To help frame the problem, I have written the following scenario:

It's December 19, 1972 and the Apollo 17 has returned to Earth, but something went wrong and they landed in the middle of the Outback. Luckily, I happened to be nearby with my ute and some common (rural 1970s Australia) supplies. For some reason, NASA is not here. I don't know why, and I don't have a way to contact anyone because my bloody radio is cactus. The astronauts haven't opened the hatch yet, and I'm worried they may be hurt. Driving to get help might take too long. Without any prior knowledge of the capsule design, is there a way I can figure out to open the hatch just by looking at it?

This fictional scenario is inspired by this comment.

  • 7
    $\begingroup$ To be clear, the purpose of this question is to investigate what the contingencies were for certain types of Apollo recovery. I thought writing a scenario in this way would get more direct answers. Any fun derived is an added bonus. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Nov 30, 2018 at 15:10
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ That Ute car-SUV-truck is beyond the karman line because it's out-of-this-world weird looking; never seen one of those before in the USA. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 15:19
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ I don't want to look like a party pooper but this question should be severely modified to be acceptable. $\endgroup$
    – Ginasius
    Nov 30, 2018 at 15:56
  • 4
    $\begingroup$ If reduced to the last sentence -- the actual question -- it would be perfectly on topic; the scenario just gives context. Upvoting in defense. An alteration to the title wouldn't hurt. $\endgroup$ Nov 30, 2018 at 20:46
  • 5
    $\begingroup$ @MarkOmo I revised it to make the fiction auxiliary to the main question, which is firmly on topic. $\endgroup$
    – called2voyage
    Dec 2, 2018 at 19:36

1 Answer 1


If you carry the right Allen wrench, yes

There is a big golden arrow printed on the hatch that says "RESCUE". It points to a hole. Around the hole are instructions for opening the hatch. It even shows you which direction to turn! (Source: Apollo Program Summary Report page 4-32)

Apollo hatch Apollo 11

More details about the hole:

The exterior input is a socket in a recessed shaft, which penetrates the command module hatch and is rotated by a removable hand tool. It is used for ground operations, for checkout and test, for extravehicular activities, and for postlanding rescue. Because it is exposed to and must survive reentry heating, it is protected by a beryllium copper heat sink and is thermally insulated from the cabin interior by glass fabric spacers.


You need a 7/16 inch Allen (hex) wrench that is at least 4.25 inches long.

The hatch also can be opened from the outside by a tool that is part of the crew's tool set and is carried by ground personnel. The tool is the emer­gency wrench, essentially a modified allenhead L-wrench. It is 6-1/4 inches long and has a 4-1/4-inch drive shaft.


One of these tools had been stowed in the lunar module, but that won't help us now. The 6.25 inch dimension appears to be enough to provide sufficient leverage, yet small enough to be stowed in the LM. As long as you can get enough leverage, your tool doesn't need that. The 4.25 inches is the depth of the hole; your tool could be longer. The socket is 7/16 inch, but I suppose a slightly smaller metric tool could work.

emergency wrench

Crank away and the hatch will unlock.

You have no idea how many pictures I found of actor Richard Hatch, who played Apollo on Battlestar Galactica!

Related? https://www.theonion.com/moon-now-overrun-with-cane-toads-1830745531


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