Encyclopedia Astronautica
Gemini 9A


Crew: Bassett, See. Planned mission, cancelled when prime crew killed in T-38 trainer crash. All subsequent crew assignments were reshuffled. This ended up determining who would be the first man on the moon. Backup crew: Cernan, Stafford.

Elliot See and Charlie Bassett were the prime crew for Gemini 9. On February 28, 1966, they were flying in a NASA T-38 trainer to visit the McDonnell plant in St Louis, where their spacecraft was in assembly. See misjudged his landing approach, and in pulling up from the runway, hit Building 101 where the spacecraft was being assembled. Both astronauts were killed, and 14 persons on the ground were injured. As a result, the Gemini 9 backup crew became the prime crew, and all subsequent crew assignments were reshuffled. This ended up determining who would be the first man on the moon.

From the NASA official Gemini program history, On the Shoulders of Titans":

One bright winter morning, the last day of February 1966, the Gemini IX foursome checked into Ellington Air Force Base, Texas, for flight clearance to St. Louis in two dual-seat T-38 jet aircraft. They planned to spend several days practicing on the rendezvous simulator at the McDonnell plant. At Ellington, the four fliers learned that weather in St. Louis was gloomy: 180-meter overcast, visibility 3 kilometers, rain, and fog, with little change expected. Instrument flight rules would be required. See called the St. Louis air traffic controllers, saying he would see them in a couple of hours. He and Cernan discussed the different runways at Lambert Field in St. Louis. See then climbed into the front seat of one T-38, with Bassett easing into the back seat. Stafford and Cernan got into the other plane. They took off from Ellington at 7:35 a.m. See and Bassett led, with Stafford and Cernan flying wing position.

Reaching St. Louis just before 9 o'clock, See radioed the Lambert Field control tower and learned that the overcast had lifted to 240 meters since his earlier call, but the visibility had dropped to 2.4 kilometers. Light snow flurries now mixed with the rain and fog. As the aircraft descended through the overcast, the pilots found themselves too far down the runway to land. See elected to keep the field in sight and he circled to the left underneath the cloud cover. Stafford followed a missed approach procedure and climbed straight ahead into the soup to 600 meters, intending to make another instrument approach. He landed safely on his next attempt.

Meanwhile, See had continued his left turn. The aircraft angled toward McDonnell Building 101, where technicians were working on the very spacecraft See and Bassett were scheduled to fly. Apparently recognizing that his sink rate was too high, See cut in his afterburners and attempted a sharp right turn; but it was too late. The aircraft struck the roof of the building and crashed into a courtyard. Both pilots were killed.

NASA named a seven-man board to investigate the accident. Led by Astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr., the board looked into all aspects of the tragedy - aircraft maintenance, pilot experience, medical histories, and weather conditions. Shepard's group listened to testimony from everyone who had anything to say, sifted the wreckage for clues, and drew conclusions. They found nothing wrong with the aircraft; it had functioned properly to the moment of impact. Within the past six months, See and Bassett had renewed their instrument flying certificates. Before and during the flight, both men had been in good physical and mental condition, as attested by medical examinations and by reported pre- and in-flight conversations. Furthermore, See was reputed to be an excellent test pilot. Careful, judicious, and technically competent, he should never have crashed at all. Weather appeared to have been the major contributing cause, and pilot error prompted by a desire not to lose sight of the field had carried them too low.

On Wednesday, 2 March 1966, Spacecraft No. 9, on its way to the flight dock for shipment to Cape Kennedy, passed an American flag flying at half-mast at the McDonnell plant. The next day, Elliot See and Charles Bassett, attended by their fellow astronauts, were buried in Arlington National Cemetery across the Potomac from the Nation's capital.

NASA assigned the Gemini IX prime crew positions to Stafford and Cernan, marking the first time in the agency's manned space flight history that a backup crew had taken over a mission. On 21 March James Lovell and Edwin Aldrin were given the backup duties. There would be no delay in the launch schedule.

First Launch: 1966 June.

More... - Chronology...


Associated People
  • See See, Elliot McKay Jr (1927-1966) American test pilot astronaut, 1962-1966. Died in crash of his T-38 trainer into the McDonnell Aircraft plant. More...
  • Stafford Stafford, Thomas Patten 'Tom' (1930-) American test pilot astronaut. Flew on Gemini 6, Gemini 9, Apollo 10, Apollo (ASTP). Member of first crew to rendezvous in space. Space speed record (11,107 m/s). More...
  • Bassett Bassett, Charles Arthur II 'Charlie' (1931-1966) American test pilot astronaut, 1963-1966. Died in crash of T-38 trainer into the McDonnell Aircraft plant. More...
  • Cernan Cernan, Eugene Andrew 'Gene' (1934-) American test pilot astronaut. Flew on Gemini 9, Apollo 10, Apollo 17. Eleventh person to walk on the moon and last person to step off of the moon. Space speed record (11,107 m/s). More...

See also
Associated Programs
  • Gemini Gemini was conceived as an 'upgraded Mercury' to test essential orbital manoeuvring, rendezvous, docking, lifting re-entry, and space walking techniques in the four years between the last Mercury flight and the first scheduled Apollo flight. If fulfilled this mission, and numerous variants that never reached production would have serviced manned space stations and taken Americans around and to the moon - at lower cost and earlier than Apollo. More...

Gemini 9A Chronology


1965 November 8 - .
  • Manned Spacecraft Center announced that Elliot M. See, Jr., had been selected as command pilot and Charles A. Bassett II as pilot for the Gemini IX mission. - . Nation: USA. Flight: Gemini 9; Gemini 9A. The backup crew would be Thomas P. Stafford, command pilot, and Eugene A. Cernan, pilot. The mission, scheduled for the third quarter of 1966, would last from two to three days and would include rendezvous and docking and extravehicular activity. Bassett would remain outside the spacecraft for at least one revolution and would wear the manned maneuvering unit backpack, a self-propelled hydrogen-peroxide system with gyro stabilization designed by the Air Force.

1966 February 28 - .
  • Gemini IX Astronauts Elliot M. See, Jr., and Charles A. Bassett II killed when their T-38 jet crashed. - . Nation: USA. Related Persons: See; Bassett. Flight: Gemini 9; Gemini 9A. Gemini IX Astronauts Elliot M. See, Jr., and Charles A. Bassett II were killed when their T-38 jet training plane crashed in rain and fog short of the St. Louis Municipal Airport. The jet, which had been cleared for an instrument landing, was left of center in its approach to the runway when it turned toward the McDonnell complex, 1000 feet from the landing strip. It hit the roof of the building where spacecraft nos. 9 and 10 were being housed, bounced into an adjacent courtyard, and exploded. Several McDonnell employees were slightly injured. Minutes later the Gemini IX backup crew, Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan, landed safely. The four astronauts were en route to McDonnell for two weeks' training in the simulator. NASA Headquarters announced that Stafford and Cernan would fly the Gemini IX mission on schedule and appointed Alan B. Shepard, Jr., to head a seven-man investigating team.

1966 June - .
  • Gemini 9A (cancelled) - . Crew: Bassett; See. Backup Crew: Cernan; Stafford. Nation: USA. Related Persons: Bassett; See; Cernan; Stafford. Program: Gemini. Flight: Gemini 9A. Spacecraft: G4C AMU; Gemini. Elliot See and Charlie Bassett were the prime crew for Gemini 9. On February 28, 1966, they were flying in a NASA T-38 trainer to visit the McDonnell plant in St Louis, where their spacecraft was in assembly. See misjudged his landing approach, and in pulling up from the runway, hit Building 101 where the spacecraft was being assembled. Both astronauts were killed, and 14 persons on the ground were injured. As a result, the Gemini 9 backup crew became the prime crew, and all subsequent crew assignments were reshuffled. This ended up determining who would be the first man on the moon.

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