At 2:30 p.m. EST on December 4th, 1965, American astronauts Frank Borman and Jim Lovell lifted off from Launch Complex 19, starting the Gemini 7 mission. This record-breaking flight demonstrated numerous technical achievements, among which was the feasibility of a two-week spaceflight.
If you’ve seen a Gemini spacecraft, you might be asking yourself how astronauts could spend two weeks inside that small of a space. I’ve asked myself that question every time I see a Gemini capsule. To say that its cramped is the understatement of the space age.
Living and working in such a small space presented unique challenges for things like eating, stowing trash, and for personal hygiene. The limited size of the spacecraft meant that every cubic inch was occupied by supplies or waste. Borman and Lovell stored waste behind their seats, in pockets, bags, and just about anywhere to keep refuse from floating about the cramped cabin.
The food waste problem wasn’t the only thing to be worried about on a two-week flight. Using the bathroom was an exciting proposition since there was no toilet in the spacecraft.
According to the Gemini 7 mission report, “The waste management procedure, though operationally possible, had the following problem areas: the urine sample bag leaked. The leak was probably caused when the bag was placed on the sample connection. Both crew members had difficulty with leaking receivers.”
Thankfully the crew had sanitary wipes that they were able to use to stay as clean as one possibly can be without showering for a fortnight.
One of the primary objectives of Gemini 7 was to show that astronauts could work in a “shirt-sleeve” environment during flights. Not wearing a suit inside the spacecraft gave them greater mobility and comfort, a necessity for longer trips to the moon during the Apollo program.
The launch photos for this mission show Borman and Lovell wearing a special lightweight pressure suit that had a polycarbonate visor and zippered entry system. This “grasshopper” suit as it was called, was more comfortable to put on and take off in the cramped confines of the Gemini spacecraft.
It looks similar to the new suit that Boeing has developed for its Starliner spacecraft. The grasshopper suit was also lighter than previous iterations, another part of making sure the suit was easy to use. During the mission, there was a debate about having both astronauts take their suits off at the same time, something that worried a few people at NASA.
The astronauts reported they were more comfortable with their suits off, and since this mission was meant to show that they could work without suits on, they made requests to take them off. To the relief of the sweaty astronauts, everyone from Wernher von Braun to the flight surgeon for Gemini 7 eventually agreed that it was better for the astronauts to work without their suits.
Another objective of this mission was to test station-keeping and rendezvous techniques with another Gemini spacecraft. The rendezvous of two spacecraft was essential in proving techniques that would be used on a mission to the Moon since the command module would have to link up with the Lunar module during an Apollo mission.
Gemini 6 and 7 were referred to as the “spirit of 76” 7 and 6 being the Gemini spacecraft missions. Gemini 6 and 7 rendezvoused in orbit on December 15th, and you guessed it, I will be talking about the rendezvous on that day.
Gemini missions started to make space travel seem routine, especially for the two astronauts crammed inside Gemini 7. During the final days of their mission, Borman and Lovell were starting to become bored. Frank Borman read parts of Mark Twain’s “Roughing It” while Jim Lovell read “Drums along the Mohawk” by Walter D. Edmonds.
Thankfully, NASA has been integrating free time into astronauts’ schedules, helping ease the stresses of longer-term spaceflight. Here’s a quote I found interesting while reading for today’s post.
“The routine loses news value, and scorecards on Russia versus America in the space race vanished when the lead clearly passed from East to West.” That was from On the Shoulders of Giants: A History of Project Gemini and it’s available online.
After a flight that lasted nearly 14 days (13 days, 18 hours, 35 minutes and one second to be precise) Gemini 7 splashed down in the Atlantic, marking the end of a successful mission. Both astronauts were ready to get out of the spacecraft and luckily for them, the USS Wasp was standing by, ready to pick them up.
Picture Credit- NASA.
Gemini 7 Mission Page: https://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1965-100A
Gemini 7 Pressure Suit:
Pressure Suit, G5-C, Lovell, Gemini 7, Flown
This spacesuit was worn by astronaut James Lovell, Pilot of the Gemini 7 flight in December, 1965. The mission was a 14…
Gemini 7 Press Kit: (PDF)
On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini by Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood:
On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini
Very special thanks to David Woods for formatting this on-line version and to Chris Gamble for proofreading.
Gemini 7 Mission Report: (PDF)