Apollo 9: Travel with the crew as they launch to space

Just months before Apollo 11, astronauts carried out a battery of tests on the lunar module that Neil and Buzz would use to land on the Moon.
By | Published: May 31, 2019 | Last updated on May 18, 2023
Rusty Schweickart comes out of the lunar module hatch for a spacewalk to test the EVA moon suit. The circular object behind him is one of the four landing pads.
Unlike Apollo 8’s spectacular Moon voyage, Apollo 9 never left low earth orbit, but its mission was essential: fly the ungainly-looking lunar module on a shakedown cruise. With spidery legs and a chunky profile, the module, dubbed Spider, was all function, no form — the ideal machine to land on the Moon.

The crew was led by veteran astronaut Jim McDivitt, whose previous flight on Gemini IV featured the iconic first US spacewalk by Ed White.

A Saturn V launched the mission on March 3, 1969, carrying McDivitt, Rusty Schweickart, and Dave Scott into orbit to test the module’s fitness to land on the Moon and safely return. During the ten-day flight, the astronauts tested the craft’s descent engine while coupled to the command module, lifting both spacecraft to a lofty 300-mile (480 kilometer) orbit and marking the first crewed throttling of an engine in space. Later in the mission, McDivitt and Schweickart flew solo up to 113 miles (181 km) away from the command module, using the ascent engine to maneuver and return.

The nearly flawless flight ended March 13, with a splashdown only 3 miles (5 km) from the USS Guadalcanal.