"No Joy, No Joy"

On launch day - 25 October - at pad 14, a team from General Dynamics Corporation conducted the countdown of the Atlas launch vehicle capped by the slender Agena. Although this would be its maiden voyage in Project Gemini, Agena was a veteran, in one model or another, of more than 140 flights since 1959. The countdown, presided over by NASA Mission Director William Schneider,* proceeded simultaneously for the Atlas, Agena, modified Titan II, and spacecraft.9 Noticeably absent were the delays that had plagued Mercury launches. Fifteen minutes before the Atlas-Agena was to leave its moorings, Schirra and Stafford climbed into the spacecraft and settled into their couches.10

At 10 o'clock, General Dynamics launch chief Thomas J. O'Malley pushed the button that sent the Atlas-Agena skyward. Signs that something was wrong appeared minutes later when the target cut loose from the booster. The Agena seemed to be wobbling, even as its attitude control system labored to keep it stable. The small secondary engines ignited and the gas generator valve opened to fire the main engine and boost the Agena to orbit. A telemetry signal in the Mission Control Center showed that the big engine had started exactly on time.11 But that was the last good news. In Houston, Schneider, who thought Agenas always flew, was astounded to learn there was a problem. In fact, Air Force radar was tracking what seemed to be five pieces of the target vehicle.12

In the meantime, Public Affairs Officer Paul Haney, trying to keep the public informed, had little or nothing to report. Ten minutes after liftoff, he could only repeat that no telemetry signals were coming into the stations along the flight control network and that, over on pad 19, Schirra and Stafford were continuing their preparations for flight. After 50 minutes, the last flicker of hope gone, Haney told his listeners, "We have had a conversation with [the Carnarvon tracking station] , . . and their report keeps coming back - No joy - No joy." The mission was scrubbed.13

Actually, only six minutes after launch, a deadening sense of failure [269] was spreading among those closely connected with the target vehicle's development. Jerome B. Hammack, who kept tabs on the Agena for GPO, was in the pad 14 blockhouse, listening to the flight controller's comments. He was soon convinced that there was deep trouble. The Air Force officer in charge of Atlas-Agena launches, Colonel L. E. Allen, thought the Agena had probably exploded. The two men headed for the Lockheed hangar, where others also gathered for the wake. Hasty study of partial telemetry data threw little light on the cause of the disaster, but newsmen were clamoring for a press conference.NASA and Air Force officials told reporters that they did not know exactly what had caused the failure, but that ten days might be enough time to decide what to do to keep it from happening again.14


* Schneider, newly named Deputy Director for Mission Operations and Gemini Mission Director in NASA Headquarters, retained that position throughout the remainder of the program. LeRoy Day replaced Schneider as Deputy Director of the Gemini program in Washington.


9 John Miller, interview, San Diego, Calif., 18 March 1967; "Lockheed Agena in U. S. Space Programs," Lockheed Fact Sheet (ca. October 1965); "Spacecraft Prelaunch Test Procedure: Outline for the Rendezvous Mission Countdown," McDonnell SEDR RMC-6, 23 Oct. 1965; NASA News Release No. 65-331, "NASA Appoints Schneider Deputy Director, Mission Operations," 15 Oct. 1965; memo, LeRoy E. Day to William D. Putnam, "Comments on Gemini History . . . ," 28 July 1969, with enclosure.

10 Gemini 6 mission commentary transcript, 25 Oct. 1965, tape 26, p. 1; "Outline for the Rendezvous Mission Countdown"; "Gemini VI-A [sic] Mission Report," p. 6-2.

11 Miller interview; "Gemini VI-A [sic] Mission Report," pp. 4-2, 6-2; Gemini 6 mission commentary, tape 28-1.

12 Jack L. Shoenhair, interview, Sunnyvale, Calif., 11 May 1967; Schneider, interview, Washington, 23 Jan. 1967; "Gemini VI-A [sic] Mission Report," p. 6-3.

13 Gemini 6 mission commentary, tapes 30-36; "Gemini VI-A [sic] Mission Report," p. 6-3; letter, George M. Low to Gilruth, 20 June 1963; memo, Mathews to Asst. Dir., Flight Ops., "Radar Skin- tracking Requirement for Gemini Missions," GV-02264, 3 June 1964; letter, Christopher C. Kraft, Jr., to Goddard Space Flight Center, Attn: Niles R. Heller, "Radar skin tracking support for project Gemini," 27 Aug. 1964; letters, Gilruth to NASA Hq., Attn: Mueller, "Orbital tracking of expended stages of Gemini launch vehicle," 18 Sept., and GA-01286, 2 Oct. 1964; letter, Mueller to Gilruth, 19 Nov. 1964; memos, Mathews to Asst. Dir., Flight Ops., "Radar skin-tracking requirements for Gemini Program," GV-02421, 2 Dec. 1964, GV-02495, 16 Feb., and GV-02514, 4 Mar. 1965; Quarterly Status Report No. 14, for period ending 31 Aug. 1965, p. 24.

14 Jerome B. Hammack, interview, Houston, 18 April 1966; "Gemini 6 Scrub Briefing," 25 Oct. 1965, tape 1, p. 1, tape 1-A, p. 1; Earl Ubell, "No Joy, No Joy: Agena Failure Is Probed in Great Secrecy," New York Herald Tribune, 26 Oct. 1965.


Previous Next Index