GEMINI VI-A and GEMINI VII -- (Gemini 7 - December 4-18, 1965) (Gemini VI-A December 15-16, 1965)
Gemini VI was originally intended to be the first mission to dock with an Agena Target Vehicle like the one above.
However, after a failure in the Agena target six minutes after its launch (when the crew of Gemini VI was already sitting in their capsule waiting for their launch), the mission was canceled.
Reviewing the situation, NASA decided to substitute an alternate mission: a meeting in space of two Gemini spacecraft.
JIM LOVELL AND FRANK BORMAN
Gemini 7 was launched first on December 4 with Frank Borman and Jim Lovell expecting Gemini 6A would launch soon after.
However, a hardware glitch on Gemini 6A delayed their launch and the Gemini VII crew had to wait in space for two weeks until the Gemini 6A problems were resolved. This 14 day mission required NASA to solve problems of long-duration space flight, not the least of which was (euphemistically) stowage (the crew had practiced stuffing waste paper behind their seats before the flight). Timing their workday to match that of ground crews, both men worked and slept at the same time. Gemini VII flew the most experiments – 20 – of any Gemini mission, including studies of nutrition in space.
The astronauts also evaluated a new, lightweight spacesuit, which proved uncomfortable if worn for a long time in Gemini's hot, cramped quarters. The high point of the mission was the rendezvous with Gemini VI. But the three days that followed were something of an endurance test, and both astronauts, heeding Pete Conrad's Gemini V advice, brought books along.
Gemini VII was the longest space flight in U.S. history, until the Skylab missions of the 1970s.
The original mission of Gemini 7 changed little with these new plans. It was always planned to be a long duration flight, investigating the effects of a fortnight in space on the human body. The nearly fourteen days in space would double the length of time that anyone had been in space and would stand as the single longest spaceflight duration record for five years.
Their launch and ascent was nominal. After separating from the spent rocket stage, they turned the spacecraft around and proceeded to station keep with the rocket stage. They spent fifteen minutes formation flying with the stage, but Borman felt they were using too much fuel and the rocket stage was acting erratically as it vented its own fuel.
They spent the rest of their first day in space doing some experiments and eating their first meal. Their sleep periods were scheduled at the same time unlike previous missions and they were able to get some sleep.
The next morning they woke at 9:06 am EST and found out the days news which included the fact that two airliners had collided over New York (TWA Flight 42 / Eastern Airlines Flight 853).
For the first time during a flight, one of the crew were allowed to take off their suits. Borman and Lovell had planned to both take them off two days into the mission when they were satisfied that the environmental system was working properly. The NASA managers didn't like this idea and said that at least one crew member had to be wearing his suit at all times. Borman who was wearing his suit was sweating profusely but agreed to let Lovell stay out his suit as Lovell was the larger of the two and it required a lot of effort to get in and out of a suit in little more space than the front seat of a car.
MOON AND CLOUDS OVER THE WESTERN PACIFIC AS SEEN FROM GEMINI 7
In the end, the flight controllers ordered Lovell to don his suit and Borman to get out of his. This was because the doctors wanted to see the effects of being suited and unsuited on the crewmembers. So 148 hours into the flight, Borman got his chance to cool down. In the end, the NASA managers decided that there was little benefit in having the crew members suited and so relented after a couple of days.
After five days, they had performed four orbital adjustment burns that put them in a circular 300 kilometer orbit. This meant that the Gemini 7 spacecraft could stay in orbit for at least 100 days without its orbit degrading, more than stable enough for the passive target during a space rendezvous.
TOM STAFFORD AND WALLY SCHIRA
Schirra and Stafford tried to join them on December 12, but their Titan II launcher shut down on the pad. (The cool-headed Schirra did not eject, even though the countdown clock had started ticking — he felt no motion, and trusted his senses.)
Three days later, Gemini VI-A made it into orbit. Using guidance from the computer as well as his own piloting, Schirra performed the space rendezvous with the companion spacecraft in orbit on the afternoon of December 15. Once in formation, the two Gemini capsules flew around each other, coming within a foot (0.3 meter) of each other but never touching. The two spacecraft stayed in close proximity for five hours. One of Gemini's primary goals—orbital rendezvous—had been achieved.
THE CREW OF GEMINI 6 TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH OF GEMINI 7 WHEN THEY WERE ABOUT ONLY A METER OR SO APART
THE CREW OF GEMINI 7 TOOK THIS PHOTOGRAPH OF GEMINI 6 WHEN THEY WERE ABOUT 7 METERS APART.
After several more burns the two spacecraft were only 130 feet, (40 meters) apart. The burns had only used 112 lbs., (51 kilograms) of fuel on Gemini 6A, giving plenty of fuel for some fly arounds. During the next 270 minutes the crews moved as close as 1 foot to 295 feet, (30 centimetres to 90 meters), talking over the radio. At one stage the spacecraft were stationkeeping so well that neither crew had to make any burns for 20 minutes.
As the sleep periods approached Gemini 6A made a separation burn and slowly drifted out to 10 miles, (16 kilometers). This ensured that there wouldn't be any accidental collisions in the night. But before everyone went to sleep, the crew of Gemini 6A had a surprise for everyone.
"Gemini VII, this is Gemini VI. We have an object, looks like a satellite going from north to south, probably in polar orbit…. Looks like he might be going to reenter soon. Stand by one…. You just might let me to pick up that thing…. I see a command module and eight smaller modules in front. The pilot of the command module is wearing a red suit."
At that point, the sound of "Jingle Bells" was heard played on an 8-hole harmonica and a handful of small bells. The Smithsonian claims these were the first musical instruments played in space and keeps the instruments on display.
THE LAST FEW DAYS AND REENTRY
Gemini 6A reentered the next day landing within 18 km of the planned site, the first truly accurate reentry. It was also the first to be televised live, through a satellite linkup from the recovery aircraft carrier USS Wasp.
By this time, the novelty of spaceflight had worn off for the crew of Gemini 7. They had spent 11 days in space already and had three more to go. They were doing little more than drifting around the Earth and the incentive of the rendezvous had gone.
Borman read Roughing It by Mark Twain and Lovell Drums along the Mohawk by Walter D. Edmonds.
Malfunctions began to start. Some of the thrusters stopped working. After the flight, this was traced to the fact that they had an old type of laminate in the thrust chamber.
Also on the 12th day the fuel cell started to give only a partial amount of power. But the manufacturers of the Gemini spacecraft decided that the spacecraft could survive by battery power alone for the next couple of days.
Finally the last day of the mission arrived and the crew stowed everything for re-entry. The retro-rockets worked perfectly, even after 14 days in space. They managed to land within 11.8 kilometres of the targeted landing point.
The crew were somewhat weakened by their time in space.
However, both were in good health and were up and about after a good night's sleep on the recovery ship USS Wasp. They were also in good spirits: during recovery, they joked to Mission Control about getting married after having spent so long together in space.
The Gemini 7 & 6A missions were supported by the following U.S. Department of Defense resources: 10,125 personnel, 125 aircraft and 16 ships.