Gemini VI
 

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What is the legacy of Gemini?

Video ©
Courtesy of Apogee Books
Used with permission


The Gemini 6 patch is hexagonal in shape, reflecting the mission number; and the spacecraft
trajectory also traces out the number "6". The Gemini 6 spacecraft is shown superimposed on
the "twin stars" Castor and Pollux, for "Gemini". I designed the patch to locate in the sixth hour
of celestial right ascension. This was the predicted celestial area where the rendezvous should
occur (in the constellation Orion). It finally did occur there.

As originally designed, this patch carried the designation "GTA-6" (for Gemini-Titan-Agena),
and showed Gemini 6 rendezvousing with an Agena. After the failed launch of the Agena
target vehicle, and the decision to rendezvous with Gemini 7 instead, the patch was redesigned
with the legend "GEMINI 6" in place of the original "GTA-6" legend, and with a second Gemini
in place of the Agena.

Gemini VI
"For the third time, GO!"

Pad LC-19
Launch Vehicle: Titan-II
Spacecraft: 6

Crew: Walter M. Schirra Jr., Commander 
           Thomas P. Stafford, Pilot   


Milestones:  
   
First rendezvous with another manned spacecraft
    First mission with four astronauts in space
    Final US spacecraft powered by only batteries   

Payload: Gemini-VI capsule  

Mission Objective:  Originally intended to demonstrated Gemini-Agena docking, this was not achieved due to the loss of the Agena target vehicle. Primary objective was changed to rendezvous with Gemini VII. 

Secondary objectives included: Perform closed-loop rendezvous in fourth orbit. Stationkeep with Gemini VII. Evaluate reentry guidance capability. Conduct visibility tests for rendezvous, using Gemini VII as target. Perform 3 experiments. Spacecraft weight 3546kg. 

Orbit:

Altitude: 311.3km (168.1 nm) 
Inclination: 28.89 degrees 
Orbits: 16 
Duration: 1 Day, 1 hour, 51 min, 24 seconds 
Distance: 384,000 statute miles

Launch:  Dec 15, 1965 8:37:26.471 am EST. Due to a Gemini Agena target vehicle (GATV) propulsion failure on 25 Oct, 1965 the mission was rescheduled. The Agena target vehicle Gemini Agena target vehicle GATV-5002 and TLV 5301 with which the Gemini-VI-A was to rendezvous and dock, failed to go into orbit. A launch attempt on Dec 12, 1965 failed because of a minor launch vehicle hardware problem.   

Landing:
 December 16, 1965. Landing was at 23deg 35min North and 67deg 50min West. Miss distance was 12.9km (7nm). Recovered by the USS Wasp (crew onboard in 66min). 

Mission Highlights:  All primary objectives were achieved. Secondary objective on experiment D-8 Radiation in Spacecraft because station keeping with Gemini VII interfered with the experiment.  

Wally's Favorite Flight Milestones:

  • The first rendezvous ever.
  • The first "Beat Army" banner in space.
  • The first UFO reported from space with bells and the harmonica rendition of "Jingle Bells"
  • Nice to be hoisted aboard.


After Project Mercury, Schirra worked with the other astronauts and with NASA officials, scientists and engineers in the development of Project Gemini, the intermediate stage between the Mercury program and the Apollo Moon project. He served as the backup command pilot for Gemini GT-3 (Gemini-Titan), the first American two-man space mission flown by Grissom and John W. Young, an astronaut chosen with the second astronaut class dubbed the "New Nine." On June 22, 1965, Schirra was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson for promotion from commander to captain.

Schirra's second spaceflight began on December 15, 1965, when he was launched as the command pilot aboard Gemini GT-6A. The mission was intended to perform the first rendezvous and docking between different spacecraft, a vital prerequisite for missions to the moon, but the unmanned Agena target for Gemini 6 failed to reach orbit on October 25, 1965. Gemini 6 was removed from the pad and replaced by Gemini 7, which was launched on December 4, 1965, on a planned 14-day flight. Gemini 6 was redesignated Gemini 6-A.

Eight days later, Schirra and pilot Thomas P. Stafford were in their spacecraft atop the Titan II booster when it ignited, then shut down after only two seconds. Rather than eject himself and Stafford, Schirra chose to remain in the spacecraft while technicians confirmed that the booster was not going to explode. On December 15, 1965, Schirra and Stafford finally launched and less than six hours later they were completing a non-docking orbital rendezvous with astronauts Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, Jr., both from the "New Nine," aboard Gemini 7, 170 miles above the Mariana Islands. Gemini GT-6A splashed down on December 16, 1965 in the Atlantic Ocean, just eight miles from the USS Wasp after 16 orbits over 25 hours 51 minutes and 24 seconds.

 

Click on photo to enlarge


 
As we got within a half mile of Gemini 7, I maneuvered with tender care. The light touch was critical. If I overthrusted, our orbit might changed dramatically, and I'd have botched it. Then, as we moved to within one hundred feet, it was necessary to stop our velocity in relation to the velocity of Gemini 7, or we would have whizzed right on by. I had practiced the final phase of rendezvous over and over in a simulator, for I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to stop right next to the target.

It was tricky, but my practice paid off. Computer readings based on radar told us our closing velocity, and Tom was doing computations. "Go right, " he'd say. "Go left. Speed up. Slow down". Stafford, whose eyes were accustomed to the light that illuminated his plotting board, looked outside just as the rendezvous was secure and shouted, "Holy cow, Schirra! You blew it!" He was looking at John Glenn's famous fireflies, frozen droplets of water reflecting daylight. He mistook them for a field of stars, and their random movement caused them to sense that the spacecraft was out of control. "Those are fireflies, Tom," I said, and we both laughed.


There was one debriefing that was great fun. Jocelyn Gill, a NASA astronomer, was in charge of an experiment that involved taking photographs of the heavens. Dr. Gill was particularly interested in something the scientists call the dim light phenomenon. For this experiment, she had supplied me with very fast film, ASA 4,000, which was loaded into my Hasselblad camera. So I decided that here was a chance to settle the question of the fireflies once and for all.

I knew the fireflies were frozen molecules of vapor vented from the spacecraft, and they were with us constantly in the form of a fuzzy cloud. We could distinguish them from each other, since they reflected the different colors of the spectrum from the sun's rays. They appeared to John Glenn as fireflies. To others taking a quick look, as Tom Stafford did at the moment of rendezvous, they resembled a star field. As I said before, their source was water released in the heat exchange process that cooled our space suits. Another source was urine. "We peed all over the world," I'm fond of saying, despite the groans that come from the audience.

After the rendezvous, when we had some spare time, Tom and I snapped color photographs of the molecular cloud, one every forty five minutes. We logged each shot with a label - urine drops at sunrise, urine drops at sunset, etc. when the photos were processed at the cape, they were beautiful, and I ordered a set of prints. I had them on the table during an astronomy debriefing, mixed with other celestial photos. Dr. Gill noticed one and asked, "Wally, what constellation is this?'

"Jocelyn,", I replied, "that's the constellation Urion."

 


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