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Gemini Titan IX-A

"it looks like an angry alligator out there rotating around." Astronauts Tom Stafford and Gene Cernan personally autographed this Gemini IX-A crew photograph for me.   Photo Credit: NASA
Autographed Gemini IX Crew PhotoThe primary crew for Gemini IX was selected to be Commander Elliot McKay See, Jr. and Pilot Charles Arthur Bassett, II.

Before they could fly this mission, their lives were cut short in a tragic airplane accident in St. Louis, Missouri.

See and Bassett were killed on February 28, 1966 when the airplane they were piloting crashed during a landing attempt in bad weather.

Serving as backup crew for Gemini IX was Thomas (Tom) Patten Stafford with Eugene (Gene) Andrew Cernan.  Due to the loss of See and Bassett, the Gemini IX backup crew was promoted to the primary crew.  Stafford would be the Commander and Cernan would be his pilot.

Rendezvous and docking with an Agena target vehicle was one of the primary mission objectives.  However, the unreliable Agena never reached orbit due to a malfunction during its launch.

A backup to the Agena was a piece of hardware known the Augmented Targeting Docking Adapter (ATDA).  This was much simpler than the complex Agena, but would satisfy the requirements for rendezvous and docking.  Gemini IX had a new mission objective and was renamed Gemini IX-A.


Stafford and Cernan's Titan rocket lifted off on June 3rd, 1966.  When the Gemini crew rendezvoused with the ATDA, they were disappointed by what they saw. 

The payload faring that comprised the nose cone of the rocket for the ATDA launch had not separated from the ATDA.  A stubborn metal strap held the fairing base tightly to the ATDA. Astronaut Stafford radioed, "We've got a wierd looking machine here.  Both clam shells on the nose are still on, but they are wide open - it looks like an angry alligator out there rotating around."  The configuration was impossible to dock with.  Important rendezvous techniques were still performed with the ATDA so that portion of the mission was a huge success.

Another major objective of Gemini IX-A was an extravehicular activity by astronaut Cernan.  Cernan was supposed to make his way to the back of the Gemini spacecraft where a "Buck Rodgers" style flying backpack was secured.  During the EVA, Cernan was soon to find out that performing tasks in a weightless environment were much more difficult than the training on the Earth.

Sir Isaac Newton's third law of motion pertaining to action and reaction would become Cernan's undoing. It became a major struggle to try and strap himself into the rocket pack. Cernan's heart rate soared to between 140 and 160 beats per minute.  This physical exertion caused the visor of Cernan's space suit to fog over. With poor to zero visibility, Cernan's task of flying the backpack was called off.  The EVA ended after 128 minutes.

The lost opportunity to test the maneuvering unit was very disappointing.  The difficulty with the EVA made one wonder if man could even function in space. More questions would need to be answered before a man could attempt to set foot on the distant Moon.

On June 6, the retro rockets on Gemini IX-A were fired to bring the spacecraft back from orbit. The crew completed 45 orbits and splashed down within one half mile of the targeted landing spot in the Atlantic Ocean.   The aircraft carrier U.S.S. Wasp was the primary recovery vessel.

Mission duration for Gemini IX-A was 3 days, 0 hours, 20 minutes and 50 seconds.


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UPDATED : January 8, 2007
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