Primary objectives of the mission were demonstrating manned orbital flight for approximately 14 days and evaluating the physiological effects of a long-duration flight on the crew. Among the secondary objectives were providing a rendezvous target for the Gemini VI-A spacecraft, stationkeeping with the second stage of the launch vehicle and with spacecraft No. 6, conducting 20 experiments, using lightweight pressure suits, and evaluating the spacecraft reentry guidance capability. All objectives were successfully achieved with the exception of two experiments lost because of equipment failure. Shortly after separation from the launch vehicle, the crew maneuvered the spacecraft to within 60 feet of the second stage and stationkept for about 15 minutes. The exercise was terminated by a separation maneuver, and the spacecraft was powered down in preparation for the 14-day mission. The crew performed five maneuvers during the course of the mission to increase orbital lifetime and place the spacecraft in proper orbit for rendezvous with spacecraft No. 6. Rendezvous was successfully accomplished during the 11th day in orbit, with spacecraft No. 7 serving as a passive target for spacecraft No. 6. About 45 hours into the mission, Lovell removed his pressure suit. He again donned his suit at 148 hours, while Borman removed his. Some 20 hours later Lovell again removed his suit, and both crewmen flew the remainder of the mission without suits, except for the rendezvous and reentry phases. With three exceptions, the spacecraft and its systems performed nominally throughout the entire mission. The delayed-time telemetry playback tape recorder malfunctioned about 201hours after liftoff, resulting in the loss of all delayed-time telemetry data for the remainder of the mission. Two fuel cell stacks showed excessive degradation late in the flight and were taken off the line; the remaining four stacks furnished adequate electrical power until reentry. Two attitude thrusters performed poorly after 283 hours in the mission. Retrofire occurred exactly on time, and reentry and landing were nominal. The spacecraft missed the planned landing point by only 10.3 km miles, touching down on December 18. The crew arrived at the prime recovery ship, the aircraft carrier Wasp, half an hour later. The spacecraft was recovered half an hour after the crew.
Far surpassing the Gemini 5 flight, Gemini 7 set a manned spaceflight endurance record that would endure for years. The incredibly boring mission, was made more uncomfortable by the extensive biosensors. This was somewhat offset by the soft spacesuits (used only once) and permission to spend most of the time in long johns. The monotony was broken just near the end by the rendezvous with Gemini 6.
Official NASA Account of the Mission from On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, by Barton C. Hacker and Charles C. Alexander, Published as NASA Special Publication-4203 in the NASA History Series, 1977.
The gloom that descended upon Gemini after the loss of the Gemini 6 Agena target vehicle was quickly pierced by a ray of hope. While the futile countdown for the spacecraft launch was still under way, Frank Borman rushed from the outside viewing stand to the Cape Kennedy Launch Control Center to find out what had happened. He found himself standing with Gemini VII crewmate James Lovell near two McDonnell officials, spacecraft chief Walter Burke and his deputy, John Yardley. The astronauts heard Burke ask Yardley, "Why couldn't we launch a Gemini as a target instead of an Agena?" Yardley recalled that the Martin Company had proposed a rapid-fire launch demonstration some months before. He asked Raymond Hill, now in charge of McDonnell work at the Cape, what he remembered about the study. Hill briefly outlined the plan, and all three began discussing how it could be adapted to carry out Burke's idea.
Borman listened with growing excitement as the McDonnell idea jelled. What he heard made sense, with one exception. When Burke began to sketch on the back of an envelope how an inflatable cone could be attached to Spacecraft 7 to permit docking, Borman drew the line; he disliked the thought of anything nuzzling into the equipment housed in his spacecraft's adapter section. Burke and Yardley found NASA manned space flight chief George Mueller and Gemini Manager Charles Mathews and tried out their scheme on them. Neither NASA official gave it much of a chance. The two McDonnell engineers left the building to see if they could sell their concept elsewhere.
Burke's brainstorm was built on more than just a vaguely recalled Martin proposal. Shortening the launch intervals to two months had proven that hardware could be put into the pipeline faster than in the past. But if Gemini VII were to be the target for Gemini VI, the two vehicles would have to be launched less than two weeks apart. Mueller and Mathews simply refused to believe that it could be done. Ironically, they were the prime movers in urging shorter schedules: but Burke's idea far exceeded their expectations.
In September 1964, Mueller had asked Schneider if he thought activating a second lain rich complex would help to shorten the time between launches. Schneider's first reaction was no. But, in February 1965, he had his office study the value of launching two Gemini spacecraft either simultaneously or in quick succession. Eldon W. Hall, Schneider's Systems Engineering Director, reported that having two crews in orbit at the same time and trading pilots in mid-space would have public appeal. Other advantages might be using an unmanned Gemini for a space rescue or completing a rendezvous mission if a spacecraft failed to launch. But none of these things was worth the cost of a second pad and spacecraft modifications. In summary, Hall said, "It might be nice, but there is no overwhelming necessity."
Mueller seized every chance to push for shorter launch schedules and new objectives to wring added experience from the Gemini program, especially for Apollo. In Houston, Mathews kept his staff on the lookout for new ideas for the missions. He had helped Hall with the report and agreed that the expense would be too great. Mathews did, however, arrange to procure spare parts for pad 19 so it could be swiftly restored after a launch.
Because of the daily contact between NASA, the Air Force, and contractors, ideas for speeding up the program flowed freely at the Cape. One of these - a rapid turnaround of the launch vehicle - was the result of collaboration between Joseph Verlander, Martin chief at Kennedy, and Colonel John Albert, Chief, Gemini Launch Vehicle Division, 6555th Aerospace Test Wing. They proposed getting a fully checked Gemini Titan ready for launch and then parking it somewhere while a second launch vehicle was prepared for flight. One problem was how to move the first booster, since the engine contractor, Aerojet-General, insisted that the vehicle had to remain upright once it had been erected and checked out. The answer to that was a Sikorsky S-64 Skycrane, a helicopter powerful enough to lift and carry the upright Titan II. It was really quite a simple plan, though carrying it out might involve a lot of complexities. After a booster and spacecraft had been checked out in the usual manner, the spacecraft would be transferred to bonded storage and the launch vehicle would be hauled by helicopter to nearby pad 20, which was not in use at the time. Then a second booster and payload would be readied on pad 19 and launched. The stored and parked vehicles would be immediately returned to the pad and launched in five to seven days.
No one seemed interested in the Gemini "rapid fire," or "salvo," proposal except its creators. When Verlander told O.E. Tibbs about it, the Martin vice president frowned on the idea of using the Skycrane helicopter. Albert outlined the plan to SSD Commander Ben Funk and SSD Director of Gemini Launch Vehicles Richard Dineen but roused only mild interest. Burke and Yardley listened politely but did not seem impressed. Mathews told Verlander and Albert frankly that there was no place in the Gemini program for such an unorthodox suggestion. In August 1965, Albert took the scheme to Gemini V Mission Director Everett E. Christensen, but he received no encouragement there, either. This lack of enthusiasm was daunting, and the Martin plan seemed destined for limbo.
Two months later, however, in the aftermath of an exploded Agena, the idea looked better, at least to Burke and Yardley. But they got no warmer reception than Verlander and Albert. Failing to sway Mueller and Mathews, they left the Launch Control Center for the Manned Spacecraft Operations Building, where an impromptu meeting on what to do next was in progress. Here they again urged their scheme, but, as Merritt Preston, the Kennedy launch operations manager, later said, "Poor Yardley and Burke were pounding a stone wall . . . they got the coldest shoulder I ever saw."
People at the meeting were more interested in the possibility of switching the 3,670-kilogram Spacecraft 7 with the 3,553-kilogram Spacecraft 6. Albert and others - among them some of the very men who had fathered the rapid turnaround plan - favored the proposed exchange. Having been rebuffed earlier, they now thought more conservatively. They reasoned that some of the time and work invested in Gemini VI launch preparations might be retrieved by using the booster already on the pad and checked out to launch the long- duration spacecraft. Burke and Yardley, on the other hand, pushed for removal of both the spacecraft and the booster, hoping to buy time for their proposal to be given further consideration. But the NASA, Air Force, and industry launch teams wanted to wait and see if GLV-6 had enough power to lift the heavier Spacecraft 7 into orbit.
Mueller called NASA Administrator James Webb in Washington shortly after the Agena explosion and told him about the idea of exchanging spacecraft. Webb discussed it the next morning with his chief associates - Deputy Administrator Hugh Dryden, Associate Administrator Robert Seamans, Associate Deputy Administrator Willis Shapley, and Mueller, now back from the Cape. If the switch could be made, the earliest launch date would be 3 December. If GLV-6 were not powerful enough to lift Spacecraft 7 into orbit, then the launch would take place on 8 December. Gemini VI, postponed to February or early March, would still fly before Gemini VIII. There was no mention of the Burke-Yardley proposal.
Having made little headway at the Cape and with the spacecraft exchange plan gaining support, Burke and Yardley had headed for Houston to broach their idea to MSC Director Robert Gilruth. On Tuesday morning, 26 October, while Webb and his colleagues were talking about exchanging the two spacecraft, Gilruth listened to Burke. smiled, and said, "Walter, you know things aren't like that in real life." Burke shot back, "Tell me what's wrong with it." Gilruth could come up with no convincing obstacle. He called George Low in to help him nitpick. The Deputy Director was intrigued by Burke's scheme. His only real doubt was whether the tracking network could handle two manned spacecraft at the same time. But that was a question for Flight Operations Director Christopher Kraft.
In the meantime, Mathews had arrived in Gilruth's office. He was no more able than Gilruth or Low to think of any insurmountable barrier to the plan. Gilruth asked Kraft to join them and show them the operational roadblocks that must he there. Taken aback, Kraft first said, "You're out of your minds. It can't be done." After thinking a few moments, though, he was not so sure. He called Sigurd A. Sjoberg, his deputy, to set up a meeting with his flight operations experts for 1:30 that afternoon. Flight Crew Operations chief Slayton was the next to hear the news, and he, in turn, sounded out the pilots for their reaction. Schirra and Stafford greeted the prospect with enthusiasm.
In Florida, hopes for switching the spacecraft faded when an analysis of GLV-6 showed that it lacked the power to orbit the Borman-Lovell spacecraft. At a meeting in the office of John Williams, Director of Spacecraft Operations, the Cape leaders were now forced to consider the Burke-Yardley suggestion they had scorned before. As they tinkered with a tentative work schedule for a nine-day pad checkout, they began to see glimmers of light. Merritt Preston telephoned Mathews in Houston and LeRoy Day in Washington and told them it might work, after all, as far as the machines were concerned. Day found that Mathews was now in favor of the plan. Hardware was apparently no obstacle, but tracking and control operations were still a question mark.
Kraft came back from lunch with Low and outlined the gist of the proposal to his staff. The men in John Hodge's Flight Control Division found it "a hell of a great challenge and to a man they wanted to press on as soon as possible." One of them suddenly said, "Why don't we handle it as if one of the spacecraft were a Mercury-type and the other a Gemini-type spacecraft?" Mercury controllers at the tracking stations observed data on their consoles, summarized it, and forwarded the result by teletype to Mercury Control Center. Gemini VII could be handled that way while it served as a passive target for Gemini VI. For Gemini missions, the stations were fitted with computer communications processors. As the spacecraft passed overhead, the processors interrogated the appropriate systems for specific data, which were automatically transmitted to Mission Control. Gemini VI, the active partner in the rendezvous, would be controlled by the more sophisticated system. With this as a basis, an operational mode was laid out.
After Gemini VII lifted off, flight control would be carried out in the normal manner while the pad was being prepared for the second launch. Once the flight controllers were sure the orbiting spacecraft was operating properly, Mission Control would concentrate on Schirra and Stafford in their spacecraft, and the tracking network would watch Gemini VII, record data, and send information by teletype to the Houston controllers. This mode would continue until the complicated rendezvous mission ended and Gemini VI-A (so called to distinguish it from the originally planned mission whose objective had been rendezvous with Agena) returned to Earth. Then Gemini VII would become the focus of communications again. Kraft was soon convinced that the operation could be carried out safely. He told his Mission Planning and Analysis Division to set up the flight plan so the second launch could take place as soon as the pad was ready.
At 3 o'clock that afternoon, Kraft told Gilruth that he was ready to talk, and he sounded excited. An hour later, Gilruth, Low, Mathews, Slayton, Burke, and Yardley heard what Kraft had to say. They talked about it for an hour, then Gilruth called Mueller, who liked the dual control idea but wanted to sleep on it. Burke and Yardley left for St. Louis with a promise from Gilruth to let them know within 24 hours what Headquarters decided.
But the news was beginning to leak out. James C. Elms, Mueller's deputy, heard from Washington reporters that there were rumors that NASA was going to fly two manned spacecraft at the same time. He p honed Houston to ask Low what was going on. When Low had told him about the plan, they decided to warn Mueller about the danger of news leaks. Realizing that speed was now vital, Mueller called Seamans at home. It was too late to do anything that evening, and Seamans asked Mueller to come over the first thing in the morning to discuss the subject. Although Seamans was very interested in what he heard on Wednesday morning, he told Mueller to keep it quiet until he could pass it along to Webb and Dryden.
That afternoon, 27 October, Webb, Dryden, Seamans, and Shapley met to discuss the Burke-Yardley proposal. Because Dryden had been concerned about adding extravehicular activity to Gemini IV at the last minute, Seamans felt he had to play devil's advocate. Even before Seamans finished, Webb was intrigued. Believing himself to be less conservative than Seamans about novel ideas, however, Webb telephoned Mueller and asked him point-blank if it would work. Mueller asked him to wait while he double checked with Gilruth in Houston.
Mueller told Gilruth that Webb liked the idea and thought it important enough for the President to announce. Mueller warned the MSC Director that there could be no hedging. Once President Johnson made the plan public, the nation would be committed. How, Mueller wanted to know, did Gilruth feel about the proposal after thinking it over for 24 hours? Affirming that it still looked good to him, Gilruth nevertheless asked for half an hour to count the votes. Mueller gave him 15 minutes. Gilruth and Low polled Kraft, Slayton, Mathews, and Preston, stressing what a presidential announcement implied. When the affirmative ballot was unanimous, Gilruth called Mueller, who notified Webb that he had a deal.
Webb then tried to reach presidential aide Jack Valenti but talked with Joseph Laitin, an assistant, instead. Laitin asked the Administrator to send the proposal to the White House so it could be forwarded to the President who was at his ranch near Austin, Texas. Webb drafted a memorandum for the Chief Executive, while Julian Scheer, NASA Assistant Administrator for Public Affairs, composed a press release. The NASA chief informed the President that, barring serious pad damage after the launch of Gemini VII, Gemini VI-A could be flown in time for Schirra and Stafford to rendezvous with Borman and Lovell. Webb told President Johnson, "I believe it will be encouraging to you . . . to learn that we have gained enough strength in . . . the Gemini program to consider. . . such a quick turnaround."
On Thursday, 28 October, a press conference was held at the Texas White House to announce the Gemini VII/VI-A rendezvous mission. That a plan of such scope could be suggested, discussed, approved, and announced in scarcely three days was a sign of the managerial and technical trust that Gemini had already come to inspire. William D. Moyers, the President's Press Secretary, told the news media about the plan and answered questions from reporters. Moyers said the mission was targeted for January; back at MSC, however, everyone from Gilruth on down was working toward an early December flight.
At Cape Kennedy, normal methods now had to be suspended. From the hardware standpoint, success depended upon the performance of the launch preparation teams. Members of the NASA, Air Force, and Aerospace teams met and agreed on the best way to implement the plan. In this emergency situation, Aerojet-General engineers came through with procedures for handling the vehicle in a horizontal position, even though they had said earlier it must not be done. The Air Force's 6555th Aerospace Test Wing took GLV-6 down, one stage at a time, and placed it in bonded storage under plastic cover. On 29 October, the team erected GLV-7 on pad 19. Spacecraft work began when the McDonnell Cape team was rounded up to hear about the new mission. "Oh, man, you are crazy!" was the first reaction of pad leader Guenter Wendt when he saw the "S/C #6 Pad Schedule," which listed tasks for nine hectic days after the Gemini VII launch. But he, like everyone else, tackled the challenge enthusiastically. While these exact schedule details were being pinned down, Spacecraft 6 was secured in a building on Merritt Island.
Crew training presented no serious problems. Schirra and Stafford were honed and ready to go. They stepped aside while Borman and Lovell flew the simulator, taking only occasional sessions to keep sharp. Rendezvous plans remained unchanged. But Gemini VII's flight plan was altered to circularize the orbit, so Spacecraft 1 would travel in the same path that the Agena would have used.
Although Kraft's group had a workable concept for flight control, the operations experts still had a lot of work ahead setting up simultaneous controls for two manned spacecraft. Goddard Space Flight Center, in charge of the tracking network, began altering station layouts to allow voice communications with Gemini VII and VI-A at the same time. Equipment at Goddard was also adjusted to ensure that computer programs for two manned spacecraft could be prepared.
Schirra and Stafford wanted to add extravehicular activity to the flight plans - perhaps Stafford could change places with Lovell in a demonstration of space rescue - but they met a pronounced rebuff. Borman's goal was a 14-day mission. He wanted nothing to do with any proposal that might threaten it. "Wally could have had all the EVA he wanted," Borman later said, "but I wasn't going to open the hatch." There were real hazards in trying to exchange pilots in mid- space, since the life support hoses would have to be detached and reconnected in a vacuum, leaving the pilots with only the backup system to depend on as they traveled between the two spacecraft. It might have looked great in the headlines, Borman added, "but one little slip could have lost the farm."
Schirra and Stafford did not give up and turned to Low for help. The Deputy Director learned that Stafford, one of the taller astronauts, sometimes had trouble getting out of and back into the spacecraft in zero-g tests. Even the barest chance that this might happen during the mission made the whole idea seem too risky to Low, but he passed the crew's wishes on to NASA Headquarters. The consensus in the executive offices was that there should be no EVA on Gemini VII - VI-A. Ironically, Spacecraft 6 was the first vehicle to be specifically designed for EVA. Schirra had worked hard to get it out earlier, so he and Stafford could focus on rendezvous. He had done too good a job. As he later remarked, "I wrestled that out of there so well that I couldn't get it back in when we had the delay."
Frank Borman and James Lovell had put in long hours getting ready to spend two weeks in space. Working directly with the Gemini IV pilots and talking with the crew of Gemini V, Borman and Lovell learned much about what to take with them and how to prepare themselves physically and psychologically. They already knew the spacecraft systems, but they needed to figure out how to live in such confined quarters for so long and still perform useful work. As successful as the preceding missions had been, they still wondered if six extra days could be safely added to the flight. Edward White and James McDivitt had been fatigued; Cooper and Conrad tired and bored. Both crews stressed the impossibility of sleeping alternately. Borman and Lovell resolved to sleep and work together.
The astronauts and mission planners had learned another lesson from Gemini IV and V. Prescribing tasks for assigned times during a flight was useless. So Borman and Lovell would take off with what was, in essence, a flight plan outline. Experiments and other tasks would be carried out only when the flight controllers and crew could fit the job to the opportunity. The only prescheduled tasks fell between launch and stationkeeping, the first four hours of a 330-hour mission.
Another innovation that the crew welcomed was adjusting the sleep-eat-work-relax cycle to their more normal, Earthbound habits. Borman and Lovell had two work periods each day, coinciding with morning and afternoon in the United States Central Standard Time zone. This schedule also fitted the specialized activities of the three flight controller shifts - to execute the flight plan, to analyze systems performance and the supply of consumables, and to keep up with what had been done and plan the next segment of activities.
Stowage of food and gear was a special problem on a two-week flight. Unfinished meals and food wrappers could quickly clutter up the spacecraft, as Cooper and Conrad had learned in the eight day mission. Extra storage space in the small cabin had to be found before the 14-day trip. GPO Deputy Manager Kenneth Kleinknecht went with Borman and Lovell to St. Louis, where Spacecraft 7 was going through its test phases, to help them hunt for more space. The search for an extra garbage dump was successful: waste paper from their meals could go behind Borman's seat for the first seven days and behind Lovell's for the next seven. After working out procedures, the crew practiced stowing for launch, orbit, and reentry, until they were sure they knew where to put every scrap of paper.
Tailoring flight and stowage plans for a 14-day mission was important, but even more significant was a newly tailored space suit to make Gemini VII more livable. In early June 1965, McDonnell started a test program to see if astronauts could ride almost suitless in space. Gordon Cooper and Elliot See, wearing standard Air Force flight suits (with medical monitoring plugs, helmets wired for Gemini communications fittings, and oxygen masks connected to emergency bottles), flew in the altitude (vacuum) chamber in St. Louis to simulated heights of 36,000 meters. Both astronauts were elated over the results, but McDonnell personnel were uneasy - in actual flight, the cabin temperature might go too high. At an MSC-McDonnell management meeting the next month, McDonnell was asked to study another possibility. James V. Correale of the Crew Systems Division had suggested using a lightweight pressure garment similar in operation to a G3C intravehicular suit. Although this soft suit would not allow pilots to complete a mission if the cabin lost oxygen pressure, it would provide them enough margin of safety to get to a recovery area.
Test results at McDonnell showed that the spacecraft environmental system actually operated more efficiently with suits off, but NASA and McDonnell engineers did not like the idea of the crew being so vulnerable. The best way to extinguish a fire in space, for example, was by cabin depressurization, which was out of the question if the men were suitless. And they needed protection if they had to use the ejection seats. Therefore, NASA officials snapped quickly at Correale's idea for a lightweight suit. This decision - in August 1965 - was too late to benefit the crew of Gemini V, but there was enough time to get the suit ready for Gemini VII.
To produce a more comfortable suit, the David Clark Company removed as much corsetry as possible from the 10.7-kilogram (23 1/2- pound) Gemini pressure suit. The suit was designed to be removed during flight without requiring too much energy or space. A soft cloth hood - which used zippers, as opposed to a neck ring, for fastening to the torso portion - replaced the fiber glass shell helmet. The contractor, working with MSC's Crew Systems Division, managed to cut suit Weight by a third, but the 7.3-kilogram (16-pound) suit was still somewhat heavy. In evaluation and training sessions, however, Borman and Lovell found the new garment handy. The soft hood could be zipped open, and the complete suit could be removed and laid on the side of the seats, without having to be stowed away.
If the spacecraft systems were performing properly, the crew would take the suits off after the second day in space. The garments would then be worn only for such critical phases of the mission as rendezvous, reentry, and landing. Use of the lightweight suit, designated G5C, was approved in August; by November, qualification was completed.
Gemini VII carried more experiments than any other flight in the program. Because it was the last long-duration mission, its medical experiments were particularly important in assessing man's capabilities for the lunar landing program. Of 20 experiments. eight were medical, a higher ratio than in any other Gemini flight (see Appendix D).
Two of the medical experiments - calcium balance study and inflight sleep analysis - were better suited to a clinic than to a small spacecraft cabin and were viewed with something less than enthusiasm by the crew. Even the name of the "Inflight Electroencephalogram" (EEG) experiment made the astronauts a little nervous Although it was merely a study of sleeping habits in Gemini, the EEG was normally used to diagnose subtle disturbances such as incipient epilepsy and brain tumors. But some specialists believed brain wave recording could offer more information, and the astronauts were understandably wary of how the results might be interpreted. Changing the name to "Inflight Sleep Analysis" solved only half their problem. Since normal hair growth would dislodge the scalp sensors after 48 hours, the information had to be gathered at the worst possible time the first night, when most people have difficulty sleeping in a new environment, anyway. Borman and Lovell also turned a jaundiced eye on the calcium balance study. It was a nuisance because they had to keep a complete record of body intake and wastes for 9 days before the flight, 14 days during it, and 4 days afterward. Before and after the mission, a nutritionist from the National Institutes of Health limited the items they could eat and drink and weighed out their meals in grams. Almost a month of this regimen did not appeal to the crew.
The only other medical experiment making its space flight debut was "Bioassays of Body Fluids." Its purpose was to study the effect of space flight on body fluid chemistries that might be affected by physical and mental stresses. The experimenters hoped to draw some conclusions about the physiological costs of space flight by analysis of urine samples.
In categories other than medical - scientific, technological, and defense - only three experiments were being flown for the first time. The other nine were repeated from Gemini IV and V. Two of the new experiments were technological: an in-flight laser transmitter to be aimed at a laser beacon at the White Sands Test Facility, New Mexico, to establish optical communications from space; and landmark contrast measurements of selected areas around the world (primarily coastlines), which might be useful to Apollo for guidance and navigation. The third was a Defense experiment to determine the value of star occultation measurements for spacecraft navigation.
The Gemini VII/VI-A decision made Borman's and Lovell's flight more than an endurance test. It changed the amount of fuel they could spend for experiments and stationkeeping with the booster and forced modifications to turn their spacecraft into a target vehicle. Over an early-November weekend, target acquisition and orientation lights, a radar transponder, a spiral antenna, and a voltage booster were installed on Spacecraft 7.
Four years earlier the chimpanzee Enos had barely completed two circuits of Earth. Now Borman and Lovell were ready to try for more than 200 during two weeks in space. On 4 December 1965, they entered the spacecraft and settled in their couches. The minutes to launch ticked off, with the astronauts checking systems, listening over the communications circuits, and waiting to hear the erector go clanking downward. Promptly at 2:30 pm., the booster rose from the pad. There was no doubt about it, Lovell said, the triple cues of CapCom Elliot See's countdown, the vibration of the launch vehicle, and the noise of the engines all told him he was going someplace.
"We're on our way, Frank!" Lovell shouted. As the launch vehicle boosted the spacecraft skyward, the booster rolled toward its programmed launch azimuth of 83.6 degrees. With only minor deviations in its powered phase, Gemini VII slid smoothly into its planned 160-kilometer keyhole.
Shortly after the spacecraft cut loose from its booster only a little over six minutes from liftoff, Borman wheeled Gemini VII around to find the launch vehicle. Two seconds of thrust had been enough for the separation maneuver and now he fired for five seconds to get into position for stationkeeping. The afternoon Sun glared through the windows but in less than 30 seconds he saw the booster. Fuel spewed from a broken line, first forming globules and then crystallizing into cascades of flakes. The Titan II bounced and jumped about the sky. Occasionally eclipsing the view of the Sun, the venting fuel created a brilliant and beautiful contrast. For 15 minutes, the crew took turns at formation flying and picture taking. Stationkeeping was easy, but chasing the tumbling second stage was costing more fuel than Borman liked. And at 15 meters, he was too close to such unpredictable motion, anyway. He fired the spacecraft thrusters to move away.
Half an hour into the flight, experiments began. Cardiovascular conditioning cuffs were snapped on Lovell's legs, where they started pulsing. The booster was stiff in sight, its lights Bashing and billions of particles around it. Borman and Lovell saw some unidentifiable objects in orbit five to six kilometers away. About 7:00 p.m., they turned from sightseeing to housekeeping, and at 9:30 they ate their first meal in space. Intermittently, air-to-ground communications dealt with an irksome fuel cell warning light, which blinked on and off. As night fell below, noise from the ground became less frequent. giving the crew a chance to catnap. Borman's suit was warmer then he had expected; lie had to turn the control knob to the coldest setting.
After breakfast, at 9:06 a.m., CapCom See told the crew it was time to go to work. Systems reports were run through, their physical well-being was discussed, and the day's experiment load was assigned. See passed on Mission Control's analysis of the fuel cell warning light and news of more mundane events: the theme song of the men aboard the aircraft carrier Wasp ("I'll Be Home for Christmas"), football scores. and a collision between two airliners over New York. Borman retorted. "It looks like it's safer up here than down there." "We're not down yet, buddy!" Lovell reminded him.
Some 45 hours into the flight, Lovell began doing his suit, a simple action that took more than an hour in such crowded quarters. At that point, both astronauts had stuffy noses and burning eyes. Borman complained that he was too warm. After Lovell had removed his suit, however, the general cabin environment improved. A debate about suits on or suits off during flight that had started before the launch of Gemini VII continued for nearly six days into the mission.
Both astronauts had planned to remove their suits after a two-day check of the environmental system. That changed when Mueller got wind of it. He objected strongly and so did Seamans, who agreed that one crewman should be suited at all times. Either pilot could take his suit off for up to 24 hours, but during launch, rendezvous, and reentry, both were to be suited.
Borman made frequent comments about Lovell's comfort and his own distress. As the hours passed, the rationale of one suit off and one on became ever less persuasive. Even sitting with his suit completely unzipped and his gloves off, Borman sweated while Lovell remained dry. Lovell's first 24 hours unsuited passed, and he elected to sleep suitless a second night. Borman agreed, despite his own discomfort, because Lovell, the larger of the two men, had more trouble getting the suit off and on in the confines of the cabin than he did. Lovell did don some special lightweight flight coveralls but took them off after 15 minutes - it was just too hot.
One hundred hours into the flight, Borman asked the flight controller on the Coastal Sentry Quebec to talk to Kraft about taking off his suit. Because he knew of Mueller's opposition, he cautioned CapCom Eugene A. Cernan, on the next pass over Houston, to discuss his request with Slayton first and not to present it to Kraft as an emergency. Cernan agreed.
Meanwhile, the controllers tried to get Lovell to put his suit on and Borman to take his off, so the surgeons could check the effects on both pilots of the suited and suitless conditions. The crewmen wanted to wait until the rendezvous with Gemini VI-A had been completed, but Kraft insisted. After 146 hours of flight, Borman finally agreed. Two hours later, it was his turn to sit in suitless comfort as Lovell sweltered.
The suit question was also working its way up the NASA chain of command, as the daily mission evaluation reports became tinged with concern about how alert the crew would be for the coming rendezvous. When Borman made his request through Cernan, Mission Director Schneider relayed it to George Mueller in Washington. Mueller asked MSC Medical Director Charles Berry (who was also chief flight surgeon during the missions) for a comparative analysis of the two astronauts. Already aware that Gilruth favored suits off, Mueller asked for a poll of the other members of the Gemini Design Certification Board.
Kennedy Director Kurt H. Debus, Marshall Director Wernher von Braun, and SSD Commander Ben Funk all agreed that the reasons for being unsuited outweighed those for being suited. Berry reported that the blood pressure and, pulse rates were closer to normal with suits off. The pilots got their wish, and debate ended.
Despite Frank Borman's discomfort, spacecraft operations proceeded efficiently. The crew conducted experiments, evaluated spacecraft systems, and worked, slept, ate, exercised, and rested. Good humor and good spirits prevailed, bolstered by family reports, the daily See-Haney newscasts, and the preparations for sending Gemini VII some visitors - the VI-A crew. Borman expressed some concern about the fuel needed to get into position for the meeting, but four orbital adjustment maneuvers worked well. In a nearly circular orbit of 300 kilometers, the spacecraft's orbital lifetime was now theoretically over 100 days. The friendly target was ready.
On 15 December 1965, the mood of those working on the rendezvous mission - planners, pilots, and ground crew - was one of high anticipation. If on this third attempt Gemini VI-A would cooperate and go into orbit, a truly significant world space "first" - rendezvous - might be chalked up. Russian endurance records had now been shattered in two successive American manned space missions, but achieving rendezvous would be navigationally significant to the Apollo program as well as important one-upmanship. Having a friendly target to approach, one that could point its transponder and talk back as Gemini VI-A called out its course and speed, created an atmosphere of confidence.
At 8:37 a.m. Gemini VI-A rose from its pad. As if forcing it to move by will power alone, Schirra urged, "for the third time, go." A moment of wonder followed, as the launch vehicle seemed to shimmy. This shaking may have been only an impression; because of their recent experience, both pilots were highly attuned to movement and sound. At engine cutoff, Stafford checked the computer and got a reading of 7,830 meters per second. This told them they were on their way. Borman and Lovell in Gemini VII, passing near the Cape Kennedy area, saw nothing except clouds; but they soon learned from the Canary Islands communicator that the orbital parameters of VI-A were 161 by 259 kilometers. A few minutes later, as they flew over Tananarive, Malagasy Republic, they saw VI-A's contrail and got a brief glimpse of the visitors' spacecraft. They put on their suits and waited for company to arrive.
The rendezvous profile rubbed "M equals 4" by the mission planners for convenience (the "M" had no special meaning)scheduled the catchup to VII during the fourth revolution of VI-A. Schirra and Stafford faced six hours of maneuvering to reach Borman and Lovell.
At insertion, the chase vehicle trailed its target by 1992 kilometers. The VI-A crew aligned the inertial platform to position their spacecraft for a height adjustment. Over New Orleans, after 94 minutes in space, Schirra ignited the thrusters to speed up by 4 meters per second. The perigee remained the same, but the acceleration kicked the apogee up to 272 kilometers. Gemini VI-A, being nearer to Earth and so moving faster, now lagged only 1,175 kilometers behind Gemini VII.
Near Carnarvon, at 2 hours 18 minutes ground elapsed time, Schirra began a phase adjustment. This had a twofold purpose: to reduce the distance to the target and to raise the chase vehicle's perigee to 224 kilometers. He pressed the button to add 19 meters per second to his velocity. Over the Pacific less than half an hour later, Schirra turned his spacecraft 90 degrees to the right (southward) and ignited the thrusters to push Gemini VI-A into the same plane as Gemini VII. Now the distance between the two vehicles had narrowed to 483 kilometers.
Three hours 15 minutes into the mission, Elliot See told Schirra that radar contact should soon be possible with Gemini VII. The VI-A crew got a flickering radar signal, then a solid lock-on at 434 kilometers range. Over Carnarvon, at 3 hours 47 minutes, the aft thrusters fired for 54 seconds to add 13 meters per second to Gemini VI's speed. The result was almost a circle, measuring 270 by 274 kilometers. In slant range distance, the two spacecraft were now 319 kilometers apart and closing slowly.
Schirra and Stafford placed Gemini VI-A in the computer (or automatic) rendezvous mode at 3 hours 51 minutes into the flight. While the lower orbiting vehicle gained slowly on its target, Schirra dimmed the lights on, his side of the spacecraft to improve outside visibility. At 5 hours 4 minutes, he exclaimed, "My gosh, there is a real bright star out there. That must be Sirius." The "star" was Gemini VII, reflecting the Sun's rays from 100 kilometers away.
Gradual catchup of the target vehicle lasted until 5 hours 16 minutes; Schirra prepared to make the last rendezvous maneuvers. The two ships were now close enough to allow Spacecraft 6 to thrust directly toward Spacecraft 7. He fired the thrusters and closed on Gemini VII at a rate of better than three kilometers every minute and a half. Schirra and Stafford briefly lost sight of Gemini VII when it passed into darkness but soon picked up the target's running lights.
Schirra made two midcourse corrections spaced 12 minutes apart (at 5 hours 32 minutes and 5 hours 44 minutes). Six minutes later, at a range of 900 meters from his target, Schirra began braking his spacecraft by firing the forward thrusters. Soon he had no difficulty seeing Gemini VII. Fittingly, in the terminal stage of rendezvous, the VI-A astronauts saw the stars Castor and Pollux in the Gemini (Twin) constellation aligned with their sister ship. Then Spacecraft 7 flashed into the sunlight - almost too bright to look at. From a distance of 200 meters, it resembled a carbon arc light. Following the braking and translation maneuver, VI- A coasted until the two vehicles were 40 meters apart, with no relative motion between them. The world's first manned space rendezvous was now a fact. In Mission Control, the cheering throng of flight controllers waved small American flags, while Kraft. Gilruth, and others of the jubilant crowd lit cigars and beamed upon this best of all possible worlds. At 2:33 p.m., 15 December 1965, Gemini VI-A had rendezvoused with Gemini VII.
When Russian Vostok III flew within five kilometers of Vostok VI on 12 August 1962, some people believed, with the help of Pravda news dispatches, that rendezvous had been accomplished. The two spacecraft, however, were in different orbital planes; nor could they maneuver to stop relative motion between them. In simple terms, it was good shooting from the pad, but the result was the same as if two bullets had passed in the middle of a battlefield. Schirra knew what a real rendezvous in orbit was:
" Somebody said. . . when you come to within three miles (five kilometers), you've rendezvoused. If anybody thinks they've pulled a rendezvous off at three miles, have fun! This is when we started doing our work. I don't think rendezvous is over until you are stepped - completely stopped - with no relative motion between the two vehicles, at a range of approximately 120 feet (40 meters). That's rendezvous! From there on, it's stationkeeping. That's when you can go back and play the game of driving a car or driving an airplane or pushing a skateboard - it's about that simple."
Borman and Lovell had been fascinated by the fireworks of VI-A's thrusters during braking and startled by the 12-meter tongue of flame. As Schirra and Stafford neared, there was a second surprise. Borman said, "You've got a lot of stuff all around the back end of you." Minutes later, during stationkeeping, Schirra told Borman, "So do you." Cords and stringers three to five meters long streamed and flapped behind both spacecraft.
Rendezvous maneuvers had cost VI-A only 51 kilograms (113 pounds) of fuel. Schirra still had 62 percent left in his tanks. It had been easy, he said, and there was plenty of fuel for stationkeeping, flyarounds, formation flying, and parking the spacecraft in specific relative positions. Borman and Lovell were not so wealthy; Flight Control told them to stop maneuvers when the VII tanks dropped to an 11 percent supply.
For more than three Earth revolutions, the two spacecraft stayed at ranges of from 0.30 meters to 90 meters. VI-A approached VIIto examine the stringers on one occasion. On another, they flew nose to nose. Schirra and Stafford swapped the controls back and forth because the Sun streamed so brightly through first one window and then the other. When it was time for Borman and Lovell to perform an experiment, Schirra and Stafford moved out 12 meters and parked. For some 20 minutes, in one instance, neither bothered to touch the steering handle, as the spacecraft remained stable in relation to its sister ship. On the first night pass,the two spacecraft faced each other at distances ranging from 6 to 18 meters. Schirra had worried about visibility during darkness, but it turned out to be excellent - docking light, handheld penlight, and even VII's cabin lights were clearly visible to him.
Using what Schirra called his eyeball ranging system, the VI-A crew did an in-plane flyaround of VII, roving out to 90 meters. Believing this was too far away to be called stationkeeping, Schirra hurriedly brought VI-A within 30 meters. The astronauts were highly impressed with their ability to control the spacecraft. Velocity inputs as low as 0.03 meter (0.10 foot) per second provided very precise maneuvering. Because of this fine control, he and Stafford concluded that nuzzling into and docking with a target vehicle would be no problem.
As the pilots' bedtime approached, Schirra flipped the spacecraft blunt-end forward and fired his thrusters to impart a small separation speed. Eventually, the crews settled down 16 kilometers apart. Borman, who frequently caught sight of Gemini VI-A in the distance. remarked to the Rose Knot Victor tracking ship communicator, "We have company tonight."
After the guests had departed, Borman and Lovell realized that their incentive had gone with them. Events such as stationkeeping, experiments, getting out of their suits, and waiting for the VI-A visitors had sustained their enthusiasm. Even then, the novelty of space flight had worn thin, and their thoughts had strayed homeward. With VI-A gone and almost three days left, the mission began to drag. Beyond all doubt, 14 days inside this spacecraft was "a long haul in that short frame." While in drifting flight, Borman read some of Mark Twain's Roughing It, Lovell part of Drums along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds - both selected partly because they had nothing to do with the space program.
During a mission as long as Gemini VII, impressions only indirectly connected with the flight naturally came to mind. Lovell indulged in a disquisition on legs, which were
" affected the most by zero g because you don't realize how much exercise you do every day. Just combating Earth's gravity, you do quite a bit; and the legs are designed to do most of that work for you. They get you around - they walk - they lift up your body. Suddenly, for two weeks, this gravity is taken away. The legs don't have a job any more - they're just there. A man without legs for Gemini would have been perfect because you could utilize that space for something else. Everything except for maybe EVA. But in that spacecraft, we didn't use the legs for anything."
A few minutes after Schirra had played his spirited rendition of "Jingle Bells," Borman and Lovell took off their suits. They might as well be comfortable. Then they had to see about a thruster problem that had greeted them upon awakening. When Borman tried to fire thrust chambers 3 and 4, only whitish, unburnt fuel streamed out. The pitch thrusters stopped the spacecraft from yawing and thrusters 11 and 12 also helped, although they were a little too strong in control. One of the non-working thrusters was tested after the flight. The laminate in the thrust chamber was found to be the old-style 90-degree layup, instead of the new 6-degree design that had solved the burnout problem.
But the thrusters were merely annoying; the fuel cell was a greater concern. Despite the Warning light during the first revolution, the cell had provided enough electrical power for the spacecraft to operate normally for 126 hours. The ground analysis team, with an operating model set up in St. Louis, had helped keep it going, but power output was only partial by the end of the 12th day. The next day, the fuel cell threatened to quit completely as the Warning light burned continuously. Gemini VII might have to end early with a landing in the Pacific Ocean, much as the crew disliked the idea of missing the 14-day goal. Test results in St. Louis, however, showed that the electrical system would carry them all the Way. Relieved, Borman slept better than he had on any other night in space.
Borman and Lovell finished their packing on the last day. Asked about their baggage, Borman said the cockpit was clean, he and Lovell were wearing their suits, and they were all set to go home.
Before the retrorockets fired, the ground stations kept the crew busy for two hours on the reentry checklist. Flight surgeon Berry reminded them to elevate their feet and pump their legs. Borman broke in to say that he and Lovell wanted to get out of the spacecraft as soon as possible. They had no desire to wait around to be stylishly hoisted aboard a carrier. As they started their last revolution - number 20 - the tracking stations along the circuit bade them goodbye. The music being broadcast included the tune "Going Back to Houston."
With retrofire approaching in the darkness near Canton Island in the Pacific, the crew wondered - as do all astronauts - whether the rockets would fire. Lovell described his emotions graphically.
" Retrofire has a unique apprehension in the fact that both of us are aviators and we understand the apprehension in flying. If you have an accident in an airplane, something's going to happen. . . . You hit something, or it blows up - you're coming down. Now, in liftoff and reentry, a space vehicle is like an airplane. Something's happening. But if the rockets fail to retro, if they fail to go off, nothing's going to happen. You just sit up there and that's it. Nothing happens at all. So that's the unique type of apprehension, because you know that you've gotten rid of the adapter, you know that you're going to have 24 hours of oxygen, 10 hours of batteries, and very little water. So you play all sorts of tricks to get those retros to fire."
The first retrorocket fired automatically and on time. The next two rockets followed in quick succession and, after a pause, the fourth fired. As the firings jolted them, Lovell said, with relief, "That's one big hurdle over with, tiger!" Borman answered, "You're right, ace."
From Houston, CapCom See told them to fly a 35-degree left bank until computer guidance cut in. A surprised Lovell reminded Borman that 53 degrees had been planned. Borman questioned See, who confirmed the 35-degree bank. By that time, however, the computer "had come in on the line. . . . it was actually commanding the spacecraft," with Borman banking to right and left, following the needles. As Lovell later said, "You have no control over how close you're going to get to the target. Your only control is how good that computer is doing, or how good your center of gravity was when you sat up the computer and the retrofire time. . . ."
Borman rolled Gemini VII head down to use the horizon as a guide for keeping the proper spacecraft attitude. He could see nothing from his window, however, and had to depend entirely on his instruments and on Lovell, who finally saw the horizon after about six and a half minutes and began calling out adjustments. Borman concluded that reentering was definitely a two-man job for Gemini; there was no way to follow the needles on an instrument panel and watch the horizon at the same time.
Because they had been weightless for so long, the onset of the g forces "felt like a ton. During the long glide, which did not have a sharp angle of descent, g forces never rose higher than 3.9 (contrasted with an average of 7.7 for the Mercury-Atlas orbital flights). But the higher g did not bother them too much, since they were very busy trying to get as close to that carrier as possible.
The reentry control system worked well, holding Gemini VII steady until the drogue parachute came out. The spacecraft rocked 2 Eat degrees to either side, giving the crew a shaking. On the way down. Lovell opened the snorkel; smoke and an acrid smell filled his hood. causing his eyes to water. But even his smarting eyes were glad to see the main parachute deploy. Little did the crew care that they hit the Water with a heavy thud. Borman's thoughts were elsewhere; he was trying to spot the recovery helicopter. When he did not see any aircraft, he remarked. "Shoot! We must have missed it more than Walls did." The two command pilots had a small bet on who would land closer to the target. But Borman was not sure when he began to talk with "Air Boss," pilot of one of the helicopters in the area of the spacecraft's descent; maybe they were near the aiming point, after all.
On 18 December 1965, after 330 hours, 35 minutes, 01 second, Gemini VII came to rest on what Lovell called the good old aqua firma, missing the target by 11.8 kilometers. Mission objectives had been achieved in fine fashion. Provided the crew came through in good physical condition, it could be assumed that an Apollo team could fly safely to the Moon and back.
Borman felt a little dizzy, Lovell not at all. Borman suggested that they get out of their suits, as it was warm in the spacecraft, but the effort was just too great. They turned on the oxygen repressurization valve and were soon comfortable. The pararescuemen were already working on the flotation collar, and the recovery helicopters were hovering nearby. Half an hour after landing, Borman and Lovell were greeted aboard the Wasp,92 the second spaceship crew the carrier's crew had snared in a few days.
When the returning spacemen came onto the deck of the carrier, they were tired but happy. They walked slightly stooped and a little gimpy-legged, partly because of their pressure suits and the ship's roll, but mostly because they were just plain weary. Perhaps even more remarkable than being able to walk across the deck without stumbling was the fact that the crew had been able to get into the "horse collar" to be hoisted into the helicopter. After being weightless for 14 days, this was a severe physical test. Berry was jubilant over the medical results of Gemini VII:
"The most miraculous thing was when they could get out of the spacecraft and not flop on their faces; and they could go up into the helicopter and get out on the carrier deck and walk pretty well. They were in better physiologic shape than the V crew. Initially, their tilt-table responses were not as bad and did not last as long. It looked more like four-day responses, by far, than eight-day. The calcium loss was the same way. Amazingly, they maintained their total blood volume. They didn't get any decrease, but they did it in a peculiar way. They lost the red-cell mass still, but they replaced the plasma - they put more fluid in. Apparently, there had been enough time for an adaptive phenomenon to take place."
When the detailed examination started, the physicians found that Lovell, who had worn the cardiovascular cuffs, had less blood pooling in his legs than Borman. After a good night's sleep aboard ship, both men looked rested and said they were. They had made the long haul in that short frame in fine style.
Christmas week of 1965 was perhaps the high-water mark of manned space flight to that time. The string of successes had an unlooked-for effect, however - manned space flight became almost commonplace, the novelty had all but gone. Who did what and when tended to blur. Any single event, such as America's first suborbital flight or first orbital mission, became hard to recall. Perhaps more than it intended, NASA had achieved the program goal implied in the Project Development Plan of December 1961: to put space flight on something like a routine basis. The routine loses news value, and score cards on Russia versus America in the space race vanished when the lead clearly passed from East to West.
Gilruth may hake best summed up the bright look of things at that postrecovery conference on 18 December, when he said:
"It has been a fabulous year for manned space flight. . . . I guess you all realize that this year, since March, we have put 10 men in orbit and brought them back. And we have accomplished the major part of the Gemini space objectives at this point in the program. The long duration, which was a major objective, some of us didn't really think you could go 8 or 14 days in that spacecraft . . . we have seen the men return in good shape with all their tasks done. . . . We have seen EVA this year in Gemini, and we have seen rendezvous. We have seen controlled reentry demonstrated, the controlled reentry technique that is so important to Apollo, and we have seen accomplished a whole raft of scientific experiments."
NASA faced the new year with an equal number of manned Gemini flights still to be flown, and it expected to do this with an unbroken chain of successes. Morale was high, as many program objectives had been stamped "Achieved." Postflight celebrations were carried across the seas when President Johnson asked Borman and Schirra to make an eight-nation, good-will tour of the Far East. Meanwhile, engineers at the Manned Spacecraft Center prepared for a "Gemini Midprogram Conference," to discuss the results of the first seven Gemini missions. as they had done for the Mercury program in the Summary Conference held in Houston in October 1963.
Location: National Air and Space Museum (Smithsonian Institution), Washington, DC.
First Launch: 1965.12.04.
Last Launch: 1965.12.18.
Duration: 13.77 days.
Far surpassing the Gemini 5 flight, Gemini 7 set a manned spaceflight endurance record that would endure for years. The incredibly boring mission, was made more uncomfortable by the extensive biosensors. This was somewhat offset by the soft spacesuits (used only once) and permission to spend most of the time in long johns. The monotony was broken just near the end by the rendezvous with Gemini 6.
Gemini 6 was to have been the first flight involving docking with an Agena target/propulsion stage. However the Agena blew up on the way to orbit, and the spacecraft was replaced by Gemini 7 in the launch order.
For lack of a target, NASA decided to have Gemini 6 rendezvous with Gemini 7. This would require a quick one week turnaround of the pad after launch, no problem with Russian equipment but a big accomplishment for the Americans. The first launch attempt was aborted; the Titan II ignited for a moment, then shut down and settled back down on its launch attachments. Schirra waited it out, did not pull the abort handles that would send the man catapulting out of the capsule on their notoriously unreliable ejection seats. The booster was safed; Schirra had saved the mission and the launch three days later went perfectly. The flight went on to achieve the first manned space rendezvous controlled entirely by the self-contained, on-board guidance, control, and navigation system. This system provided the crew of Gemini 6 with attitude, thrusting, and time information needed for them to control the spacecraft during the rendezvous. Under Schirra's typically precise command, the operation was so successful that the rendezvous was complete with fuel consumption only 5% above the planned value to reach 16 m separation from Gemini 7.