Maybe 16 – Maybe More, Maybe Less

I have developed an interest in other nations’ efforts in space recently, and I was pleased to read that China’s Tianwen-1 orbiter, with its lander and rover payload (see previous blog entries) started its next mission phase by entering Mars orbit on February 10, 2021 – only two days ago as I write.

I’m glad I’m not a professional space pundit, as I had failed to notice (or blog) that another Mars mission was underway. The Al-Amal (Hope) orbiter belonging to the Emirates Mars Mission from the UAE entered Mars orbit on February 9th – the day before Tianwen-1. Al-Amal was launched from the Tanegashima Space Center (Japan) on a Mitsubishi Heavy Industries rocket in July 2020, so maybe that’s why I didn’t notice. The Emirates Mars Mission will study the Martian climate its extreme climate changes. It will also try to find out why Mars leaks hydrogen and oxygen into space. (I didn’t know that it was, so there’s something new).

A United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket with NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover onboard launches from Space Launch Complex 41, Thursday, July 30, 2020, at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. The Perseverance rover is part of NASA’s Mars Exploration Program, a long-term effort of robotic exploration of the Red Planet. Public Domain – Photo Credit: (NASA/Joel Kowsky)

Not to be forgotten (as if we want to), is the United States’ Mars 2020 mission, which also took advantage of the launch window which opened in July 2020. Mars 2020 will land the Perseverance rover and the Ingenuity helicopter/drone on the Martian surface. The idea of a small drone helicopter being flown over the surface of Mars is mind-boggling to say the least. This will be the first attempt at controlled flight on another planet, so we may see a little history made some time in the Spring.

An artist’s impression of Ingenuity standing on the surface of Mars as the Perseverance rover rolls away. This will be the first attempt at controlled flight on another planet. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory built and will manage operations of Perseverance and Ingenuity for the agency. Caltech in Pasadena, California, manages JPL for NASA. For more information about Ingenuity, go to For more information about the Mars 2020 Perseverance mission, go to Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech (Public Domain)

At the moment there are perhaps 16 artificial satellites in orbit around Mars. Mars 2020 will make it 17 assuming everything goes well. Eight orbiters are no longer functional and a few may see their orbits decay resulting in their destruction between 2022 and 2046. One, the unfortunate NASA Mars Climate Orbiter of 1999, never made it to the planet’s surface, either burning up in Mars’ atmosphere, or skipping off into its own orbit around the Sun following a programming error in its software.

Of the functional probes, one, NASA’s 2001 Mars Odyssey, (launched, as you may guess in 2001) has the distinction of being the longest active orbiting satellite anywhere except Earth. The status of the Soviet probes Mars 2, 3, 5 and Phobos 2, is unknown. Mars 2 and 3 were launched in the Summer of 1971 at the same time as NASA’s Mariner 9, 4 years before the two NASA Viking missions.

India’s ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation) has had a satellite in orbit around Mars since 2014. The Mars Orbiter Mission is described as a technology demonstrator, and was launched from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh in November 2013. It is a remarkable feat. India undertook the first Asian mission to Mars, and furthermore became the first nation in the world to achieve success on its maiden attempt. This feat has only recently been matched by Al-Amal from the UAE.

So the skies above Mars may be looking a little more busy in the weeks and months ahead. I look forward to seeing images of the Ingenuity taking its first hops from the surface of another planet some time in the Spring of 2021.

Another little awareness raising touch which I couldn’t resist is connected with the NASA Mars 2020 Mission. The “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign resulted in 10.9 Million people registering their names with NASA. Those names are recorded on the three silicon chips you can see on the top left of the placard. NASA also announced that the probe would be named by votes received in a student naming contest. Perseverance was announced to be the winning name in March 2020.

Considering all the bad things that came to us in March 2020, it’s heartwarming to see that something nice did happen too.

A placard commemorating NASA’s “Send Your Name to Mars” campaign was installed on the Perseverance Mars rover. Three silicon chips (upper left corner) were stenciled with 10,932,295 names and the essays from 155 finalists in NASA’s “Name the Rover” contest. (NASA – Public Domain)

Crowded Space

Happy new year to the readers of Rambles in the Air!

Having been amazed at the efforts of the China National Space Administration (CNSA) with its Chang’e and Tianwen programs, and having read a little too much Arthur C. Clarke and William Gibson, I started wondering which other governments around the world had ambitions in space. I didn’t think the resulting list would be quite as big as it turned out. I thought I would look first at Wikipedia, whose article “List of government space agencies” ( has a few surprises even if it hasn’t been fully updated recently.

JAXA – Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency. H-IIA Launch Vehicle Flight 13, launching lunar orbiter “KAGUYA” (SELENE:SELenological and ENgineering Explorer)  from the Tanegashima Space Center. on 14 September 2007 Photo by Naritama (NARITA Masahiro). This file is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

There is much more detail in the article itself, but the top-line numbers are fascinating. As of 2018, there were 72 (seventy-two !!) government space agencies extant; 14 (fourteen) of those 72 have launch capability, and 6 (six) of the 14 have full launch and recovery capabilities, including the ability to land a vehicle/probe/device on an extraterrestrial surface.

The countries with a launch capability are:

  • Australia – ASA (Australian Space Agency)
  • China – CNSA (China National Space Administration)
  • Europe – ESA (European Space Agency)
  • France – CNES (Centre National d’Études Spatiales)
  • Iran – ISA (Iranian Space Agency)
  • Israel – ISA (Israeli Space Agency)
  • Italy – ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana)
  • North Korea – KCST (National Aerospace Development Administration)
  • South Korea – KARI (Korea Aerospace Research Institute)
  • India – ISRO (Indian Space Research Organisation)
  • Japan – JAXA – (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency)
  • Russia – ROSCOSMOS (Russian Federal Space agency)
  • Ukraine – SSAU (State Space Agency of Ukraine)
  • USA – NASA and USSF (United States Space Force)

I’m interested that the French CNES is listed separately from the European Space Agency but most of the European countries have their own space research projects. With the execution of Brexit I have no idea what the relationship of the British UKSA (United Kingdom Space Agency) and the ESA will be, given that the UK government has pulled out of Educational programs like ERASMUS.

The Italian ASI (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana) is a partner in the ESA’s Ariane and Vega launchers and has been a major contributor to satellite technology. I was surprised to discover that Italy the third nation to have its own artificial satellite in Earth orbit when it launched San Marco 1 from the USA in December 1964.

The Cassini–Huygens mission was a collaboration between NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to send a space probe to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. This is an artists impression of Cassini during the Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) maneuver. (NASA Image – Public Domain)

Countries with a Human Spaceflight Capability:

  • China – CNSA
  • Russia – ROSCOSMOS
  • USA – NASA

Countries with an Extraterrestrial Landing Capability:

  • China – CNSA
  • Europe – ESA
  • India – ISRO
  • Italy – ASI
  • Japan – JAXA
  • Russia – ROSCOSMOS
  • USA – NASA
Indian Space Research Organisation in action. PSLV-C11 carrying the Chandrayaan-1 Lunar probe (orbiter and impactor) lifting off from the Satish Dhawan Space Centre in Andhra Pradesh on 22 October 2008. The mission was a major boost to India’s space program. In 2016, NASA identified the Chandrayaan-1 orbiter still circling the moon, seven years after its mission officially ended when the satellite had ceased communicating with ISRO. Picture Attribution: Indian Space Research Organisation (GODL-India)

Let us also not forget the privateers who are active in the cargo launch market in the United States, these are: SpaceX (how could we forget?), Northrop Grumman Innovation Systems, and the Sierra Nevada Corporation who are planning to be in the market sometime in 2022 More of them in another blog article, perhaps.

Chang’e 5 Wrap

It occurred to me, as I was looking at a draft of this article, that the efforts of the People’s Republic of China (PRC) in terms of space exploration were foretold almost forty years ago by Arthur C. Clarke in his novel 2010: Odyssey Two (not so much in Peter Hyams’ 1984/5 movie 2010: The Year We Make Contact although let me say here and now I do like that movie and have a copy on DVD). I distinctly remember devouring Clarke’s 1982 novel and boggling at the chutzpah of the Chinese space agency (if a Chinese Agency can be said to have chutzpah) as they assembled their spacecraft Tsien in the full incognizant view of the western world’s eyes, vying to be the first to board the ill-fated American spacecraft Discovery following its mysteriously incomplete mission described in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

So, as the western world takes not very much notice, China’s Chang’e 5 mission seems to have been pretty successful. Lunar surface samples brought back on December 16th made China the third nation to have collected some moondust after the USA and the Soviet Union.

Photo by the NASA Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter (LRO) of the Chang’e 5 lander on the surface of the Moon on December 2nd, 2020. The lander is the bright spot in the center of the outline box. The dust around the lander has been brightened by the descent engine during the landing stage.
NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University – (Public Domain) via Wikimedia Commons

The scientific dividend from Chang’e 5’s mission will be the continued study of the samples for evidence of vulcanism and the formation of the Moon. Official sources at a news conference indicated that the China National Space Administration (CNSA) would be prepared to share samples with scientists from other countries. Whether the USA will participate is open to question, since Congress passed a bill in 2012 forbidding NASA to cooperate with China. See–WikE7l9XSo/index.html

And for the non-scientists, the same article says that some portion of the 2 Kilograms of Lunar soil that was collected will be displayed at the National Museum of China.

Where do we go from here? Well, at least there isn’t an derelict American Spacecraft somewhere off Jupiter, otherwise I think that might be on the agenda. Chang’e 6, scheduled for launch in 2024 will have its own mission profile following the successful completion of Chang’e 5’s. It has not yet been revealed officially yet, but the smart money seems to be saying that Chang’e 6 will be landing somewhere near the lunar south pole. Further ahead, I’m looking forward to seeing how the 3D printing experiments (to build a shelter? really?) scheduled for Chang’e 8 in 2027 turn out. Who knows where any of us will be at that time.

While we’re thinking of surprise longshots, don’t forget also that the first Chinese mission to Mars, Tianwen-1, is something like 80-90% of the way there. If you’re like me, you had no idea that the PRC had considered sending a mission to Mars, much less launched a probe already. Tianwen-1 was launched in July 2020 and is scheduled to enter Mars orbit in February 2021. So that’s not long to wait.

Some idea of the scale of the business end of Tianwen-1. An image of the Mars Global Remote Sensing Orbiter and Small Rover undergoing tests during 2019. Image by China Aerospace Technology Corporation for world-wide publication by China Global Television Network (Fair use rationale)
A very recognizable nose cone (for want of a better word) This presumably is the selfie that CGTN and CNSA referred to. Tianwen-1 on its way to Mars, 1 October 2020. (CNSA/CGTN, Fair Use rationale)

Chang’e is Coming

Most of the time this blog gets written when I completely stumble upon things about which I had no idea, and feel the urge to share. This is one of those moments.

Earlier today the China National Space Administration (CNSA) broadcast the launch of its latest lunar exploration mission – Chang’e 5 – from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan. I have to say I hadn’t heard about any of the five Chang’e missions, and so was fascinated to find that the last two have actually landed robotic probes on the moon. This latest mission is scheduled to bring back some samples of the lunar surface for the first time since 1976.

Launch of Chang’e 5 – 23rd November 2020 on a Long March 5 heavy lifter rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, Image by China News Service, CC BY 3.0, via Wikimedia Commons

Chang’e (or 嫦娥 or Chang-o, although she was originally known as Heng’e) is the Chinese goddess of the Moon and so is a logical choice of name for the China Lunar Exploration Project.

“There are many tales about Chang’e, including a well-known story about her that is given as the origin of the Mid-Autumn Moon Festival. In a very distant past, ten suns had risen together into the skies and scorched the Earth, thus causing hardship for the people. The archer Yi shot down nine of them, leaving just one Sun, and was given the elixir of immortality as a reward. He did not consume it straight away, but let Chang’e keep it with her, as he did not want to gain immortality without his beloved wife Chang’e. However, while Yi went out hunting, his apprentice Fengmeng broke into his house and tried to force Chang’e to give him the elixir; she refused and to prevent him from getting it, drank it. Chang’e then flew upward toward the heavens, choosing the Moon as residence, as she loved her husband and hoped to live nearby him. Yi discovered what had transpired and felt sad, so he displayed the fruits and cakes that Chang’e had liked, and gave sacrifices to her.”


Chang’e 1 and 2 were orbiters launched in 2007 and 2010 respectively. They mostly carried out reconnaissance and mapping missions for future robotic and other landings. Chang’e 3 was launched on 1st December, 2013 and landed in (or on) the Mare Imbrium on December 14th, deploying a small lunar rover called Yutu (“Jade Rabbit”). Chang’e 4 was a backup for Chang’e 3 but acquired its own mission following the success of Chang’e 3. Chang’e 4 landed in January 2019 at the Von Kármán crater in the South Pole-Aitken basin (far side of the moon, the first lander to touch down on the far side) and deployed a rover called (yes, you guessed) Yutu-2.

Video grab of the launch of Chang’e 5 on 23rd November 2020 on a Long March 5 heavy lifter rocket from the Wenchang Spacecraft Launch Site in Hainan, Image by China News Service, CC BY 3.0

Chang’e 5 is the next step in the program, and will attempt to place a lander at or near Mons Rümker sometime after November 27 and return to Earth around December 16–17. The mission will collect up to 2 kilograms of lunar samples. If returned successfully, these samples will be the first to be brought back since the Soviet Luna 24 mission in 1976.

Part of the rationale for the mission is reminiscent of Harrison Schmitt’s book Return to the Moon. Ouyang Ziyuan, chief scientist of the Chinese Lunar Exploration Program (CLEP) is described as a geologist and chemical cosmologist, and has been advocating the exploitation of metals such as titanium from the moon, but also the extraction of Helium-3 for future nuclear fusion power plants.

Three future Chang’e missions are slated. Chang’e 6 may have its mission profile changed depending on how well Chang’e 5 performs. Chang’e 7, scheduled for 2024 may deploy a small flying probe, while Chang’e 8, scheduled for 2027, may include a lander, a rover, and a flying detector, as well as a 3D-printing experiment using in-situ resource utilization (ISRU) to test-build a structure, which will test the technology necessary for the construction of a lunar science base. If that isn’t enough, it may also transport a small sealed ecosystem experiment.

Recently there has been a certain amount of speculation that the Russian space program may consider re-aligning itself with China rather than the United States, especially if the Chang’e project is successful. In 2017 the two countries signed an agreement on deep space and lunar cooperation It appears that the Chinese program is seriously considering establishing a crewed base on the moon in the foreseeable future.

In 1969 the following conversation took place between the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Apollo 11 crew just before the first Moon landing:

Ronald Evans (CAPCOM): Among the large headlines concerning Apollo this morning, is one asking that you watch for a lovely girl with a big rabbit. An ancient legend says a beautiful Chinese girl called Chang-O has been living there for 4,000 years. It seems she was banished to the Moon because she stole the pill of immortality from her husband. You might also look for her companion, a large Chinese rabbit, who is easy to spot since he is always standing on his hind feet in the shade of a cinnamon tree. The name of the rabbit is not reported.

Michael Collins (Command Module Pilot): Okay. We’ll keep a close eye out for the bunny girl.”


The Moon Goddess Chang’E – Ming dynasty (1368–1644) Collection of The Metropolitan Museum of Art Unknown artist, after Tang Yin (1470–1524), Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Earthrise over Compton crater

I had a yen to go and look at some pictures from the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter earlier and I was amazed to see this. The original caption reads: “The Earth straddling the limb of the Moon, as seen from above Compton crater … WAC E1199291151C (Earth only), NAC M1199291564LR (Earth and Moon); sequence start time 12 October 2015 12:18:17.384 UTC [NASA/GSFC/Arizona State University].”

The image isn’t an artificial construct in the sense that it’s not two disparate images mashed together as you see so often on social media claiming to be some new phenomenon. It’s a composite of a number of images taken with the Narrow Angle Camera and the Wide Angle Camera (NAC and WAC, who knew?) and painstakingly assembled. The color for earth was overlaid based on the data the WAC is capable of seeing. The team at Arizona State University say on their website that a human eye would see more color since the eye is more sensitive to a larger range of visible wavelengths. In their words “the view here combines the 604 nm (orange), 556 nm (yellow-green), and 415 nm (violet) bands displayed in red, green, and blue, respectively.”

It’s still amazing.

For more details on this image (including the chance to download the full 300+Mb TIF) visit For more about LROC itself check out the sites at and

The LRO was launched in June 2009 and actually started delivering images in the Fall of 2009 (on September 15, 2009, which is as auspicious date for the Brits among us). Its primary mission was anticipated to be just one yea, with a science mission of 2 years. It’s had two 2-year mission extensions and is still active nine and a half years since launch.

A lovely little PR touch was added, according to Wikipedia
“Prior to the LRO’s launch, NASA gave members of the public the opportunity to have their names placed in a microchip on the LRO. The deadline for this opportunity was July 31, 2008. About 1.6 million names were submitted.”

Tomorrow is Yesterday

It seems appropriate to use a title from Star Trek for my first post of the new year. Happy New Year to the readership, by the way. It’s good to have so many of you along.

It’s no secret that my experience in the class at PSU in which I sat last semester rekindled my desire to build a few models. I honestly promise I’m not going to turn this blog into Adventures in Plastic, although the last three posts have had a distinctly modelling feel.

Today I was getting my PowerPoints and other online materials ready for the new semester which starts on January 14th. It was much less painful than I was expecting (I admit I haven’t tried to merge my PowerPoints with any for the revised textbook yet) so I thought I’d do a little bit of online window shopping.

I think I said before there are a few aircraft shapes which I find entrancing, including the Spitfire, BAC (English Electric) Lightning, TSR.2, and T-38. I may have also mentioned that the F-104 does something for me too, and I haven’t had a model of a Starfighter since I was quite young. So while idly perusing the pages of the web I found it strangely pleasing to see that, a couple of years ago, some enterprising (groan!) executive had paired an F-104 with the Enterprise itself to recreate the episode “Tomorrow is Yesterday. ” If you look it up you will see it’s the nineteenth episode of the first season of Star Trek. I was pleased to see it was written by the wonderful Dorothy (D. C.) Fontana, and was first broadcast in January 1967.

I won’t go into the plot details here since you can pretty much deduce them from the kit box. I remember watching the episode several times over the years. The fact that we’re approaching the 52nd anniversary of its broadcast is something to note.

Meanwhile I’m going back to those other pages and see if there is a decent F-104 to be picked up at a reasonable price.

RIP Bruce McCandless

Bruce McCandless and his Jetpack in Orbit

Bruce McCandless and his Jetpack in orbit on Space Shuttle Mission STS-41B in 1984.
(Public Domain via NASA)

There are a number of iconic images in the brief history of manned spaceflight, and this is surely one of them.  Bruce McCandless flying un-tethered from Space Shuttle Challenger in 1984.  One could almost say Blue skies, Bruce, except in his case it’s the indigo and black of Earth Orbit.    Thank you for being there, and showing us.

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)