First Apollo rocket stage photographed from space: the SIVB over Cape Kennedy

Space Mission
Apollo 7, 11-22 October 1968

Walter Cunningham

Photo Description
Vintage chromogenic print on fiber-based Kodak paper
10 h × 8 w in (25 × 20 cm); ‘A Kodak Paper’ watermarks to verso.
[NASA image AS7-3-1545]

This famous photograph of the SIVB stage over Cape Kennedy illustrates the major objective of the Apollo 7 mission which was to rendezvous, without benefit of radar, with the expended second stage of their Saturn booster (SIVB).
The S-IVB remained attached to the CSM for about one-and-a-half orbits until separation. Schirra fired the CSM’s small rockets to pull 50 feet ahead of the S-IVB, then turned the spacecraft around to simulate rendezvous and docking, as would be necessary to extract a Lunar Module (LM) for future Moon landings. In the last mile, closing maneuvers were made by eyeballing the target.

Here, the Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter (SLA) on the rocket’s second stage opens like a giant flower during Apollo 7’s simulated docking. The photograph was taken at an altitude of about 125 nautical miles. The distance between the spacecraft and the expended Saturn SIVB stage is approximately 100 feet. Behind the open Spacecraft Lunar Module Adapter panels of the SIVB is the Gulf of Mexico. The panels had not fully deployed, which would have been problematic on a mission that carried a LM, but the panels would be jettisoned explosively on future flights.

“Probably my favorite picture is of Cape Canaveral shown through the petals of the SIV-B, Cunningham took the picture but I had to fly the Apollo Command Module to get in position so he could sight down between the petals and see Cape Canaveral in the background.”
—Walter Schirra (Schick and Van Haaften, pg. 89)