SELECTING AND TRAINING THE CREWS

More Missions, More Astronauts

While much was learned from Mercury, much more had to be learned before a lunar mission could be planned. Even before President Kennedy's decision to go to the moon was announced, Space Task Group engineers were planning the second phase of manned space flight. Project Gemini, approved in early December 1961, would test various techniques of rendezvous, determine whether men and systems could survive and function during long missions, investigate the radiation environment in near-earth space, and develop techniques for controlled landings. Twelve missions were planned, ten of them manned, to start in the spring of 1964 and fly at two-month intervals.16

Additional missions required additional astronauts, and on April 18, 1962, NASA announced it would accept applications for trainees. Once more test pilots were given preference, but the required number of flying hours was reduced, and civilians as well as military pilots were eligible. The upper age limit was reduced from 40 to 35 and the education qualification broadened to include degrees in physical or biological sciences as well as engineering.17 A list of more than 250 applicants was cut to 32 by preliminary physical and psychological screening. After intensive evaluation in Houston, nine new astronaut trainees were chosen in September 1962: two civilians, four Air Force pilots, and three Navy officers, including some who had applied for the first group but had not been selected [see Appendix 6].18 Selection of this group virtually depleted the pool of qualified candidates from the small corps of test pilots in the country, and it was the last group for which test-pilot certification would be a requirement.19

The new trainees reported at Houston in October 1962 to begin a two-year training course. A four-day work week was normally scheduled, the fifth day being reserved for public relations duties or for travel.20 After two weeks of orientation to NASA's organization and familiarization with the near-complete Mercury project, the second class, joined by the first group, started on a three-month "basic science" course interspersed with briefings on Gemini and Apollo projects and systems. The classroom work covered astronomy, aerodynamics, rocket propulsion, and the physics of orbital flight and re-entry; it included lectures on computers, space physics, and the medical aspects of space flight. Almost one-third of the classroom time was spent on navigation and guidance. In mid-January 1963 the class flew to Flagstaff, Arizona, for a series of geology lectures and field trips conducted by Eugene Shoemaker.21

As the Apollo program came into clearer focus in 1962, MSC officials saw that they needed still more astronauts. At the end of the year projected manned flights included four development flights of the Saturn I, four of the Saturn IB (an "uprated" version of the Saturn I), and one of the Saturn V, starting in late 1964 and flying at three-month intervals until mid 1967.22 The 16 astronauts in training would not be enough to staff the 10 Gemini missions plus the 9 scheduled for Apollo, and in April 1963 MSC announced its intention to recruit a third class of trainees.23 On June 18 the Houston center issued its formal call for applications. For this group the requirement for flight experience was relaxed still further: 1,000 hours of jet time could substitute for test-pilot certification. The selection board might consider advanced degrees in engineering or science as offsetting some lack of flight experience. Industry, professional organizations, and the armed services were asked to recommend candidates.24 Manned space flight chief Brainerd Holmes, acknowledging the Space Science Board's Iowa summer study recommendations, indicated to Congress that scientific qualifications would be taken into account in selecting this group.25

Of 271 applicants responding, 30 were selected for final screening. On October 18, 1963, MSC announced the names of the newest class of astronaut trainees [see Appendix 6]. Again military officers outnumbered civilians, by 12 to 2.26 (At the end of 1963 the astronaut corps comprised 26 military pilots and 4 civilians, all trained in military service.27 The new group was distinguished by a large number of advanced degrees: 8 of the 14 had master's degrees and one held a doctorate in astronautics. The two civilians were scientists actively engaged in research. Most of the military officers held engineering degrees. In spite of MSC's obvious preference for pilots, the scientific community raised no outcry about the lack of scientists in the astronaut program. Harold Urey, however, publicly reproved the agency, late in the year, for not recruiting geologists to explore the moon.28

When the new group reported to Houston in January 1964, Slayton had 29 pilots to look after, including 5 Mercury veterans.* The first four men who would walk on the moon were in training, but at the time all attention focused on Gemini, whose first manned launch was scheduled for November 1964.29

Classroom work began in February with a new basic science program, a 20-week series of lectures, briefings, and field trips, strongly oriented toward Gemini but also including substantial chunks of time devoted to geology, which was entirely an Apollo concern. The veterans of the previous year's training skipped parts of this course to spend time in the Gemini simulators, but the geology sessions were required of everyone. Geologists from MSC and from the Geological Survey guided them through the equivalent of a one-semester college course in land forms and land-forming geologic processes, minerals and their origin, and topographic and geologic mapping. Lectures and laboratory work were supplemented by field trips to study the Grand Canyon, the Big Bend area of west Texas, and the volcano fields near Flagstaff, Arizona, and Cimarron, New Mexico.30 No one expected the astronauts to become fully qualified field geologists as a result of this training, but they could at least learn to interpret what they would see on the moon in terms of its probable geologic history and to recognize important geological specimens if they found any. On the later field trips the geologist-instructors began simulating lunar exploration by sending their pupils into an area with a radio transmitter and instructions to note the geologic features they could see, describe what they considered important, and collect representative samples of rocks and surface material. Their commentary was recorded and the exercise was completed with a detailed critique of their performance.31

Geology was a new field for most of the engineer-astronauts, rather unlike anything in their experience. What impressed most of them was the large amount of specialized terminology they had to learn-new words having little relation to their accustomed vocabulary. Instructors found them willing enough students, for the most part, but highly variable in their response to the course. Some seemed to be born observers and quickly developed the knack of picking out the distinguishing geologic features of an area and describing them in geologist's terms; others had more difficulty acquiring the field geologist's eye. Apart from the problem of adjusting to a new discipline with a novel point of view, the astronauts faced the question of how heavily their performance in geology would count when the time came to select flight crews. Seniority and flying experience seemed to be of prime importance in determining who got the assignments for Apollo flights, and it was important to get picked as early as possible for a Gemini crew. Well aware that no one could completely master every aspect of training, the astronauts sought to shine in those aspects that were most likely to attract Slayton's attention. For the short-term future at least, geology seemed fairly far down the priority list.32


* John Glenn resigned from the program in January 1964 to enter business (and later, politics). Another Mercury astronaut, Scott Carpenter, would soon be devoting most of his time to the Navy's Project Sealab, an experimental underwater habitat, although he would retain formal affiliation with the astronaut program for another three and a half years.


16. Barton C. Hacker and James M. Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project Gemini, NASA SP-4203 (Washington, 1977), pp. 49-73.

17. House Committee on Science and Technology, Astronauts and Cosmonauts: Biographical and Statistical Data [Revised May 31, 1978], report prepared by the Congressional Research Service, Library of Congress, July 1978, pp. 6-7; idem, Astronautical and Aeronautical Events of 1962, report prepared by the NASA Historical Staff, June 12, 1963, p. 56.

18. Astronautical and Aeronautical Events of 1962, pp. 146, 191.

19. Slayton interview, Oct. 17, 1967.

20. Ibid.; MSC, "Flight Crew Training Report No. 1," Oct. 20, 1962.

21. MSC, "Flight Crew Training Reports," nos. 1-16, Oct. 15, 1962, to Feb. 9, 1963; no. 16 includes a summary of topics covered in the basic science course.

22. MSC, "Apollo Spacecraft Project Status Report No. 1 for Period Ending September 31, 1962," p. 48.

23. NASA, Astronautics and Aeronautics, Chronology on Science, Technology, and Policy, 1963, NASA SP- 4004, (Washington, 1964) p. 197.

24. MSC Release 63-102, June 18, 1963; Slayton interview, Oct. 17, 1967; Astronauts and Cosmonauts,

25. House Subcommittee on Manned Space Flight of the Committee on Science and Astronautics, 1964 NASA Authorization, hearings on H.R. 5466, 88/1, pt. 2(a), p. 235, Mar. 7, 1963.

26. Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1963, pp. 322, 392.

27. Astronauts and Cosmonauts, p. 7.

28. Astronautics and Aeronautics, 1963, p. 495.

29. Hacker and Grimwood, On the Shoulders of Titans, p. 191.

30. MSC, Flight Crew Training Reports nos. 66-83, Feb. 3-June 1, 1964.

31. Elbert A. King, Jr., interview by Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., May 27, 1971, tape in JSC History Office files.

32. Ibid.; interviews, Alan L. Bean, Apr. 10, 1984, and Eugene A. Cernan, Apr. 6, 1984; Michael Collins, Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut's Journeys (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974), pp. 72-75.


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