The Long Fall To Earth

The coast back from the Moon could be something of an anticlimax, particularly during the early Moon flights. The main purpose of the mission had been achieved, most of the danger had been successfully negotiated, and if the crew and mission control could keep the CSM working well, a safe return was likely. This was a chance for the crew to rest a little, and an opportunity to reflect on their successes and, perhaps, some of the problems they had encountered. There would often be a TV show or two beamed to the masses, and an interplanetary press conference for the world's journalists. But everyone involved knew that danger could lie in the unguarded moment and at no time did the flight controllers drop their attention, even as the crew slept.

It would be a mistake to think that nothing happened on the way home, although duties were certainly much lighter. There was no lunar module to take up the surface crew's time and some of the housekeeping duties around the command module could be shared among all three crewmembers. Some flights were lucky enough to witness interesting astronomical events during their return; others had various small science and technology experiments that made use of the very rare and expensive time that NASA had people in space. The J-missions, in particular, had a heavier workload during their coast home because they had a bay full of science instruments in the service module, and while there was no Moon nearby for them to sense and sniff, they could be used for a little pathfinding astronomy.

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