Wednesday, May 7, 2014

50 Years Ago: Gemini WIngs and Water Egress Training

Gemini test craft with inflatable delta wing on display 1964.

Fifty years ago in April and May NASA engineers were excited to test a new concept for returning spacecraft to the ground. So far, Mercury spacecraft had returned to a watery landing via a parachute system to await pickup by the US Navy. NASA realized that a lot of money and effort could be saved if the capsule could return safely and easily to land, especially if it could touch down specifically on a runway. 

Practice landing after release from altitude.

Back in 1951, NASA Engineer Francis Rogallo and his wife Gertrude received a patent for the "Rogallo WIng" that theoretically NASA thought would replace the inflation bag meant to bouy the capsule in water. After re-entry, the heat shield would be jettisoned and the kite-shaped wing inflated and deployed. Through the early 1960,s tests were made with various piloted frames and contraptions to learn how to guide and control a craft suspended underneath one of the wings. Eventually it came to its ultimate testing with Project Gemini. Unfortunately, in 1964 NASA finally came to the conclusion that they would continue the use of parachute descent. The Rogallo Wing was not finished, however. Certainly great information was learned about the use of delta-shaped wings, and the idea of a runway-landing for a spaceship would continue to be tested but in another form. ANd the wing itself had a very popular "spinoff" which became the sport hang glider, so often seen even today around the world.

Wally Schirra training with one-man raft in indoor training facility.

During 1964 and 1965, astronauts of Project Gemini continued to train in simulators, laboratories, and even in pools and the ocean. As NASA decided against the Rogallo Wing, they continued with the planned training of astronauts for water landings. Called Water Egress, the astronauts needed to learn to exit the craft, and if necessary how to stay afloat in the water, how to use emergency rafts, and how to be picked up by helicopter.

Jim Lovell picked up by boat after training.

John Young and Michael Collins practicing water egress at sea.

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