One of Those Pictures

I saw Bryan Swopes had a version of this picture in This Day in Aviation the other day but I lost the place and the reference.    A quick Google search for “Mercury 7 F-106” brought a back a slightly cropped version of the picture, which is fine since in this case we’re looking at the men, not the aircraft.


Standing beside a Convair F106-B aircraft in a January 1961 photograph are the nation’s Project Mercury astronauts. Left to right, are M. Scott Carpenter, L. Gordon Cooper Jr., John H. Glenn Jr., Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom, Walter M. Schirra Jr., Alan B. Shepard Jr. and Donald K. “Deke” Slayton. (Credits: NASA)


I did a quick check on the F-106B in question (F-106B-75-CO Delta Dart  – AF Serial 59-0158). The entry in Joe Baugher’s website makes for interesting reading.  Apparently 59-0158 still exists and may be on the gate at Edwards AFB, having had a rather picaresque service life including a sojourn at AMARC.  A pleasing footnote.

On Another Day in December

Harrison H. Schmitt

Scientist-astronaut Harrison H. Schmitt stands by the American flag during a moonwalk on the Apollo 17 mission. Home, that small dot in the blackness of space above the flag, is a quarter-million miles away. 
Schmitt, Gene Cernan and Ron Evans made the Apollo program’s final journey to the moon in December 1972. (NASA – Public Domain)

I don’t have much to add to this as the picture itself is amazing.   The minute Earth floats just above the American flag, 44 years ago,  as Harrison Schmitt and Gene Cernan walk on the lunar surface in the final Apollo Mission.  Apollo 17 lasted from December 7 to December 19, 1972, and had many memorable features including the only night launch of an Apollo mission.  Harrison Schmitt,  in a conversation I heard a few years ago said of the launch”Did you see it?  I missed it!”

I was asking my history class last week if they thought 17 was a strange number  for the last Apollo mission.   I will have to read the official history again but I do believe that enough Saturn Vs were built for numbers 18, 19 and 20, but the Nixon administration’s budget cuts of the early 70s put paid to the effort.

On a personal note (since there ought to be one)  I actually met Harrison Schmitt a couple of times a few years ago (I think it was 2009) in a previous job.  Once as a speaker in a series of talks about the Manned Space Program and once again to talk about his book.   I found him to be a very sociable guy  – he has after all been a politician and public figure for many years,  and he chatted easily with his audience, and was very much at ease for a talk he gave.   I dutifully joined the line to purchase and have him sign a copy of his book  Return to the Moon:  Enterprise, and Energy in the Human Settlement of Space. (New York,  Copernicus, 2006) in which he advocates a series of privately funded return missions to re-establish a colony on the Moon for energy extraction and low gravity manufacturing.   Interesting stuff.

Since we saw the tiny blue dot which is the earth floating above the flag in the first picture,  it would be appropriate to note that Harrison Schmitt is probably (I think he says he is) the man responsible for another fairly classic image of the Earth  from any Apollo mission,  this is the picture commonly known as the “Blue Pearl”

Earth seen from Apollo 17

The Apollo 17 crew caught this breathtaking view of our home planet as they were traveling to the Moon on Dec. 7, 1972. It’s the first time astronauts were able to photograph the South polar ice cap. Nearly the entire coastline of Africa is clearly visible, along with the Arabian Peninsula. (NASA – Public Domain)

One Day in December – Tom and Wally meet Jim and Frank

Whenever I get a quiet moment I go and look at Bryan Swopes’ excellent This Day in Aviation,  and frequently find something I would like to re-broadcast. Sometimes I just share the entry on my Facebook page,  and sometimes I want to expand or amplify something he’s written usually because I find something interesting that I’ve looked up in addition to the original article.   This is one of those occasions.

 Gemini 7 spacecraft photographed from Gemini 6

This photograph of the Gemini 7 spacecraft was taken from Gemini 6 during rendezvous and station keeping maneuvers at an altitude of approximately 160 miles above the Earth. Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 launched on December 15, 1965 and December 4, 1965, respectively. Walter M. Schirra, Jr. and Thomas P. Stafford on Gemini 6 and Frank Borman and James A. Lovell on Gemini 7 practiced rendezvous and station keeping together for one day in orbit. (NASA – Public Domain)

December 4th 1965  was the launch date of Gemini VII  with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell, both on their first space flights.  Gemini VII was a long-duration mission, and although they were to be target,  they would be part of the first rendezvous in space with another manned spacecraft, in this case Gemini VI, which by a series of mischances would be launched later than its sequential successor.

I wanted to know who was in Gemini VI,  since Bryan Swopes recorded the date simply as the launch of Gemini VII.   The information was forthcoming from Wikipedia.  The crew of Gemini VI was Wally Schirra, on his second space flight,  and Tom Stafford, on his first.

Gemini VI was scheduled for launch on October 26th 1965 and was supposed to rendezvous and dock with an Atlas-Agena rocket which was launched shortly after the astronauts boarded their craft.   Apparently something went horribly wrong in staging, and the Agena exploded on separation from the Atlas booster.  Gemini VI was canceled.

The Gemini VI-A mission  was conceived after Gemini VII was launched – Stafford and Schirra in VI would rendezvous with Bormann and Lovell in Gemini VII.   The next putative launch of VI was scheduled for December 12, 1965 and failed when the main engines shut down prematurely.   Standard procedure should have been for the Astronauts to eject, but Schirra declined to do so, as he didn’t feel the booster was vibrating or showing signs it was liable to explode.  He also had considerable doubts about ejecting through the hatch of the Gemini capsule which had also been on 100% oxygen for some considerable time.  “”We would have been two Roman candles going out, because we were 15 or 16 psi, pure oxygen.”

Eventually Gemini VI launched on December 15, 1965. The rendezvous was made on that day. The Gemini spacecraft got as close as 1 foot. They were not equipped to dock, but clearly would have been able to do so had it been feasible.

Gemini VI re-entered and splashed down on December 16th, 1965.  Gemini VII returned on December 18th, 1965. According to Borman the last couple of days of the mission were “bad.” The novelty had worn off after 14 days in orbit in a Gemini capsule.

If you’re in my part of the world, you might be interested to know that the  Gemini VI capsule is  currently on display at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City.  Gemini VII is  at the Steven F. Udvar-Hazy Center.

Thomas P. Stafford (left), pilot, and Walter M. Schirra Jr. Gemini 6

Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford (left), pilot, and Walter M. Schirra Jr., command pilot, pose during a suiting up exercise in preparation for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s Gemini VI two-day mission. Image ID: S65-56188

James A. Lovell, Jr (left) and Frank F. Borman - Gemini VII

James A. Lovell, Jr (left) and Frank F. Borman, II, Prime Crew of Gemini VII (NASA – Public Domain)


Sputnik 1

October 4th 1957.  I even mention this date in my American History class, and yet the date didn’t register until this evening.    Ever since I saw the movie I have associated Sputnik with Jeff Goldblum running down a corridor in The Right Stuff and telling a smoke-filled room “It’s called Sputnik!”  before he gets told to sit down and watch the reconnaissance footage.

In class I tell the assembled young minds just what a shock this was for the West, and the United States in particular.   The menace of Global Communism loomed large – this was the era of the New Look in defence. SAC chief Gen. Curtis LeMay had been waging an unacknowledged ELINT war with the Soviet Union for some years (assisted by, among other things,  RB-45s in spurious RAF markings with RAF crews, as I recall from a documentary), and the first flight of the U-2 had taken place a couple of years previously.   However as a Wikipedia Author says: “The launch of Sputnik surprised the American public and shattered the perception, furthered by American propaganda, of the United States as the technological superpower and the Soviet Union as a backward country.  Privately, however, the CIA and President Eisenhower were aware of progress being made by the Soviets on Sputnik.”

If you’re in my part of the world, a replica of Sputnik-1 is on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, KS.

Flight-ready backup of Sputnik 1

Flight-ready backup of Sputnik 1, on display at the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson, Kansas. By Joanna Poe from Munith, MI, USA CC BY-SA 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons


47 Years Ago

Buzz Aldrin on the Moon - 21 July 1969

Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin on the Moon – 21 July 1969

This is a slightly different view of an iconic picture – here’s why it may look a little different from the view to which we have become accustomed.

This is the actual photograph as exposed on the moon by Armstrong. He held the camera slightly rotated so that the camera frame did not include the top of Aldrin’s portable life support system (“backpack”). A communications antenna mounted on top of the backpack is also cut off in this picture. When the image was released to the public, it was rotated clockwise to restore the astronaut to vertical for a more harmonious composition, and a black area was added above his head to recreate the missing black lunar “sky”. The edited version is the one most commonly reproduced and known to the public, but the original version, above, is the authentic exposure.   (NASA / Wikipedia)