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Here Is An Orbit-By-Orbit Rundown On Manned Gemini Flight Next Year

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THE ANN ARBOR NEWS   Monday, September, 7, 1964

Here Is An Orbit-By-Orbit Rundown On Manned Gemini Flight Next Year

CAPE KENNEDY, Fla. (AP) — A couple of astronauts will take the Project Gemini spacecraft up early next year and twist its tail.

In three orbits of the earth, at 17,500 miles an hour, Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young will fly the two-seater spacecraft backward, forward, sideways and upside down. During the five-hour ride they will test every system the ship has for communications, control, propulsion and support of life in outer space.

If all goes well, then comes the big test. Within two months after the Grissom-Young flight, astronauts Edward White and James McDivitt will take the Gemini up and orbit the earth for four days, by far the longest any Americans have been in orbit. After that, missions will increase to seven days, then 14, and then, late in this decade, may come the man-in-the-moon landings to which the Gemini experiments are pointed. For the actual moon ride, called Project Apollo, the astronauts will use a three-man spaceship now being developed. It will be much larger even than the Gemini, America’s largest space craft to date.

On some early Gemini flights the astronauts will link up with other orbiting satellites and will step outside the racing spacecraft to test the capability of their space suits to protect them more than 100 miles in space.

Grissom, 38-year-old A Force major who made a 15 minute suborbital Mercury flight and had to swim for his life when his capsule sank landing, will be commander on the first Gemini flight.

Young, 33-year-old Navy lieutenant commander, will be copilot. 

How will Grissom and Young test the spacecraft?  Here are step-by-step highlights of the present flight plan:


When the Titan 2 rocket blasts away from Cape Kennedy, it burns for 5 minutes 36 seconds and shoves the spacecraft into an orbit ranging from 100 to 185 miles above the earth. During powered phase of flight, Young makes continuous reports to Cape Kennedy on cabin pressure, oxygen supply and propellant status.

Grissom reports on unusual vibrations and separation of Titan’s two stages, shutoff of the second-stage engine, separation of the spacecraft and the "go-no-go” status of the crew just before insertion into orbit. He presses the button which separates the 7,000-pound capsule from the booster.

On launching, the astronauts grip rings attached to the floor between their legs. In case of trouble during the first one minute 35 seconds of flight—up to 70,000 feet — they can pull the rings and ejection seats will shoot them away from the spacecraft and parachute them to earth.

If trouble develops above 70,000 feet the astronauts fire rockets on the base of the craft to shoot themselves free of the rocket, and the entire capsule parachutes to earth.

Grissom and Young ride sideways, one above the other, during the launching phase. After Grissom separates the spacecraft, he rolls the space chariot 90 degrees so he and Young are riding upright. Once in orbit, the pilots are weightless. Restraining straps prevent them from floating free in the cabin.

Six minutes, 10 seconds after launching — Grissom jockeys the vehicle to the correct speed altitude. Young reports to Bermuda the status of several systems — as he will to many stations throughout the flight.

11:00 — Grissom locks the guidance and control gyroscope to eliminate drifting. The horizon scanner and other electronic devices keep the capsule parallel to earth.

15:00 (above Canary Islands)--Grissom experiments with control systems. Young tests high frequency radios and the cooling system.

20:30 — Young takes his blood pressure. This is one of many medical checks radioed ground monitors during flight,

35:00 to 55:00 (above Indian Ocean) — Grissom shuts off all power and permits the craft to drift free out to a limit of 30 degrees to left or right. The purpose is to determine how the horizon scanner works. The scanner controls the pitch (up-down) and roll axes but the pilots control sideways movement.

One hour after launching, with faceplates closed, the astronauts check their space suits for oxygen supply and carbon dioxide removal. Normally the face plates are open — because the suits are worn primarily as protection in case something goes wrong inside the main cabin.

1:01 to 1:15 — Grissom turns the spacecraft around so he and Young are riding backwards.

1:23 — Pacific tracing ship Coastal Sentry gives decision for second orbit based on ground data. Grissom gives astronaut status.

1:37 (above Cape Kennedy) — end of orbit No. 1.


Early in the second orbit, Young inserts two samples of human blood cells into a box containing a radiation source for 20 minutes. The experiment is designed to learn what happens to blood exposed to a known amount of radiation in weightlessness.

1 hour 37 minutes to 1:50 after launching — Grissom increases the 17,500-mile-an-hour speed of the spacecraft by about 68 miles. He tries a 91-degree roll followed by seven-mile-per-hour velocity bursts to the left and then to the right. This is to determine Gemini’s ability to recover quickly after getting off course.

1:40 (near Bermuda) — Young starts hour-long food and waste disposal evaluation.

2:28 (over Australia) — with stars as guiding points, and the horizon as a reference, Young pitches the spacecraft down 16 degrees, which is the re-entry angle and turns it forward again. The Mercury flights showed a need to be able to control the spacecraft by sighting on the horizon during manual re-entry.

2:53 — in contact with the Hawaii station, ground and astronauts give “go-no go” decision to continue into orbit No. 3.

3:10 (in contact with Cape Kennedy) — end of orbit No. 2.


3 hours 12 minutes after launching — The control center relays information for setting spacecraft clock so it will automatically fire the re-entry reverse rockets at the precise time near the end of the orbit. Astronauts fly backward, with the blunt heat shield forward, for the rest of the mission.

3:25 (over Africa and Indian Ocean) — For several minutes pilots check power and fuel supplies, evaluate communications and life support systems, and stow loose gear in preparation for landing.

4:09 (over Pacific) — Grissom puts the nose down 16 degrees, the re-entry attitude.

4:20 — Grissom pretends there is a mechanical failure and switches to an emergency system.

4:29:09 — Reverse rockets fire on approaching west coast of United States. As re-entry starts, Grissom rolls spacecraft so pilots fly head down. In this position, the greatest possible surface is exposed to the gradually-thickening atmosphere, slowing the vehicle and giving the astronauts greater maneuverability.

4:42.47 (over Gulf of Mexico and Florida) — For about three minutes during re-entry, the heat of atmospheric friction becomes so intense (more than 3,000 degrees) that an electrified ionization curtain surrounds the capsule, cutting off communications with the ground. The astronauts may not be able to see out the windows for 40 to 70 seconds. This means that in a critical period, the pilots would not be able to use the horizon for reference. It is hoped that the Gemini’s re-entry angle may be such that the astronauts will see the horizon for a longer period. Young studies this by marking the time ionization begins, when he can no longer see the horizon and when it reappears.

In an experiment aimed at breaking the communications blackout, the astronauts spray water around the outside of the capsule to try to neutralize the electrically charged particles and transmit through this brief gap.

4:45.17 — When forces of 2 G’s -twice the pull of gravity — press on the dropping spacecraft, Grissom assumes manual control of the re-entry. On this flight, the first 45 minutes of re-entry is handled by automatic controls. All later Gemini flights will be completely manual.

4:50.44 — Young pushes button to eject small stabilizing parachute at altitude of 40,000 feet. This chute pulls out the 84-foot-diameter main parachute at 10,600 feet.

4 hours 55 minutes after launching — Grissom and Young’s capsule lands in the Atlantic Ocean near Grand Turk Island, about 800 miles southeast of Cape Kennedy — the same area where John H. .Glenn Jr. landed when he pioneered American orbital flight in Project Mercury.