Many doubted that Agena could be ready in time to meet Gemini’s tight launch schedules. The end of 1965 saw Agena’s usefulness in manned space flight once again called into question, but this time time a substitute target had already been approved for development…
The Gemini Program was conceived after it became evident to NASA officials that an intermediate step was required between Project Mercury and the Apollo Program. The major objectives assigned to Gemini were:
1-To subject two men and supporting equipment to long duration flights — a requirement for projected later trips to the moon or deeper space.
2-To effect rendezvous and docking with other orbiting vehicles, and to maneuver the docked vehicles in space, using the propulsion system of the target vehicle for such maneuvers.
3-To perfect methods of reentry and landing the spacecraft at a pre-selected land-landing point.
4-To gain additional information concerning the effects of weightlessness on crew members and to record the physiological reactions of crew members during long duration flights.
From the previous episode, we have Gemini VII waiting in orbit for Gemini VI-A to launch and rendezvous. Remember, Gemini VII could only remain in orbit for 14 days, the maximum duration of its flight. The goal was to launch Gemini VI-A on or before day 9 of Gemini VII’s mission.
From the previous episode, it was decided that the name of Gemini VI would be changed to Gemini VI-a to distinguish it from the originally planned mission whose objective was to rendezvous with the Agena target vehicle. Gemini VII would be launched first before Gemini VI-a and it would be considered the target vehicle effectively replacing the Agena. After Gemini VII lifted off, Gemini VI-a would be transferred to the launch pad and prepared to launch as soon as possible. After Gemini VI-a rendezvoused with Gemini VII, it would return to earth before Gemini VII.
“We have had a conversation with the Carnarvon tracking station and their report keeps coming back – No joy – No joy.” NASA Public Affairs Officer Paul Haney.
This was Flight Director Chris Kraft’s first major problem at the new Mission Control Center in Houston. He knew the spacecraft had enough battery power for reentry even if the fuel cells failed completely, but he needed to know if there would be time enough to reach a good reentry zone, such as the mid-Pacific near Hawaii on the sixth orbit…
By this time the Astronauts were thinking about a nickname for their spacecraft, but NASA Headquarters now officially refused to allow nicknames for Gemini spacecraft. However, Gordo Cooper was not so easily put off. Pete Conrad’s father-in-law had whittled a model covered wagon, which inspired Cooper with the idea for a crew patch, that would depict a covered wagon, emblazoned with the legend “Eight Days or Bust.” A personal appeal to NASA Administrator Webb led, after much discussion, to approval of the “Cooper patch.” But Webb greatly disliked the motto because he believed if the mission did not go the full eight days, people would say it had “busted.”
On orbit 48, after 75 hours of flight a problem arose. During a pass over the continental US the flight computer was updated. McDivitt was told to switch off the computer. He flipped the switch but the computer did not turn off. On the ground at mission control, efforts to solve the problem began immediately. For the next few orbits, the crew received instructions for trying different switch positions, after all the switching the computer finally failed entirely and could not be turned back on. Now the astronauts would have to resort to a rolling Mercury-type reentry, rather than the lifting bank angle the computer was supposed to help them achieve…