum for Space Flight.”
Still images from 255-FR-2978.
These Apollo 11 films are only a few of thousands available in Record Group 255, Series FR and can be accessed at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland.