Maneuvers of Molly Brown

During the first two days of March 1965, the Office of Manned Space Flight held a Design Certification Review in Washington. The review board* asked for, and got, formal pledges from the top executives [232] of all major Gemini contractors that their products were ready for manned space flight, barring something unforeseen turning up during what remained of Cape checkout. A week later, the spacecraft Flight Readiness Review revealed only minor and quickly corrected problems. The launch vehicle passed its final test, simulated flight, on 18 March and its Flight Readiness Review on Saturday morning, 20 March. When the Mission Review Board** met that afternoon, weather was the only thing that might delay the mission. Early Monday morning, the launch vehicle contractors confirmed that GLV-3 was ready to go; at 9 a.m.,the Flight Safety Review Board committed the booster to launch.41

Martin's pad crew started loading oxidizer aboard GLV-3 at 6:22 that evening, 22 March, and five hours later all tanks were full. The final countdown began at 2 o'clock Tuesday morning, under overcast skies. Included in the countdown were static firings of both spacecraft rocket systems. This had been a matter of dispute between the astronauts and the program office. They agreed on plans to fire one ring of the reentry control system but not on OAMS firing. GPO, backed by the Preflight Operations Division, preferred to fire only the lateral thrusters, but the pilots wanted to fire the aft thrusters too. The matter was settled in May 1964, when NASA Deputy Director for Gemini William Schneider decided both would be fired. Although he knew that the extra test time might affect the launch, he believed "that this will save time in the long run and will increase the confidence in flying a successful mission."42

Grissom and Young, who had reviewed their flight plan and gone to bed about 9 o'clock the night before, were awakened shortly before 5 a.m. After steak and eggs, a launch-day breakfast tradition inherited from Mercury, they were driven from their Merritt Island quarters to pad 16, site of the preflight ready room. They arrived about 6 and had their suits on about 45 minutes later. Shortly after 7, a van bore them to pad 19. They mounted the elevator for the 11th level, where their spacecraft awaited them. At 7:30, they were inside with the hatches sealed. Because the so-far flawless countdown had moved faster than expected, they were about 20 minutes ahead of schedule. Young later complained about this extra time spent flat on his back and fully suited; the planned wait was bad enough.

Weather was still the big question mark, the overcast not having lifted as expected. [233] Grissom and Young had been in the spacecraft less than an hour when the count was halted, just 35 minutes before launch, because the first-stage oxidizer line had sprung a leak. A handy wrench applied to a poorly seated nut solved the problem, but the count was held for 24 minutes to make certain the leak had stopped. By the time the countdown resumed, the clouds over the Cape had begun to scatter. Thirty-five minutes later, at 9:24 Tuesday morning, 23 March 1965, the sky was almost clear when the engines of GLV-3 burst into life. With a "You're on your way, Molly Brown," from CapCom (capsule communicator) L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., the third flight of Gemini, the first to which men entrusted themselves, began.43

Officially the flight of Gemini 3, unofficially it was the voyage of "Molly Brown." During Project Mercury, each pilot had named his own spacecraft, although Cooper had some trouble selling NASA on Faith 7 for the last spacecraft in the program. Grissom and Young now had the same difficulty with "Molly Brown." Grissom had lost his first ship, Liberty Bell 7, which sank after a faulty circuit blew the hatch before help arrived. "Molly Brown," the "unsinkable" heroine of a Broadway stage hit, seemed to Grissom the logical choice for his second space command. NASA's upper echelons thought the name lacking in dignity; but since Grissom's second choice was "Titanic," they grudgingly consented, and the name remained "Molly Brown," though only quasi-officially. Later spacecraft were officially referred to by a Roman numeral, although a few had nicknames as well.44

"Molly Brown" lifted off so smoothly that neither Grissom nor Young felt anything. Their real cues were seeing the mission clock on the instrument panel start running and hearing Cooper announce it from mission control. There was less noise than they had heard on the moving-base simulator in Dallas. When the first-stage engine cut off two and a half minutes later, acceleration plunged from six gravities to one. The second-stage engine ignited, bathing the spacecraft in a flash of orange-yellow light that disconcerted Young for the moment it took him to realize that this was a normal product of fire-in-the-hole staging - that is, second-stage ignition before, instead of after, separation. The launch vehicle had slightly exceeded its predicted thrust, but a warning from Cooper prepared the pilots for the larger than expected pitchdown when the second stage took over the steering. Young, who had never been in space before, was entranced by his view of Earth's horizon and the sense of rapid motion as second-stage thrust built up.45

Five and a half minutes after launch, the second-stage engine shut down. The pop of the pyrotechnics that severed spacecraft from launch vehicle sounded like the bark of howitzers to Young. Grissom fired the aft thrusters to kick the spacecraft into orbit. [235] He lost track of the time and fired too long, ending up with his incremental velocity indicator showing 2 a slight overspeed. But he wound up with an orbit of 122 by 175 kilometers, very close to the intended 122 by 182 kilometers. Gemini 3 was off to a good start - to an almost troublefree flight that closely matched the planned mission.46

The match was not perfect. About 20 minutes into the first orbit, just after "Molly Brown" passed beyond range of the mid-Atlantic Canary Island tracking station, the oxygen pressure gauge in the environmental control system reported an abrupt drop. Young, assigned to watch this gauge, naturally assumed that something was wrong with the system. But a quick glance showed odd readings on several other meters and suggested that the real trouble might be in the instrument power supply. Young switched from the primary to the secondary electrical converter to power the dials, and the problem vanished. The whole episode, from Young's first notice of the anomalous reading to his shift from primary to secondary power, took 45 seconds, one clear payoff from intense preflight training.47

Grissom's attempt to run the cell-growth experiment was a failure - perhaps, as he remarked later, because he had "too much adrenalin pumping" and twisted the handle too hard. Whatever the reason, the handle broke, ruining the experiment. The radiation experiment gave Young some trouble, but he managed to complete his task. Results were suggestive but inconclusive. Exposed to nearly identical doses of radiation, the inflight blood samples showed more damage than the control samples on the ground. While the effect was small, it did point to interaction between radiation and some aspect of space flight, though just which aspect and how it acted could not he answered. Both Grissom and Young believed that most of the trouble with the experiments stemmed from differences between the packages they flew with and those they had trained with. But they also admitted that they "were not quite as fascinated by sea urchins . . . as . . . by the chance to carry out some real 'firsts' in space flight."48

And the Gemini 3 crew did chalk up at least one historic first by maneuvering in orbit. The first OAMS burn came an hour and a half after launch and lasted a carefully timed 75 seconds, cutting spacecraft speed by 15 meters per second and dropping it into a nearly circular orbit. Three quarters of an hour later, during the second revolution, Grissom fired the system again, this time to test the ship's translational capability and shift the plane of its orbit by one-fiftieth of a degree. During the third pass, Grissom completed the fail-safe plan with a two and a half minute burn that dropped the spacecraft's perigee to 72 kilometers and ensured reentry even if the retrorockets failed to work.49

They did work, however. As the three-orbit mission neared its close, Grissom and Young ran through the retrofire checklist. [236] With everything ready, the pilot fired the pyrotechnics that separated the adapter from the reentry module, giving the two spacemen their biggest jolt so far. He then armed the automatic retrofire switch. One after the other, the four rockets exploded into life and burned themselves out. Another set of pyrotechnics cut loose the expended package as "Molly Brown" arced back toward the planet she had left four and a half hours before.50

Reentry produced some surprises. At the outset, it matched the simulations both men had been through in training, even to the color and pattern of the plasma sheath that surrounded the spacecraft. Young threw the switch to start the reentry communications experiments just over a minute after the plasma had formed and communications had blacked out. The results were encouraging; at high rates of water flow, both UHF and C-band signals from the spacecraft were picked up by ground stations.51

But "Molly Brown" seemed to be off course. The initial computer reading showed that she would miss her planned landing point by more than 69 kilometers, and Grissom's best efforts to reduce that gap were fruitless. Theoretically, the Gemini spacecraft had enough lift to be piloted to a relatively precise landing, but its real lift fell far short of what had been predicted from wind tunnel tests. As a result, Gemini 3 was about 84 kilometers short of the intended splashdown point. Before they touched down, however, the astronauts suffered another jolt when the spacecraft assumed its landing attitude. After the main parachute deployed, the spacecraft hung from it vertically, with its nose suspended at a single point. Before landing, throwing a cabin switch shifted the spacecraft to a two-point suspension with its front end forward and some 35 degrees above the horizontal. When Grissom hit the landing attitude switch, "Molly Brown" literally dropped into place, pitching both men into the windshield, breaking Grissom's faceplate, and scratching Young's.52

The jolt when they hit the water a few minutes later was mild by comparison. Although Gemini was designed to float, all Grissom saw out his window was water. He realized that the still attached parachute was being dragged by the wind, tugging the nose of the spacecraft down. With memories of the ill-fated Liberty Bell 7 momentarily staying his hand, Grissom released the chute and "Molly Brown" bobbed to the surface, having shown herself fully watertight. The mission plan called for the crew to remain on board until the spacecraft was picked up, a short wait if the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier Intrepid, was only about eight kilometers away, as Grissom and Young had last heard before they splashed down. When they learned that the real distance was closer to 110 kilometers, Grissom asked for a helicopter to pick them up and take them to the carrier. Still thinking of Liberty Bell 7, however, he refused to crack a hatch until Navy swimmers had [237] attached a flotation collar to "Molly Brown." This spacecraft was not going to sink, but the crew endured a long 30 minutes as the sealed spacecraft grew hotter inside while it pitched and tossed on the long Atlantic swells. "That was no boat," recalled Young. Heat and motion took their toll of Grissom, although Young managed to keep his breakfast down. Once the collar was in place and a swimmer opened a hatch, the two men lost no time in getting out and putting on the "horse collar" hoists that lifted them to the helicopter.53

Medical examinations and debriefings began as soon as the two astronauts were in the helicopter and went on for several days. A brief stir ensued when Grissom and Young had little to say to scientists about their observations, mainly astronomical, while in orbit. Other questions were raised about the failure of the cell-growth experiment, but most of the fault could be ascribed to a poorly designed package that was installed in the spacecraft barely a week before flight - a matter of "too little, too late." In any case, the brief mission had centered on engineering evaluation of the spacecraft, with a full schedule that left little time for extra work.

Something of a storm later blew up when the press got wind of Grissom's having eaten part of a corned beef sandwich during the flight. Schirra had bought it at "Wolfie's" on North Atlantic Avenue in Cocoa Beach and given it to Young, who smuggled it on board the spacecraft. When it was time for the crew to eat the space food they carried, Young brought out the sandwich and handed it to Grissom, who ate only a few bites as he wanted no crumbs floating around the cabin. When the news got to Congress, the lawmakers were upset. What was not made clear, apparent to either the legislators or the press was that the official food was only there for evaluation of its taste, convenience, and reconstitution properties and had nothing to do with any scientific or medical objectives of the mission. No one expected to learn very much about the effects of space food on so short a flight. The fracas did, however, produce some new and more stringent rules about what the astronauts might take with them on future missions.54

Despite its minor problems, Gemini 3 was a complete success as far as its major objectives were concerned. There could he no doubt that Gemini was ready for its role in the manned space flight program. The time of testing was over.55


* The board consisted of Mueller, Gilruth, Kurt Debus (Director, Kennedy Space Center), Wernher von Braun (Director, Marshall Space Flight Center), Major General Osmond J. Ritland (Air Force Systems Command), and Major General Ben Funk (Commander, SSD).

** With Williams gone, Kraft became chairman of the spacecraft and launch vehicle Flight Readiness Review Boards and the Mission Review Board. Everline was coordinator and recorder for the spacecraft and mission reviews and James B. Jackson for the launch vehicle board. There were two new members - William Schneider from Headquarters and Max Faget. The older members were the same as for the first two missions: Mathews, Bailey, Slayton, and Merritt Preston.


41 TWX, Mathews to SSD, Attn: Dineen, "GT-3 Design Certification Review," GV-52697, 28 Jan. 1965; letter, Mathews to Burke, GP-01874, 4 Feb. 1965; memo, Mathews to Astronaut Office, Attn: Virgil I. Grissom, "Design Certification Review," GP-01878, 4 Feb. 1965; memo, Mathews to dist., "Design Certification Review," GP-01873, 4 Feb. 1965, with enclosure; letter, Mathews to Dineen, GP- 01879a, 8 Feb. 1965; memo, Mathews to Mgr., Ops. Planning and Development, "Design Certification Review," GP-01881a, 8 Feb.1965; letter, Schneider to Donald K. Slayton, 17 Feb. 1965; memo, Mathews to Chief, Spacecraft Section, "Contract NAS 9-170, Gemini, Design Certification Review, CCP No. 70," GP-61043, 17 March 1965; Walter D. Smith, "Martin/Titan," in "Gemini/Apollo Executives Meeting," 27-28 Jan. 1967, p. D-8; memo, Mathews to dist., "Spacecraft 3 Flight Readiness Review," GP-01972, 2 March 1965; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, GP-51798, 2 March 1965; letter, Mathews to Burke, GP-61033, 15 March 1965; memo, Mathews to Spacecraft 3 Flight Readiness Review Board, "Action Items from Flight Readiness Review," GP-61057, 19 March 1965; TWX, Mathews to SSD, Attn: Dineen, GP-51805, 8 March 1965; TWX, Mathews to SSD, Attn: Dineen, GP- 7023, [ca. 17 March 1965]; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, "Contract NAS 9-170, GT-3, Mission Review," GP-70013, 10 March 1965; TWX, Mathews to KSC, Attn: G. Merritt Preston et al., GP-71017, 16 March 1965; TWX, Albert to Dineen et al., DWD 39171, 19 March 1965; DuGoff report No. 27; Roy B. Carthen, notes taken from DuGoff, 29 March 1965.

42 Memo, Mathews and Preston to Dep. Dir., Mission Requirements and Flight Ops., "Static Fire of the Gemini RCS and OAMS," 14 Oct. 1963; memo, Schneider to Assoc. Adm., Manned Space Flight, "RCS-OAMS Static Firing at Cape Kennedy," 27 May 1964; memo, Mathews to Chief, Propulsion and Power Div., "Thrust chamber assembly hot firing check-out procedures during prelaunch activities," GP- 61376, 8 June 1965; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, "Static Fire Tests as Part of Gemini Spacecraft Checkout at the Eastern Test Range," GP-7140, 13 May 1965; "GT-3 at KSC," p. 31; "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 6-1, -2, 12-1.

43 "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 6-2, 7-10, -29; GT-3 mission commentary transcript, 23 March 1965, pp. 1-5; "GT-3 Flight Crew Technical Debriefing," NASA Program Gemini working paper No. 5025, 3 June 1965, pp. 2-1 through -3; DuGoff, "GT-3 Launch Summary Report Notes," 23 March 1965; memo, E. E. Christensen to Schneider, "Leak around Transducer Fitting Resulting in GT-3 Hold," 25 March 1965; memo, Schneider to Christensen, subject as above, 25 March 1965; "Air to Ground Transmission," GT-3 News Center, 23 March 1965, p. 1; "Air-to-Ground Voice Transcription," Supplemental Report No.5 to "GT-3 Mission Report," 23 June 1965, p. 2.

44 Swenson, Grimwood, and Alexander, This New Ocean, pp. 341, 368, 420, 446, 470, 492; Dora Jane Hamblin, "Spacecraft Anonymous," Life, 11 Oct. 1968, pp. 112-13; TWX, Henry W. Suydam to Will Lang, 26 March 1965; Grissom and John W. Young, "Molly Brown was OK from the first time we met her," Life, 2 April 1965, p. 41.

45 "GT-3 Debriefing," pp. 3-2 through -6; "GT-3 Flight Crew Self-Debriefing," NASA Program Gemini working paper No. 5026, 3 June 1965, pp. 2-1, 3-2; "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 7-11, -20, -21; "Air-to-Ground Voice," p. 3; Grissom and Young, "Molly Brown was OK," p. 41.

46 "GT-3 Self-Debriefing," p. 2-1; "GT-3 Debriefing," p. 3-8; "GT-3 Mission Report," p. 7-12; "Air-to-Ground Voice," p. 5.

47 "Air-to-Ground Voice," p. 6; Grissom and Young, "Molly Brown was OK," p. 42; "GT-3 Mission Report," p. 7-22; "GT-3 Self-Debriefing," pp. 2-2, 3-5.

48 "GT-3 Self-Debriefing," pp. 2-2, 3-4; "GT-3 Mission Report," p. 7-25; "GT-3 Debriefing," pp. 4-39, 40; Grissom and Young, "Molly Brown was OK," p. 42; R[obert] O. Piland and P[aul] R. Penrod, "Experiments Program Summary," in Gemini Midprogram Conference, Including Experiment Results, NASA SP-121 (Washington, 1966), p. 309; Michael A. Bender, P. Carolyn Gooch, and Sohei Kondo, "Experiment S-4, Zero g and Radiation on Blood during Gemini III," in "Manned Space Flight Experiments Symposium: Gemini Missions III and IV," presented in Washington, 18-19 Oct. 1965, pp. 217-36; memo, Mathews to Chief, Quality Assurance Br., "Gemini Experiments S-2 and S-3," GP61111, 3 April 1965.

49 "GT-3 Self-Debriefing," pp. 2-3, 4; Grissom and Young, "Molly Brown was OK," p. 42; "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 7-15, -16; "Air-to-Ground Voice," pp. 19, 25, 42-43; [Ivan D. Ertel], Gemini 3 Flight, MSC Fact Sheet No. 291-A (Houston, April 1965), unpaged; memo, Car! T. Rowan, U. S. Information Agency, to the President, "Daily Reaction Report," 24 March 1965.

50 "GT-3 Debriefing," pp. 5-1 through -5; "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 7-16, -17, -25; "Air-to-Ground Voice," pp. 45-46.

51 "GT-3 Mission Report," p, 7-26; memo, Schroeder to MSC Historical Office, "Comments on Draft Chapters of Gemini Narrative History . . . ," 9 Jan. 1972, with enclosure, "Results of Gemini 3 Reentry Communications Experiment," n.d.; Lyle P. Schroeder and Francis P. Russo, "Flight Investigations and Analysis of Alleviation of Communications Blackout by Water Injection during Gemini 3 Reentry," NASA TM X-1521, 18 Aug. 1967; Piland and Penrod, "Experiments Program Summary," p. 312.

52 "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 7-17 through -19, 7-25 through -27; Grissom and Young, "Molly Brown was OK," p. 42; "GT-3 Debriefing," pp. 6-1 through -5, 7-4, -5; memo, Duncan R. Collins to Mgr., GPO, "Gemini landing system, spacecraft repositioning," GS-64011, 7 April 1965; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, GS-10006, 14 April 1965.

53 Grissom and Young, "Molly Brown was OK," pp. 41-42; "GT-3 Debriefing," pp. 7-5 through -7, 7-9 through -11; "GT-3 Mission Report," pp. 7-19, -20, -27; "GT-3 Self-Debriefing," pp. 2-7, -8; "GT-3 Post-Launch Press Conference," 23 March 1965; "GT-3 Press Conference with Astronauts," 25 March 1965, p. 23; "DOD Support of Project Gemini, GT-3," n.d.

54 Memo, Mathews to Chief, Spacecraft Ops. Br., "GT-3 postflight scientific debriefing of the crew," GP-61018, 10 March 1965; memo, Brig. Gen. David M. Jones to Assoc. Adm., "GT-3 Post Mission Cape-Related Activities," 17 March 1965; memo, Mary-Frances Thompson to Gill, "Debriefing of Astronauts, Gemini-GT-3, Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston, Texas, April 12, 1965," 14 April 1965; letter, Gilruth to NASA Hq., Attn: Mueller, "Training for and conduct of manned space flight experiments," 19 April 1965; memo, Slayton to Mgr., GPO, "Crew pre-flight scientific briefings," 23 April 1965; letter, Gill to Rita Rapp, 27 April 1965; letter, Willis Foster to MSC, Attn: Mathews, "Astronaut Scientific Debriefing," 11 May 1965; letter, Gilruth to Mueller, 21 May 1965; "GT-3 Self- Debriefing," p. 2-4; "GT-3 Astronaut Conference," pp. 14-15; Earl Ubell and David Hoffman, "Two Astronauts Team Up as Comics," The Washington Post, 26 March 1965; memo, Robert C. Seamans, Jr., to Mueller, "Gemini Operations," 15 April 1963; William Hines, "$30 Million Sandwich: House Doesn't Relish Astronauts Snack," The Evening Star, Washington, 15 April 1965; letter, Julian Scheer to James A. McDivitt, 24 May 1965, with enclosures; U.S. Congress, House, Subcommittee of the Committee on Appropriations, Independent Offices Appropriations for 1966, Part 2, Hearings, 89th Cong., 1st sess., 1965, pp. 912-13; memo, Mueller to Assoc. Adm., "Gemini III Operations," 4 May 1965; "Cassandra," "That Corned-Beef Sandwich in Space," San Francisco Chronicle, 5 May 1965; "Snacks in Space Are Out," The Houston Post, 7 May 1965; letter, Dick C. Nooe to Webb, n.d.; letter, Scheer to Nooe, 26 May 1965; Walter M. Schirra, Jr., interview, Houston, 4 May 1967; Lola H. Morrow, interview, Cocoa Beach, Fla., 24 May 1967.

55 Memo, Mathews to GPO staff, "Gemini III Success," GA-60165, 29 March 1965.


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