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Gemini Titan X

"Isn't that pretty? Holy mackerel!" This photo shows the Earth from Gemini X. It has been autographed and inscribed for me by Astronaut Michael Collins. Photo Credit: NASA
Gemini X View Of The Earth Autographed By Michael CollinsThe Gemini X mission had the most complex mission plan and objectives ever laid out for a space mission at that time. Not only was Gemini X supposed to rendezvous and dock with a newly launched Agena 10.  They were also supposed to rendezvous with the now dead Agena 8 left over from Gemini VIII.  Multiple EVAs were planned for the mission.

Based upon the failures to meet objectives on previous missions, there were some who thought that the plan for Gemini X was crazy.  Included in this group were the crew selected for Gemini X. The commander was chosen to be veteran astronaut John W. Young.  His pilot would be Michael Collins.

The timing for a Gemini Titan launch was once again predicated upon the successful launch of an Atlas Agena. With the dual rendezvous goal, the orbital timing of Agena 8, which was already in space, further complicated the targeted launch time for Atlas Agena 10.

On July 18, 1966, Atlas Agena 10 lifted off.  It missed the opening of its launch window by a mere two seconds. One hundred minutes after the Atlas Agena liftoff, Gemini Titan X experienced an on time liftoff. The window of opportunity for Gemini Titan X to launch was just 35 seconds. If it had missed that window then the chance for a dual rendezvous would be lost.


Gemini X was intended to rendezvous with Agena 10 within 4 orbits.  Rendezvous was a complex process that involved precise maneuvering thruster burns.  Not only were the burns required to be on time and for a specific duration, but also the spacecraft had to be pointed in the right direction.

During one of the rendezvous burns Commander Young did not have the spacecraft in the exact alignment that it should have been.  This misalignment cost the crew valuable fuel.  In fact, the fuel usage for this rendezvous was nearly three times what had been experienced previously.

Commander Young apologized to Pilot Collins, "Gosh darn, Babe!  I really missed this one!  I don't have enough gas for you to do your..."  Collins reassured Young, "Ah don't worry about it.  Maybe we do, maybe we don't.  Do you know for sure we don't?"  Young answered, "No, sorry."   As they got closer to rendezvous, Collins continued, "No. No. Holy mackerel!  Don't worry about a thing.  We're there.  Okay, keep your pants on.  Docking condition - ... Extension lights - Dock."

The difficulties were overcome and 5 hours, 52 minutes after launch, Gemini X successfully docked with Agena 10.  The crew was unsure if the excess fuel consumption would curtail their plans for the use of the Agena 10 booster and a rendezvous with Agena 8, but they were given the go ahead to proceed. The Capsule Communicator radioed the crew, "Okay, you're looking real good.  We're giving you a GO for the burn."

The Agena vehicle, which can be controlled from the docked Gemini, has a large main engine for accomplishing major orbital changes.  It is with this engine that Young and Collins boosted themselves into a different orbit for the rendezvous with the Agena 8 vehicle. 


The main engine of the Agena is on the opposite end from the crew when they are docked to the Agena.  This meant that when the Agena engine was fired, the crew was flying backwards referred to as the “eyeballs out” position due to the negative g force.  The ride was quite thrilling for the crew and provided a visual spectacle. Young and Collins reported seeing sparks, fire, and smoke pour out of the Agena's main engine.

Collins reported, "That was really something."  CAPCOM added, "Pretty wild!"  Collins continued, "When that baby lights, there's no doubt about it."  A short while latter, Young commented to Collins, "Whew!  I saw sparks flying, and noise, rattling and ...  It's really going off."  Collins agreed, "Wow, that's right!  I almost shut it down. I almost did."  A skeptical Young countered, "No you didn't!"  Collins continued, "I almost did.  If you had said ... I would have shut it down.  Really."

With the help of the thrust from the Agena, Young and Collins were now farther away from the Earth than any human beings had ever been.  The apogee or top point of their orbit reached 763 kilometers.

The crew at times was not as descriptive in their communication with the ground as Mission Control would have liked them to be.  Deke Slayton came on the communications loop and with a bit of sarcasm told Commander Young, "John, this is Deke.  You guys are doing a commendable job of maintaining radio silence.  As soon as the French stop shooting at you, why don't you do a little more talking from here on?"  Young responded, "Okay.  What do you want us to talk about?"  Deke answered, "Well, anything that seems appropriate.  Like EVA."

Collins was scheduled to perform a stand up EVA.  A stand up EVA meant that the Gemini hatch would be opened to the vacuum of space, but Collins would remain in the Gemini, standing in his seat.  The purpose of this EVA was to do a combination photographic and observation session.  NASA wanted to know if film photography could reproduce the colors seen in space accurately.

When the Gemini hatch was opened, Collins exclaimed, "Isn't that pretty? Holy mackerel! Anybody reading Gemini X down there?"
After another inquiry from the crew about the communication status, the Capsule Communicator responded, "Roger, Gemini X. This is Houston CAPCOM, loud and clear."

Collins then commented to Young, "Yes. It's really nice out here, John, though it is disappointing in one way. This visor, it has just enough tint to it, that you really can't see the stars as I thought I would.  I don't see them any better.   I don't believe that I see them down to more than about 5th magnitude."

The observations that Collins was making of the stars occurred during the nighttime pass of the orbit.  As the orbit approached the sunlit side of the Earth, Collins, noted, "And it's starting to get light.  Man look at that sunrise! Whoosh!"  Young responded, "It gets to you?" Collins concurred, "Getting to me."

Collins soon reported to Young, "I've got a problem here, John."  Young asked Collins, "What's the matter, babe?" Collins explained, "Well - as soon as the Sun came up, my eyes started watering and I'm not sure if it's this compound that's on the inner surface of the light band or what it is.  But my eyes are really watering like crazy, to the point where it is real difficult to keep them open to see what the heck I'm doing."

The observation experiment had to be terminated prematurely.  Collins eyes were tearing up. It got to the point where he could no longer see.  Commander Young was suffering the same affliction.  The EVA was halted and the hatch closed.

After the EVA had been terminated and the hatch closed, Young discussed the vision problem with mission control.  The Capsule Communicator asked, "When did you first notice the problem, John?"  Young replied, "Just about sunrise.  It was good all through the night.  I was crying a little through the night, but I didn't say anything about it because I figured I was just being a sissy.  You know, my eyes were watering, but I just figured that was the oxygen flowing.  Then Mike said he couldn't see anything at all.  So right after he said that, I got where I couldn't see anything at all.  I guess we had to call it off."  CAPCOM responded, "Right, John.  I think it was a wise move."

Initially, it was thought the environmental control system had been contaminated with lithium hydroxide.  That is a chemical that is used to remove carbon dioxide from the air.  Later it was determined that the problem was caused by running both space suit fans at the same time.

After a long day, it was time to rest for the night.  CAPCOM told the crew, "We have nothing further for you on this pass.  I guess this will be our last wake up pass with you, so we'll wish you all a good night."  Young reciprocated, "Thank you. Happy dreams."  CAPCOM radioed, "We'll be watching you while you sleep."

The next morning, Young and Collins undocked from Agena 10 after using it for one final rendezvous burn. They found that spotting Agena 8 during the rendezvous was rather difficult.  Since Agena 8 had long since lost battery power, its rendezvous lights no longer functioned. 

At 45 hours and 38 minutes into the flight, Young recorded, "45:38.  First sighting of Gemini VIII Agena by John Young. At this minute it's blurry."
  To the surprise of the crew however, the Agena that they had spotted was not the Gemini VIII Agena, but it was the Gemini X Agena that they had previously undocked from. 

CAPCOM C.C. Williams asked Young, "That Agena that you saw, was it the Gemini VIII Agena or the X Agena?"  Young asked, "Is the X Agena ahead of us?"  CAPCOM responded, "That's affirmative.  About 3 miles."  Young confirmed, "Well, that's what we are looking at then."

A disappointed Young radioed, "That's too bad C.C., I thought we were really seeing something."  Williams reassured Young, "Yes, I thought so too John.  You'll get it.  95 miles is pretty long range." Young agreed, "You have to have real good eyesight for that."

At 47 hours and 7 minutes into the flight, a more cautious Young radioed, "I believe I see the target up here.  The nose is up."
A short time later Collins asked Young about his sighting of the Agena, "You still got him?"  Young replied, "Yes."  Collins added, "Keep him in sight. Don't loose that rascal!"

As they moved in closer to the Agena, CAPCOM asked, "See anything of the Agena VIII around?"  Young answered, "We're about, I guess 700 to 800 feet out."  An excited CAPCOM responded, "Fantastic, John!"  Young sounded surprised and replied, "Yes, I don't believe it myself."

Th
e lack of rendezvous lights did not prevent them from accomplishing a second rendezvous.  It was unknown whether the dead Agena 8 would be gyrating wildly or if it would be in stable flight.  The crew found that it was stable and they assumed a station keeping position within a few feet of the Agena.

CAPCOM radioed, "Gemini X, Carnavon.  You have a GO for the rest of station keeping."  Collins responded, "Roger.  How about that EVA?  You want it?"  CAPCOM answered, "That's what we mean. That's what we mean exactly."  Young quipped, "Glad you said that because Mike's going outside right now."

The objective for this EVA had Collins floating over to Gemini 8 to retrieve a micrometeorite experiment package that had been installed on it.  Collins found this maneuver to be very difficult.  The Agena had no handholds that he could grasp to steady himself.

The maneuver was complicated by the fact that Young had to continue firing thrusters to maintain the station keeping position.  At the same time he had to be careful so that the exhaust from the thrusters did not impinge upon Collins in his space suit.  Collins radioed to Young, "Watch that trustier there, Babe.  All right don't translate down, I'm by it."  A short while later Young radioed Collins, "Well, Babe, if I don't translate soon, we're going to run into that buzzard."

On his first attempt he tried to hold on to the docking collar of the Agena but soon slipped off.  The second attempt he managed to grasp a bundle of wires.  By doing this he was able to steady himself enough to remove the micrometeorite package.  This package was then passed back to Commander Young for stowage.

The original plan was to place a new micrometeorite package on the Agena, but the Agena's attitude had become unstable and wires on the Agena had become a hazard for Collins.  Mission Control instructed the crew to forget station keeping with the Agena and just save as much maneuvering fuel as they could.

While Collins was closing out his EVA activities, he realized that he had lost his camera. Collins radioed to Young, "Would you believe I lost my Hasseblad?"  In disbelief, Young responded, "You're kidding!" 
All of the wonderful images that Collins had captured on his EVA were lost."

Collins then briefed Mission Control on what he encountered during his EVA.  Collins radioed, "Okay.  Houston, his is Gemini X.  Everything outside is about like we predicted; only it takes more time.  The body positioning is indeed a problem, although the nitrogen line got connected without too much of a problem.  I - when I translated over to the Agena, I found the lack of handholds is a big impediment.  I would - I could hang on, but I couldn't get around to the other side, which is what I wanted to do.  Finally I did get around to the other side, and I did get the S-10 package and the nose faring off.  John now has them.  However there is a piece of shroud hanging - or part of the nose of the Agena that came loose and I was afraid I was going to get snarled up in that.  So did John and he told me to come on back.  So the new S-10, which I was going to put on the Agena, I didn't and just now threw it away.  Also I lost my EVA Hasseblad inadvertently, I'm sorry to say. I'm getting ready now to do some gun evaluations.  Okay John, you can let go."

Maneuvering fuel limits with the Gemini spacecraft now forced Collins to terminate his EVA early.  Collins got back in the spacecraft and closed the hatch.  Some time now had to be spent by Collins and Young to get Collins untangled from his umbilical cord.

CAPCOM asked,  "How are you coming as far as getting untangled from that umbilical?" 
Collins replied, "We're about half way there."  Young chimed in, "This place makes the snake house at the zoo look like a Sunday school picnic."

After disconnecting from the umbilical, the spacecraft was depressurized.  Collins reopened his Gemini hatch and discarded the umbilical as well as his EVA chest pack.

It was time to settle down for a meal after a hard day of work.  Collins had a little difficulty with his butterscotch pudding food bag.  He commented, "It's not as bad as what happened yesterday when I accidentally snipped the Tang and had Tang flakes all over the cockpit."

Growing up in the 60s, Tang was a staple of my diet.  It wasn't because the drink tasted all that good, but because it was advertised as the drink of the astronauts.  This comment by Collins from space leads me to believe that the advertising in the 60s wasn't all hype.

Later Collins added, "I'm hungry.  This is a good meal, butterscotch pudding."  Young also commented about the meal, "I tell you this soup is outstanding, the best I have ever eaten."  That comment was an indication that the food quality had improved substantially since Young's Gemini III flight with Gus Grissom.

On July 21, 1966, it was time to return to Earth for the Gemini X crew.   CAPCOM counted down the time for the firing of the four retro rockets, "10, 9, 8 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, 1.  Retrofire!"  Collins then remarked to Young, "This one was a soft one, wasn't it?  I count four beautiful ones, John, Babe."  Young was pleased with the retrofire, "That was a superfine automatic retrofire: 303 aft; 5 right; 119 down."

Astronauts Young and Collins headed for a splashdown in the Atlantic Ocean.  At about 500 feet above the surface of the ocean, Young radioed, "Houston, we're going to land like a ton of bricks!"  After splashdown, CAPCOM reported to the crew, "Gemini X, Houston CAPCOM. Our plot shows you 4 miles off the IP."  The IP that the CAPCOM referred to was the targeted impact point.

The primary recovery ship for this mission was the aircraft carrier USS Guadalcanal.
The flight duration was 2 days, 22 hours, 46 minutes, and 39 seconds.


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UPDATED : January 8, 2007
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