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.
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.
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, II, Prime Crew of Gemini VII (NASA – Public Domain)