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Jul 30, 2012

The Recovery of Apollo Flight Crew and Command Module

Since the Apollo Command Module rescue operation is rather interesting I add an article about it here. This text is mostly from resource /1/.

Apollo 17 CM rescue - On 19 December 1972, the Apollo 17 crew jettisoned the no-longer-needed Service Module, leaving only the Command Module for return to Earth. The Apollo 17 spacecraft reentered Earth's atmosphere and landed safely in the Pacific Ocean at 2:25 PM, 6.4 kilometres (4.0 mi) from the recovery ship, the USS Ticonderoga. Cernan, Evans and Schmitt were then retrieved by a recovery helicopter (Sikorsky SH-3 Sea King) and were safely aboard the recovery ship fifty-two minutes after landing.


The recovery of Apollo flight crews and Command Modules with their contained lunar materials and mission equipment from the lunar landing missions requires rapid retrieval, maintenance of biological isolation during postflight operations, and special handling equipment for the preservation and preliminary examination of lunar samples prior to their distribution to principal investigators.

The following is a description of the prime recovery equipment and facilities, and the Lunar Receiving Laboratory.


The Recovery Control Room (RCR) at the Mission Control Center (MCC) is the command and control center for all recovery operations.

The Recovery Control Room (RCR)

Mission Control Center (MCC)

Department of Defense (DOD) personnel command and control the recovery forces and NASA personnel interchange recovery information for mission support requirements. Primary command and control functions are exercised through two major Recovery Control Centers (RCC's) - at Kunai, Hawaii (Task Force 130) and at Norfolk, Virginia (Task Force 140). 

Helicopter pickup


Primary Recovery Ship

The primary recovery ship (PRS) is an aircraft carrier-type ship. Its primary purpose is retrieval of the Command Module (CM) and recovery of the astronauts within allowable limits of access/retrieval times in the primary landing area. The PRS is also utilized to support the secondary landing areas on the mid-Pacific recovery line during the translunar coast phase of the lunar landing mission.

USS Ticonderoga (CV/CVA/CVS-14) was one of 24 Essex-class aircraft carriers built during World War II for the United States Navy.

The PRS is provided with specialized equipment in accordance with the requirements of each mission. The specialized equipment and facilities may include search and rescue helicopters with swimmer pelsonnel, medical personnel and facilities, a complete bioastronautic recovery set, firefighting equipment capable of containing hypergolic fuel fires, and communications circuits to coordinate recovery, medical, and public affairs activities. The recovery ship uses existing equipment to hoist the CM onto the spacecraft dolly. 

Support Aircraft 

Airborne elements in the primary landing area during recovery operations will include:

* SARAH-equipped helicopters, each carrying a three-man swimmer team, to conduct electronic search. At least one of the swimmers on each team will be equipped with an underwater (Calypso) 35mm camera. 

* A helicopter to carry photographers, as designated by the NASA Recovery Team Leader assigned to the PRS, in the vicinity of the target point. 

* Aircraft to function as communications relay, stationed overhead at the scene of action. 

* HC-130 aircraft with operational AN/ARD-17 (Cook Tracker), three-man pararescue team, and complete  Apollo recovery equipment uprange and one downrange.

Prior to CM entry, an Apollo Range Instrumentation Aircraft is on station near the primary landing area for network support. It is used to support the entry phase and recovery operations if required. 

The recovery helicopters are equipped with "Billy Pugh" Rescue Nets (BIPURN) (above figure) and transport specially trained underwater demolition team swimmers.

Recovery units are equipped with flotation collars for the spacecraft, an auxiliary recovery loop (nylon) to supplement the integral recovery loop attached to the spacecraft for hoisting, an Apollo liferaft, 
isolation garments, disinfectant, an appropriate communication and direction finding equipment. The CM may be in the Stable I position (apex up), or in the Stable II position (apex down).

See also:

YouTube video about Apollo rescue

YouTube video about Apollo 15 splashdown

Apollo 11: Mission Control During Spacecraft Recovery (1969)

U.S.S. Hornet recovers the Apollo 11 Command Module.

Recovery Control Room at Mission Control Center During Apollo 11 Recover


/1/ NASA Apollo Program Office - Report No. M-933-71 - MISSION OPERATION REPORT APOLLO SUPPLEMENT - 1971

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