VI was supposed to be the first
mission to rendezvous and dock with another vehicle in space.
Schirra, Jr. was selected to be the commander of this mission. Thomas
Patten Stafford was chosen to be the pilot.
The rendezvous and docking target was intended to be an Agena vehicle
launched by an Atlas rocket. On October 25, 1965, the launch of the
Agena failed. There was no
target in orbit for Gemini VI to pursue.
After much debate, an alternate rendezvous plan was developed.
Gemini VII, which was slated as a long duration mission, would be
launched before Gemini VI. The Gemini VII spacecraft itself would
become the rendezvous target for Gemini VI.
With a new mission objective, Gemini VI was renamed Gemini VI-A.
The success of Gemini VI-A required an unprecedented turn around time
by the technicians who prepared the launch pad and vehicles for
launches. There had never before been an attempt to launch two space
vehicles from the same launch pad in such a short period of time.
VII was successfully launched with astronauts Frank
Borman, II, and James Arthur. Lovell, Jr., on December 4,
Eight days later on December 12, astronauts Schirra and Stafford were
poised for launch aboard Gemini Titan VI-A. In violent fury, the rocket
engines on the mighty Titan came to life precisely on time.
the mission elapsed timer begin its upward count. This should have been
indication of liftoff of the launch vehicle. This clock should
begun counting until liftoff occurred. As suddenly as it began,
subsided. The engines had unexpectedly shut down.
cause of the engine shutdown was a premature indication of liftoff.
At 1.2 seconds after rocket ignition, but before liftoff, an electrical
plug connected from the
launch pad to the rocket fell out of the rocket prematurely. This
electrical connection was only supposed to be severed after liftoff had
The severing of the connection was the signal that started the mission
clock in the spacecraft cockpit.
prematurely interrupted vehicle to pad electrical connection led
the Titan's control system to believe that liftoff had occurred.
control system sensed no upward motion in the launch vehicle.
two conflicting conditions indicating malfunction, the Titan control
shutdown the rocket engines.
Schirra had very little time within which
the rocket had
actually lifted off it would soon begin crashing down upon the
launch pad in a huge fireball. If that were the case then Schirra
should have pulled the ejection handle and taken himself and Stafford
away from the vehicle with the ejection seats. In the blink of an eye,
a steely Schirra surmised that the vehicle was still firmly attached to
the launch pad and no ejection was necessary.
By taking the appropriate inaction, Schirra saved his Gemini VI-A
for another day. On December 15, 1965, eleven days after the
of GT-VII, astronauts Schirra and Stafford made another attempt and
successfully lifted off on board GT-VI-A.
rendezvous operations Schirra radioed, "My
gosh, there is a real bright star out there. That must be Sirius."
It was actually sun reflecting off of the Gemini VII spacecraft.
Stafford were able to track
down the Gemini VII spacecraft
already in orbit and achieved the first successful rendezvous in
space. This rendezvous technique was a critical factor in the
plans for landing on the Moon and returning safely to the Earth.
Gemini VI-A returned from orbit and splashed down on December 16. The
primary recovery vessel for Gemini VI-A was the USS
mission duration for Gemini VI-A was 1 day, 1 hour, 51 minutes, and 24
Gemini VI-A was the last Gemini spacecraft to be powered
solely by batteries. Longer missions required a
fuel cell system to produce enough electricity.