As I sit here typing this, it’s the 22nd of January. What I hadn’t realised, not until I was looking through a couple of science news type web pages over lunch, anyway, is that this is quite an important date.  Fifty years ago, in 1968, Apollo 5 lifted off from Cape Kennedy.  At this point, there was still another eighteen months to go before the first manned Lunar landing, but Apollo 5 was important as it was carrying the Apollo Lunar Module into space for the first time.  The Lunar Module (LM) would go on to take the first astronauts to the surface of the moon in July 1969, but in early 1968, it still hadn’t been tested in an actual space environment.


Bear in mind that space flight was still a fairly new concept at the time (remember that the first manned space flight had taken place only seven years earlier) and NASA needed to make sure that the LM was going to behave as the designers and engineers said it would, so it was attached to a Saturn 1B rocket and sent into Earth orbit.  During the flight, its ascent and descent engine systems were tested and a simulation of a “landing abort” was carried out.


After a series of rigorous tests, the two stages of the LM were left in a low orbit so that atmospheric drag would eventually cause the orbits to decay and both stages to re-enter the atmosphere, which they did several days later, with the ascent stage burning up as it re-entered and the descent stage landing in the Pacific Ocean on 12th February that year.


NASA considered the test to be a success and this paved the way for the first manned LM flight which took place in March 1969, taking them closer to the ultimate goal later that year.


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