Two Weeks in a Spacecraft

Four years earlier the chimpanzee Enos had barely completed two circuits of Earth. Now Borman and Lovell were ready to try for more than 200 during two weeks in space. On 4 December 1965, they entered the spacecraft and settled in their couches. The minutes to launch ticked off, with the astronauts checking systems, listening over the communications circuits, and waiting to hear the erector go clanking downward. Promptly at 2:30 pm., the booster rose from the pad. There was no doubt about it, Lovell said, the triple cues of CapCom Elliot See's countdown, the vibration of the launch vehicle, and the noise of the engines all told him he was going someplace.44

"We're on our way, Frank!" Lovell shouted. As the launch vehicle boosted the spacecraft skyward, the booster rolled toward its programmed launch azimuth of 83.6 degrees. With only minor deviations in its powered phase, Gemini VII slid smoothly into its planned 160-kilometer keyhole.45

Shortly after the spacecraft cut loose from its booster only a little over six minutes from liftoff, Borman wheeled Gemini VII around to find the launch vehicle. Two seconds of thrust had been enough for the separation maneuver and now he fired for five seconds to get into position for stationkeeping. The afternoon Sun glared through the windows but in less than 30 seconds he saw the booster. Fuel spewed from a broken line, first forming globules and then crystallizing into cascades of flakes. The Titan II bounced and jumped about the sky. Occasionally eclipsing the view of the Sun, the venting fuel created a brilliant and beautiful contrast. For 15 minutes, the crew took turns at formation flying and picture taking. Stationkeeping was easy, but chasing the tumbling second stage was costing more fuel than Borman liked. And at 15 meters, he was too close to such unpredictable motion, anyway. He fired the spacecraft thrusters to move away.46

Half an hour into the flight, experiments began. Cardiovascular conditioning cuffs were snapped on Lovell's legs, where they started pulsing. The booster was still in sight, its lights flashing and billions of particles around it. Borman and Lovell saw some unidentifiable objects in orbit five to six kilometers away. About 7:00 p.m., they turned from sightseeing to housekeeping, and at 9:30 they ate their first meal in space. Intermittently, air-to-ground communications dealt with an irksome fuel cell warning light, which blinked on and off. As night fell below, noise from the ground became less frequent, giving the crew a chance to catnap. [281] Borman's suit was warmer than he had expected; he had to turn the control knob to the coldest setting.

After breakfast, at 9:06 a.m., CapCom See told the crew it was time to go to work. Systems reports were run through, their physical well-being was discussed, and the day's experiment load was assigned. See passed on Mission Control's analysis of the fuel cell warning light and news of more mundane events: the theme song of the men aboard the aircraft carrier Wasp ("I'll Be Home for Christmas"), football scores, and a collision between two airliners over New York. Borman retorted, "It looks like it's safer up here than down there." "We're not down yet, buddy!" Lovell reminded him.47

Some 45 hours into the flight, Lovell began doing his suit, a simple action that took more than an hour in such crowded quarters. At that point, both astronauts had stuffy noses and burning eyes. Borman complained that he was too warm. After Lovell had removed his suit, however, the general cabin environment improved.48 A debate about suits on or suits off during flight that had started before the launch of Gemini VII continued for nearly six days into the mission.

Both astronauts had planned to remove their suits after a two-day check of the environmental system. That changed when Mueller got wind of it. He objected strongly and so did Seamans, who agreed that one crewman should be suited at all times. Either pilot could take his suit off for up to 24 hours, but during launch, rendezvous, and reentry, both were to be suited.49

Borman made frequent comments about Lovell's comfort and his own distress. As the hours passed, the rationale of one suit off and one on became ever less persuasive. Even sitting with his suit completely unzipped and his gloves off, Borman sweated while Lovell remained dry. Lovell's first 24 hours unsuited passed, and he elected to sleep suitless a second night. Borman agreed, despite his own discomfort, because Lovell, the larger of the two men, had more trouble getting the suit off and on in the confines of the cabin than he did. Lovell did don some special lightweight flight coveralls but took them off after 15 minutes - it was just too hot.

One hundred hours into the flight, Borman asked the flight controller on the Coastal Sentry Quebec to talk to Kraft about taking off his suit. Because he knew of Mueller's opposition, he cautioned CapCom Eugene A. Cernan, on the next pass over Houston, to discuss his request with Slayton first and not to present it to Kraft as an emergency. Cernan agreed.

Meanwhile, the controllers tried to get Lovell to put his suit on and Borman to take his off, so the surgeons could check the effects on both pilots of the suited and suitless conditions. The crewmen wanted to wait until the rendezvous with Gemini VI-A had been completed, but Kraft insisted. [282] After 146 hours of flight, Borman finally agreed. Two hours later, it was his turn to sit in suitless comfort as Lovell sweltered.50

The suit question was also working its way up the NASA chain of command, as the daily mission evaluation reports became tinged with concern about how alert the crew would be for the coming rendezvous. When Borman made his request through Cernan, Mission Director Schneider relayed it to George Mueller in Washington. Mueller asked MSC Medical Director Charles Berry (who was also chief flight surgeon during the missions) for a comparative analysis of the two astronauts. Already aware that Gilruth favored suits off, Mueller asked for a poll of the other members of the Gemini Design Certification Board.

Kennedy Director Kurt H. Debus, Marshall Director Wernher von Braun, and SSD Commander Ben Funk all agreed that the reasons for being unsuited outweighed those for being suited. Berry reported that the blood pressure and, pulse rates were closer to normal with suits off. The pilots got their wish, and debate ended.51

Despite Frank Borman's discomfort, spacecraft operations proceeded efficiently. The crew conducted experiments, evaluated spacecraft systems, and worked, slept, ate, exercised, and rested. Good humor and good spirits prevailed, bolstered by family reports, the daily See-Haney newscasts, and the preparations for sending Gemini VII some visitors - the VI-A crew. Borman expressed some concern about the fuel needed to get into position for the meeting, but four orbital adjustment maneuvers worked well.52 In a nearly circular orbit of 300 kilometers, the spacecraft's orbital lifetime was now theoretically over 100 days.53 The friendly target was ready.

44 Loyd S. Swenson, Jr., James M. Grimwood, and Charles C. Alexander, This New Ocean: A History of Project Mercury, NASA SP-4201 (Washington, 1966), pp. 402-407; "Launch Vehicle No. 7 Flight Evaluation," Martin Engineering Report No. 13227-7 and Supplemental Report No. 2 to "Gemini VII Mission Report," January 1966, pp. vii-viii; "Gemini VII Technical Debriefing," 23 Dec. 1965, pp. 1-3.

45 "Gemini VII Voice Communications (Air-to-Ground, Ground-to-Air, and On-Board Transcription)," McDonnell Control No. 115308, Vol. 1, n.d., pp. 1-3; C. E. Agajanian, "Launch Vehicle Flight Evaluation Report, NASA Mission Gemini/Titan, GT-7,"Aerospace TOR-6696(6126-42)-10 and Supplemental Report No. 1 to "Gemini VII Mission Report," February 1966, p. 4-1; "Gemini VII Technical Debriefing," p. 4; TWX, Kenneth S. Kleinknecht to NASA Hq., Attn: Webb, and MSC, Attn: Gilruth, "Launch Summary Report, Gemini Mission VII," GT-11118, 4 Dec. 1965.

46 "Gemini VII Voice," I, pp. 5-19; "Gemini VII Debriefing," pp. 12-19; "Gemini VII Mission Report," pp. 7-2, -3; Borman and Lovell interviews.

47 "Gemini VII Voice," I, pp. 24, 29, 33 36, 42, 44, 48, 58, 59, 62, 66, 68, 73, 74; TWX, Kleinknecht to NASA Hq., Attn: Webb, and MSC, Attn: Gilruth, "Daily Report Number 1 - Gemini Mission VII," GT-11119, n.d. [5 Dec. 1965], pp. 6, 8-10, 12.

48 "Gemini VII Voice," I, pp. 125, 126, 133; "Gemini VII Debriefing," p. 27; TWX, Kleinknecht to NASA Hq., Attn: Webb, and MSC, Attn: Gilruth, "Daily Report No.2," GT11120, 6 Dec. 1965, pp. 6- 7.

49 Borman and Lovell interviews; letter, Gilruth to NASA Hq., Attn: Mueller, "Use of G-5C suits on Gemini VII," 29 Nov.1965; letter, Mueller to Gilruth, 3 Dec. 1965; letter, Mathews to NASA Hq., Attn: Mueller, "Removal of space suits during Gemini VII," GS-64097, 4 Dec. 1965, with enclosures, Gilruth letter, 29 Nov. 1965, and "Suit Procedures," n.d.; memo, Low for record, "Gemini 7 suit configuration," 7 Dec. 1965.

50 Borman interview; "Gemini VII Voice," I, pp. 134, 140, 173, 174, 179, 183, 216-18, 235-36, 296, 299, 303, 319, 323-24, 329-30, Vol. II, 341, 343, 441, 444-47, 453; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, "Contract NAS 9-170, Gemini, Personalized Equipment for Spacecraft 7 Crew Members," GS-10038, 8 July 1965; TWX, Kleinknecht to NASA Hq., Attn: Webb, and MSC, Attn: Gilruth, "Daily Report No. 5," GT-11123, 9 Dec. 1965, p. 9.

51 TWX, Kleinknecht to NASA Hq., Attn: Webb, and MSC, Attn: Gilruth, "Daily Report No. 7," GT-11125, 11 Dec. 1965, pp. 8-9; memo, Day to Mueller, "Gemini VII Suit Configuration," 9 Dec. 1965; TWX, Mueller to MSC, Attn: Schneider, "Suit Operation for Gemini VII," M-468, 10 Dec. 1965; memo, Mueller to Gilruth, "G-5C Operational Test Procedure," 12 Dec. 1965; "Gemini VII Voice," II, p. 580; "Gemini VII Debriefing," p. 30.

52 "Gemini VII Debriefing," p. 175; "Gemini VII Mission Report," pp. 7-50, -51.

53 Kleinknecht, "Daily Report[s] No. 1," pp. 4, 6, 8, 9, "No. 3," GT-11121, 7 Dec., pp. 4-5, 6-7, "No. 5," pp. 4-5, 7, "No. 9," GT-11128, 14 Dec. 1965, p. 5; "Gemini VII Voice," II, pp. 359, 365; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, GV-52652, 28 Dec. 1964.

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