How the Apollo 7 mission nearly ended with a mutiny in space
There are some Apollo missions that outshine the others: the fated Apollo 1 fire, the Apollo 13 near-disaster, and the Apollo 11 moon landing. But without the contribution of other Apollo manned space flights, the moon landing never would have happened on July 20, 1969.
This includes Apollo 7, an 11-day mission to orbit the Earth. It’s a forgotten mission, but it was important in the history of America’s space program as the first mission with three crew members.
But what many might not know is that the mission turned into a mutiny.
Unhappy from the very beginning
Apollo 7 astronauts Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele, and Walter Cunningham were unhappy from the very beginning. According to Teasel Muir-Harmony, curator of space history at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum, the astronaut crew were going to do what they wanted to with the space flight. This was risky behavior, but perhaps the astronauts felt it was their place to complain about various space flight habits.
Leading this frustration was Schirra, a former Gemini astronaut who had more experience with NASA than his crew. But perhaps he wasn’t totally “out of line” for his behavior.
Remembering his fallen “brother”
Leading up to the mission’s launch, Schirra never forgot his former Gemini “brother”—fellow astronaut Gus Grissom, who tragically died in the Apollo 1 fire.
Since the fire, NASA improved the spacecraft to make it safer for astronauts. But that doesn’t mean there wasn’t a risk. Many historians figure this was the cause of Schirra’s tension during the space flight.
The crew was “in charge”
Schirra was adamant about one thing: The crew was “in charge” of the mission, not NASA. Andrew Chaikin, a NASA historian, explained, “Nobody on the ground is taking the risk that he [Schirra] and his crew were. They weren’t risking their butts.”
Schirra also didn’t want to participate in NASA’s planned television broadcast. He fought back against NASA’s demands until it turned into a heated argument—a mutiny in space.
Guess who won the argument? Schirra. After the mission, Schirra left NASA and became a television commentator alongside Walter Cronkite on the remaining Apollo missions.