Friday, December 4, 2015

50 Years Ago: Gemini 7 Blasts off for Complex Mission

The Titan rocket lifts off from Pad LC-19 at Cape Kennedy.

On December 4, 1965, astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell were carried into space by a Titan rocket on board the Gemini VII spacecraft. Their mission was to test how astronauts could adapt to a very long space flight, and eventually they completed 20 experiments. Because of the cramped environment of the Gemini capsule, great care and planning had gone into the storage and retrieval of everything from food packs to waste sample bags and even scraps of paper.

Astronaut Lovell in the new spacesuit prior to boarding.

Both astronauts were testing a new spacesuit for this mission, the G5C design. This suit replaced the traditional helmet for a zippered hood, which would cover a NASA flight helmet which included communications gear. Additional zippers and connections were meant to make it easier to remove the suit in the tiny confines of the capsule and reduce storage space used. During the first part of the flight, the suits proved to be very uncomfortable and hot. The experience helped NASA to decide that astronauts would be better off without spacesuits on during most of a mission except during critical flight operations.

Besides the long-duration aspect of the mission, an additional parameter had been changed to test rendezvous skills that would be needed for later Apollo Moon missions. The Gemini VI mission had been planned to take place on October 25, but was cancelled when the Agena docking target was lost during blast off just before the manned mission began. Modifications were made to the Gemini VI mission, so that they could take off during the second half of the Gemini VII mission and use the Gemini VII spacecraft as its new rendezvous target.

Until that time, Borman and Lovell would spend their days in zero gravity performing experiments related to living and working in space. The worst part of the mission had to be when they were required at times to store waste samples, which would sometimes release disgusting odors into the tiny living area. Then there were also times of boredom. Following the advice of Pete Conrad, they had taken along a few books. Many of the personal health and hygiene skills practiced on this mission helped astronauts in later long-duration missions live more comfortably.

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