Gemini 7 (officially Gemini VII) was launched December 4, 1965
at 7:30:03.702 UTC
from Cape Canaveral
's Launch Complex 19
. It was the 4th manned Gemini flight, the 12th manned American flight and the 20th spaceflight of all time (includes X-15
flights over 100 km).
The crew for the mission was Frank Borman (Commander) and James Lovell (Pilot). For both it was their first trip into space.
Gemini 7 was originally intended to fly after Gemini 6, but the original Gemini 6 mission was cancelled after the failure during launch of the Agena Target Vehicle it was meant to rendezvous and dock with. However the objective of rendezvous was so important it was decided to fly Gemini 6 at the same time as Gemini 7, thus using the latter as the rendezvous target.
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. It also carried a new lightweight suit and had 20 experiments for the crew to perform during their time in space. The nearly fourteen days in space would double the length of time that anyone had been in space and would stand as the single spaceflight duration record for five years.
Their launch and ascent was nominal. After seperating 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 to 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. They 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.
For the first time during a flight, one the crew were allowed to take of 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 their 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 the car.
In the end the flight controllers ordered the 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 kilometre orbit. This meant that the Gemini 7 spacecraft would stay in orbit for 100 days, more than stable enough for the passive target during a rendezvous.
Gemini 6A launched December 15, after a day long delay due to a malfunction right at the point of ignition. It entered into a 161 by 259 kilometres orbit, and was briefly visible from Gemini 7 just after launch. Borman and Lovell were also able to see the contrail from the launch.
They plan called for the rendezvous to take place on the fourth orbit of Gemini 6A. Their first burn came 94 minutes after launch when they increased their speed by 5 metres per second. Due to their lower orbit they were gaining on Gemini 7 and were only 1,175 kilometres behind. The next burn was at 2 hours and 18 minutes when Gemini 6A made a phase adjustment to put them on the same orbital inclination as Gemini 7. They now only trailed by 483 kilometres.
The radar on Gemini 6A first made contact with Gemini 7 at 3 hours and 15 minutes when they were 434 kilometres away. A third burn put them into a 270 by 274 kilometre orbit. As they slowly gain Schirra put Gemini 6A's computer in charge of the rendezvous and then at 5 hours and 4 minutes he saw a bright star that he thought was Sirius, but was in fact Gemini 7.
After several more burns the two spacecraft were only 40 metres apart. The burns had only used 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 of 30 centimetres to 90 metres, 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 seperation burn and slowly drifted out to 16 kilometres. This stopped any accidental collisions in the night. Gemini 6A reentred the next day landing within 18 km of the planned site, the first truly accurate reentry.
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. 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.
Malfuntions began to start. Some of the thrusters quit 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 only give out a partial amount of power. By the manufactures 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 reentry. The retrorockets worked perfectly even after 14 days in space. The splashed down on December 18 at 2:05:04 UTC at 25° 25.1' N, 70° 36' W within 11.8 kilometres of target landing point.
The crew were somewhat weakened by their time in space. Both were in good health however and were up and about after a good nights sleep on the recovery ship USS Wasp.
The patch features an Olympic torch, symbolising the marathon like length of the mission. There is a small stylised image of a Gemini spacecraft and the roman numerals VII for seven.
The capsule is on display at the National Air and Space Museum, Washington D.C..
Previous Flight: Gemini 5
Next Flight: Gemini 6A
- On The Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini: http://www.hq.nasa.gov/office/pao/History/SP-4203/cover.htm
- Spaceflight Mission Patches: http://www.genedorr.com/patches/Intro.html
Shamelessly copied from my Wikipedia article (my 'homenode' is at http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Enceladus)