The crew of Apollo 9 during a pre-flight test. NASA.
When Apollo 9 launched on March 3, 1969, and it might be the most important but least celebrated of the early Apollo missions. In fact, it was so important to NASA’s ultimate lunar landing goal that the agency had a series of contingency missions in place to ensure it could get as much data as possible if something went wrong.
Apollo 9’s mission wasn’t necessarily glamorous. Commander Jim McDivitt, Command Module Pilot (CMP) Dave Scott, and Lunar Module Pilot (LMP) Rusty Schweickart were charged with running through a full lunar landing mission in the (relative) safety of Earth orbit.
Running through these burns, spacecraft separations, and dockings in orbit was no small order, not to mention Apollo 9 would test EVA procedures and other crew factors. As stated in the mission press kit, Apollo 9’s stated goals were:
Launch a full Apollo stack with a crew on board. This would be the first time a Saturn V would launch with both the command-service module (CSM) and lunar module (LM) on board with a full crew. In launch configuration, the LM was stowed beneath the CSM so it would also be ...