Gemini-Titan 3 Prime and Backup crews: (L-R) Young, Grissom, Schirra, Stafford.
Fifty years ago, with the excitement of a successful test mission of the GT-1 unmanned vehicle just completed, NASA made official the names of the astronauts who would pilot the first manned mission in Project Gemini. The Prime crew would include veteran astronaut Gus Grissom and new astronaut John Young. The backup crew, who would launch in case of illness or injury to either of the prime crew before the flight, would be veteran astronaut Wally Schirra and new astronaut Tom Stafford.
NASA official portrait of Virgil (Gus) I. Grissom, with model of Gemini spacecraft.
Gus Grissom was the astronaut on board the Mercury space capsule Liberty Bell 7 when in arced over the Atlantic on the second flight in Project Mercury. His 15-minute sub-orbital flight was a success, but his spacecraft experienced a hatch jettison malfunction after landing in the water. With the capsule filling with water, Grissom was able to escape as Navy frogmen struggled to hook the craft to helicopter tow cables. Unfortunately the craft sank to the bottom of the Atlantic. After a review, Grissom was cleared from any mistakes and became one of NASA's top astronauts. He was previously a test pilot, and had flown 100 combat missions during the Korean War. He would be the first American to fly twice into space.
John Young, in Gemini-era spacesuit.
John Young graduated from Georgia Institute of Technology with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering. He served in the Navy during the Korean War and became a jet pilot afterwards. After tours of duty on aircraft carriers, he became a test pilot and finally joined NASA in Astronaut Group 2, known as the "New Nine." Young would have a very adventurous career with NASA, but his addition to the first Gemini flight came about because the original planned commander was Alan Shepherd, the first American in space, had suddenly come down with an ear and balance ailment which grounded him from flight. Tom Stafford had been planned as pilot, but with Shepherd's removal, the backup crew moved forward leaving Grissom as Commander and Young as Pilot. Wally Schirra then became the new backup crew commander working with Tom Stafford. Such is the life of a NASA astronaut.
Grissom, center, and Young, just to the right, during a spacecraft review meeting at NASA in 1964.