First flights

The first test launch in 1964 was designed to check the spacecraft's function in orbit. In place of a crew, it carried instruments that sent back data on conditions during launch and in orbit. Gemini 1 was not designed for recovery, and so a second capsule was sent on a brief suborbital hop in January 1965 to assess re-entry conditions. By 23 March 1965, Gemini 3 was ready for the first manned launch.

Deke Slayton, now in charge of NASA's Astronaut Office, wanted to mix experienced astronauts with newer recruits. The first Gemini crew, therefore, were Gus Grissom (of Liberty Bell 7 fame) and John W. Young. In a reference to his earlier misadventures,

Grissom named the capsule Molly Brown, after a survivor from the "unsinkable" Titanic disaster. This was to be the last spacecraft named by its pilot.

Molly Brown's voyage proved less eventful than her namesake's - it lasted just three orbits, but during that time the astronauts were able to test their new engines and change their orbit in space for the first time. They also enjoyed a corned-beef sandwich that Young had smuggled aboard - much to the annoyance of mission control.

BIOGRAPHY

GENE KRANZ

GEMINI'S TITAN LAUNCHER

All the Gemini missions were launched using Titan II rockets, derived from the US Air Force's Titan ICBM. This two-stage rocket, 33.2m (101ft) tall with the Gemini capsule in place, consisted of a first stage with dual rocket motors that burned a mix of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide. The motors were relatively simple because this combination of fuel and oxidant is hypergolic - it combusts on contact, with no need for an ignition system. The second stage had a single engine burning the same fuel combination, and all three engines had gimbal-mounted exhaust nozzles that could be tilted to change direction.

Gemini takes flight

The early Gemini missions gave NASA its first experience of long-duration spaceflight. They also achieved a number of other American space firsts, paving the way for the more advanced later missions.

Gemini's journey from concept to completion took place at breakneck speed - the L first test launch came on 8 April 1964, less than 30 months after the start of the programme. Gemini had to meet this timescale in order to fulfil its role as a bridge between the Mercury flights and the Apollo missions due to start in 1967.

Although the Gemini capsule resembled a scaled-up Mercury (the programme was originally named Mercury Mark 2), it marked a major leap forwards - it was perhaps the first true spaceship thanks to its ability to change orbits and manoeuvre in space.

GEMINI'S TITAN LAUNCHER

All the Gemini missions were launched using Titan II rockets, derived from the US Air Force's Titan ICBM. This two-stage rocket, 33.2m (101ft) tall with the Gemini capsule in place, consisted of a first stage with dual rocket motors that burned a mix of unsymmetrical dimethylhydrazine (UDMH) and nitrogen tetroxide. The motors were relatively simple because this combination of fuel and oxidant is hypergolic - it combusts on contact, with no need for an ignition system. The second stage had a single engine burning the same fuel combination, and all three engines had gimbal-mounted exhaust nozzles that could be tilted to change direction.

Flight director Gene Kranz (b.1933) was in charge at NASA's new Houston-based Mission Control during many historic missions. Born in Ohio, Kranz trained as a fighter pilot in the USAF reserve after graduation, before joining the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation to work on surface-to-air missile development. He then joined NASA's Space Task Group and became procedures officer for the early Mercury flights, charged with ensuring the smooth transfer of power from Cape Canaveral's launch control to the Mercury control room. By the time of B^.. Gemini 4 he had been promoted to flight director (one of several who worked with a team of controllers on shifts throughout each mission). He became the best known of NASA's control staff thanks to his role in the Apollo 13 mission.

ENDURANCE FLIGHT

Command Pilot Pete Conrad is photogrophed by crewmate Gordon Cooper shortly after launch on their record-breaking eight day mission aboard Gemini 5 in August 1965.

Was this article helpful?

0 0

Post a comment