Gemini Regroups

The shaky status of Gemini costs and schedules was the major factor in Chamberlin's ouster, and it was to those matters that Mathews first turned in his new role as acting program manager. An early move was a critical review of the Gemini flight program. This produced one quick decision: an unmanned mission would be flown in place of one of the manned flights; only 10 of the 12 Gemini flights were now to carry crews. This was largely a response to the stubborn problems in Titan II development. The first flight had been planned most recently as a suborbital ballistic shot to test spacecraft heat protection and validate spacecraft structure and systems. With launch vehicle status uncertain, however, this no longer seemed sufficient qualification for manned missions. Another question mark was the spacecraft itself, which did not seem likely to be ready in time.44

GPO had a new flight schedule to submit to Manned Space Flight Director Holmes by 11 April. It differed sharply in some key ways from earlier plans. The major change was that the first flight, still due in December 1963, was to be orbital, its primary objective the flight qualification of the booster. The spacecraft would serve chiefly as an instrument carrier, neither separating from the launch vehicle's second stage nor being recovered. Gemini's second flight, postponed from March to July 1964, was now what the first had been - a suborbital ballistic flight intended to prove the spacecraft could withstand high heating rates but also to qualify all launch vehicle and spacecraft systems for manned flights.

The first men to fly in Gemini now had to wait for the third mission, in October 1964, five months later than had been scheduled for [131] the third flight and seven months past the former date for the first manned flight. The mission was not only late, it was much reduced in scope. First planned for a full day, or 18 orbits, the mission now seemed likely to be no more than three orbits, mainly for systems evaluation.45 The three-orbit limit became official in mid-June 1963. This raised the question of what to do with the package that both of the first two manned spacecraft were supposed to carry into orbit to practice the final stages of rendezvous. Three orbits hardly seemed long enough. By the beginning of July, the rendezvous evaluation pod was cut from the first manned mission.46

The pod stayed on the fourth flight and second manned mission, scheduled for seven days in orbit during January 1965, three months after the third. This longer interval between launches was planned for the rest of the program. The two months that had been allowed no longer seemed time enough to check out machines and train crews. Another change in the flight program inserted a rendezvous mission between the two longer flights, so the fifth would be a rendezvous mission and the sixth would remain in orbit 14 days. The two long missions had been back-to-back, but this left little time to absorb the lessons of one such flight before launching another. The last six missions, each about three days long, all focused on rendezvous. The final flight was scheduled for January 1967, nearly two years after the date first approved in December 1961 and more than a year later than expected after reprogramming in late 1962. The new flight plan also reflected the uncertain status of the paraglider landing system, now scheduled only from the seventh flight on. Earlier spacecraft would rely on parachutes, and the first land landing was not expected until October 1965.47

NASA Headquarters approved the new Gemini flight plan on 29 April 1963.48 The lengthened schedule and spaced-out launches eased the pressure on Project Gemini in terms of both time and money. Technical problems and money shortages were the proximate cause of the changes, but throughout 1962 the shape of Gemini had been subtly shifting. Mercury technology proved less easy to transfer to Gemini than expected, partly for technical reasons - the planned coupling of two Mercury environmental control systems to provide for a Gemini crew, for example, went by the board as engineers tried and failed to convert the concept into detail specifications49 - but mainly because the image of Gemini had altered in the eyes of its makers. "Instead of being merely a transition between Mercury and Apollo," Gilruth told his colleagues in the Management Council on 30 April, "the Gemini program now actually involves the development of an operational spacecraft."50

Holmes spelled out what this meant in a lengthy memorandum to Seamans on 3 May. By building into Gemini the most up-to-date technology, [132] rather than merely modified Mercury equipment, "Gemini would have extensive and most useful applications in earth orbital space operations," even, ultimately, "as a resupply vehicle for future space stations," It would also produce a beneficial side effect: the new Gemini promised to be a much greater help to Apollo in such areas as systems development, preflight checkout, and mission training. None of this came cheaply, either in time or money, but Holmes argued it was worth it because "we have a much more valuable and worthwhile Gemini Program than could have been had if we had not taken advantage of our increased knowledge to develop and design the best spacecraft possible within the limits of our present technology."51

These were the arguments that NASA spokesmen used to explain the higher costs that Gemini had incurred in the past fiscal year and to defend their budget request for fiscal year 1964 to congressmen growing restive in the face of soaring NASA needs. Gemini, Holmes told the House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight, was "much more than a big, overgrown Mercury."52 It had, said Webb, "what I would characterize as the potential for the first workhorse of the Western space world in very much the same way that the DC-3 airplane became a great workhorse of aviation for many, many purposes."53

How much of this was merely after-the-fact rationalization may be open to question, but whatever hopes NASA officials might have for using Gemini or helping Apollo depended on solving some urgent problems. Development of the new technology that was to transform Gemini was lagging. The most advanced spacecraft systems - propulsion, escape, and fuel cell - were running into trouble; the paraglider program had faltered; and, worst of all, the Titan II launch vehicle posed a question mark for manned space flight. Maybe Gemini would become a workhorse, and maybe that prospect was good reason to delay the flight program. But the many technical problems, Gemini's new acting manager admitted when interviewed by a leading trade journal, had already wrecked the old schedule.54


44 Zavasky, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, March 22, 1963," p. 5; "Problems - Nov. 62 Plan," 25 March 1964, table in material compiled for "The First Gemini Executives Meeting," 27 March 1964, Tab C.

45 Zavasky, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, April 12, 1963," p. 4; Quarterly Status Report No. 5, for period ending 31 May 1963, pp. 50-51, 58; Purser, "Minutes of Project Gemini Management Panel Meeting. . . , May 2, 1963," pp. 2-3.

46 MSC Weekly Activity Report for Office of the Dir., Manned Space Flight, 2-8 June 1963, p. 2; memo, Walter C. Williams to Acting Mgr., GPO, "Third Gemini flight," 6 June 1963; "Resume of Weeks Activities, [9-14 June 1963]," [GPO], p. 1; MSC Consolidated Activity Report for Office of the Dir., Manned Space Flight, 19 May - 15 June 1963, p. 72; "Abstract of Meeting on Trajectories and Orbits, July 3, 1963," 9 July 1963.

47 Purser, "Management Panel Meeting, May 2, 1963," p. 3; "DOD-NASA Ad Hoc Study Group, Air Force Participation in Gemini," with errata, Final Report, 6 May 1963; memo, Seamans and McMillan for record, "Acceptance of the Joint NASA/DOD Ad Hoc Study Group Final Report on Air Force Participation in Gemini, Dated May 6, 1963," with enclosures, "Gemini Launches Master Schedule," as of 2 May 1963, and "Gemini Experiment Payload Potential."

48 Zavasky, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, April 26, 1963," p. 5; Purser, "Management Panel Meeting, May 2, 1963," pp. 2-3; Zavasky, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, May 3, 1963,"p. 4.

49 1964 NASA Authorization, p. 584.

50 Memo, Bothmer to dist., 3 May 1963, with enclosure, "Minutes, OMSF Management Council, April 30, 1963," p. 6.

51 Memo, Holmes to Seamans, "Comments on the Status of the Gemini Development," 3 May 1963; Boone, "Statement Regarding the Revised Gemini Schedule," 10 May 1963.

52 1964 NASA Authorization, p. 1204.

53 U.S. Congress, Senate, Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1964: Hearings on S. 1245, 88th Cong., 1st sess., 1963, p. 775.

54 "Gemini Slippage Due to Variety of Causes," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 22 July 1963, p. 177.


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