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Gemini Titan III

"You care for a corned beef sandwich skipper?"
This autographed photo shows astronaut John Young on board the Gemini III spacecraft before launch.   Photo Credit: NASA
Autographed Photo Of Astronaut John Young Inside Of Gemini III SpacecraftThe Gemini spacecraft was a significant advancement over the Mercury spacecraft. Gemini was larger and could carry two astronauts while Mercury was limited to one.

Gemini could change its orbital path in space. With this maneuverability, Gemini was truly a pilot's vehicle.

Gemini was also heavier than the Mercury spacecraft.  That extra weight meant that a new launch vehicle would need to be utilized for Gemini to reach orbit.  A two stage Titan rocket originally developed as a ballistic missile was selected.

The astronauts affectionately referred to the Gemini spacecraft as the "Gus Mobile". It received this moniker because of astronaut Gus Grissom's close involvement with the development of the spacecraft.

Before NASA had a chance to fly a manned Gemini mission the Russians beat them to the punch again.  On October 12, 1964 they launched not two but three cosmonauts in a spacecraft they called Voskhod.  The Voskhod 1 crew consisted of Commander Vladimir Mikhailovich Komarov, Research Scientist Konstantin Petrovich Feoktistov, and Physician Cosmonaut Boris Borisovich Yegorov.

The Voskhod spacecraft was not a totally new design but rather a modification to the Vostok single man craft.  In order for three cosmonauts to squeeze into the spacecraft, they were launched without pressure suits.

Voskhod 1 orbited the Earth for 16 revolutions. 
The crew returned to Earth on October 13, 1964. The flight duration was 1 day 0 hours,  2 minutes, and 17 seconds. 

Then on March 18, 1965, the Soviet Union launched another bold mission. This was Voskhod 2 and its crew consisted of cosmonauts  Commander Pavel Ivanovich Belayev and Pilot Aleksey Arkhipovich Leonov.

One hour and thirty four minutes after launch, cosmonaut Leonov became the first man to walk in space.   The Americans would not get around to doing an EVA until the second manned Gemini mission.  This reinforced the perception that the Americans were lagging behind in the space race.

Leonov's historic twelve minute spacewalk was not without danger.  Years later, we would find out that he had difficulty getting back in the Voskhod 2 spacecraft. Leonov had to partially depressurize his suit in order to fit back through the hatch in Voskhod II.  As a consequence of that depressurization, Leonov was afflicted with a dangerous medical condition known as 'the bends'.

Voskhod 2 returned to Earth on March 19, 1965 after 18 revolutions  A malfunction of the spacecraft's orientation prior to retrorocket ignition caused the crew to land miles away from the target in a snow covered mountainous region.  It was with great difficulty that the crew was recovered.  The flight duration of Voskhod 2 was 1 day, 2 hours, 2 minutes, and 17 seconds.

Voskhod 2 marked the fourth consecutive and unanswered Soviet Spaceflight without an American flight since Gordon Cooper's flight on Faith 7.  The American response would come with the launch of Gemini Titan III.

The primary objectives for the Gemini Titan III mission included:
  • Demonstrate manned orbital flight with the Gemini spacecraft
  • Evalutate the Gemini spacecraft two-man design. 
  • Demonstrate the Orbital Attitude and Maneuvering System (OAMS) capability in orbital maneuvers and in retrofire backup.
  • Demonstrate controlled reentry and landing.
  • Evaluate spacecraft subsytems.
  • Demonstrate vehicle preparation and launch procedures.
The Commander of Gemini Titan III was veteran Astronaut Virgil (Gus) Ivan Grissom.  He became the first human being to fly in space for a second time.  Grissom's pilot was rookie Astronaut John Watts Young.

Gus remembered his near disaster during the recovery of Liberty Bell 7, so he named his Gemini Spacecraft "Molly Brown".  It was a reference to the Broadway musical, "The Unsinkable Molly Brown". NASA public relations was not very pleased with the selection of this name but relented after they found out that Gus's second choice for a name was "Titanic".  The practice of naming Gemini spacecraft ended with "Molly Brown".

On March 23, 1965, Gemini Titan III lifted off with Grissom and Young on board.  At the moment of liftoff capsule communicator Gordon Cooper called to the crew, "You're on your way, Molly Brown."


One of the primary objectives of this mission was to prove that Astronauts could maneuver the Gemini spacecraft in space and alter the plane of their oribt. Indeed, Grissom and Young became the first men to maneuver a spacecraft in orbit.  They were able to change the plane of their orbit by one fiftieth of a degree.

The name "Molly Brown" was not the only aspect of Gemini III that brought the ire of NASA management.  A corned beef sandwich smuggled on board by John Young also caught their attention.

One of the science experiments for Gemini III was to check out a menu of reconstituted food.  This experiment was selected to verify that an adequate diet was available for longer duration missions.  Grissom was not a fan of the dehydrated menu and he let people around him know of his opinion.

At an opportune moment in the flight, Young asked Grissom, "You care for a corned beef sandwich skipper?" 
Much to Grissom's amazement, Young was holding out an actual deli corned beef sandwich that he had smuggled on board in his spacesuit pockets.  Wally Schirra had purchased the sandwich for Young the night before the launch at a local Cocoa Beach delicatessen called "Wolfie's".

Grissom sampled a few bites and then promptly stowed the sandwich.  The rye bread had dried out and left quite a few crumbs floating around the cabin.  Grissom appreciated the humor but NASA management did not.

After 3 orbits, the retrorockets were fired on Molly Brown to return the crew back to Earth.  Molly Brown splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean on March 23, 1965.  Astronaut Grissom found that the recovery of Molly Brown went much smoother than his previous experience with Liberty Bell 7.
  The prime recovery ship for this mission was the USS Intrepid. 70 minutes after splashdown, the crew was on board the recovery ship.

Gemini III had a mission duration of 4 hours, 52 minutes, and 31 seconds.  During that time the spacecraft traveled 80,000.27 miles.

After the flight the press became aware of the corned beef sandwich incident.  Congress became inflamed and a Congressional Committee held a formal hearing on the incident.  Astronaut Young was reprimanded.  A NASA administrator later stated, "We have taken steps - to prevent recurrence of corned beef sandwiches in future flights."


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UPDATED : January 7, 2007
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