Thursday, January 8, 2015

50 Years Ago: Preparing for Gemini

Astronauts John Young (left) and Gus Grissom (Center) inspect the Gemini 3 mission simulator with a NASA official. Gemini would be the first two-man mission for the USA.

Fifty years ago NASA personnel were very busy preparing for the next manned flight series, Project Gemini. Astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young (part of the "new nine" group of astronaut candidates) would pilot Gemini-3 on its first project mission in the Spring. On January 1st, about 500 personnel were transferred from Manned Space Flight Center's Florida operations to the newly created Kennedy Space Center in preparation for growing the Gemini and Apollo manned space operations. WHile the Gemini manned flights would begin this year, Apollo program operations would increase with additional rocket testing and launches.

NASA illustration comparing the sizes of the three main spacecraft. Bottom left is the Gemini 2-man capsule. Above it is the Mercury spacecraft which held only one astronaut. To the right is the planned Apollo capsule, expected to carry three astronauts on a two-week mission to the Moon.

On January 4th, the Gemini-3 capsule which would be used in the upcoming flight was delivered to Kennedy Space Center to be prepared for the Titan 2 rocket. The astronauts continued their preparations for the mission by conducting flight simulations, water landing escape training, and constant work with the mechanical and electronic spacecraft systems. They also had a huge burden of conducting press interviews, public appearances, and promotional events for the NASA space program.

Water egress training for Gemini-3 astronauts and the backup crew.

Training in the Gemini-3 mission simulator.

Post-flight inspection of Mercury spacecraft Friendship 7. From L-R: John Glenn, President Kennedy, Vice-President Johnson.

In other astronaut news, Mercury program astronaut John Glenn retired from the Marine Corps on January 4. It had been known that White House officials and the President himself had been very concerned during the Mercury orbital flight when John's spacecraft was thought to have a heat shield problem, and there were concerns that Glenn should not fly again to avoid the potential  of losing America's first orbiting astronaut in an accident. With doubts about future flights in mind, Glenn retired and signed on to support NASA as a consultant. He also received a position on the board of the Royal Crown Cola Company (which no doubt included a substantial increase in monetary compensation compared to working for NASA and the Marine Corps!). 

Mariner IV space probe.

Manned spaceflight was not the only exciting program for NASA. The spacecraft Mariner IV was on its way to Mars. Mariner IV had blasted off from Launch Complex 12 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida on November 28. Lifted into space by an Atlas rocket and Agena-D second stage, the craft was designed to fly by the Red Planet and take the first pictures of its surface.

Mariner IV launch from Pad 12.

Originally the mission involved two spacecraft. Mariner 3 had launched just earlier on November 5, but the protective shroud over the probe had failed to deploy properly and so the Mariner 3 spacecraft did not reach Mars. So it was now solely up to Mariner 4. On January 3rd, the craft was operating well and had completed 63 million miles in its journey to Mars. The craft performed its first self-intiated command to change frequency rates for the long trip to the planet.

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