Chapter 15

The Final Curtain

[353] By the summer of 1966, other space programs - Apollo, Apollo Applications, and the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) - were already culling Project Gemini for useful equipment and people. Engineers still working on Gemini were distracted by calls to help qualify a heatshield for the MOL, to work on airlocks for the Applications program, and to share their launch vehicle experience with Apollo. In addition, NASA Headquarters was pressing the Manned Spacecraft Center to reduce the intervals between launches again - this time from two months to six weeks. As the program neared its end, spare parts emerged as a new worry. Would there be enough hardware to finish out the missions? As Scott Simpkinson, who managed Gemini Test Operations, recalled, "It was a bit touchy, but we made it." In this hectic climate, NASA flew the last two Gemini missions.1

Gemini's final deadline was now flatly fixed at the end of January 1967, with Gemini XI tentatively set for 11 September and Gemini XII for 31 October 1966.2

Some significant goals had been set for the last two flights. For example, the Apollo Spacecraft Program Office successfully pushed for a rendezvous in the first spacecraft revolution, which would simulate lunar orbit rendezvous. There was also interest in linking an Agena to a spacecraft by a tether and then spinning the combination to produce something like artificial gravity. One short-lived proposal, a rendezvous between Gemini XII and an Apollo spacecraft, was squelched after review by both program offices. Another idea, a flyby or rendezvous of [354] a Gemini spacecraft with an Orbiting Astronomical Laboratory, also came to nothing. And, finally, on the last mission the Air Force still hoped to fly the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (AMU), a task that Eugene Cernan had been forced to abandon on Gemini IX-A.3

On 21 March 1966, Charles Conrad and Richard Gordon were named as command pilot and pilot for Gemini XI. Neil Armstrong and William A. Anders were picked as alternates. James Lovell and Edwin Aldrin were announced as the Gemini XII crew on 17 June with Gordon Cooper and Cernan as backups. Of the eight men, only Anders had not previously been assigned to Gemini. Crews for the ten manned flights had been drawn from three astronaut classes, with several of the pilots receiving multiple assignments.4 *

* See Appendix C

1 Gemini Program Office Reading Files, 1966, passim. (esp. letter, Charles W. Mathews to Walter F. Burke, "Contract NAS 9-4412, Procedures for acceptance reviews of heat. shield qualification spacecraft," GP-62118, 4 April 1966; letter, Mathews to Col. Russel M. Herrington, Jr., "Heat shield qualification spacecraft acceptance procedure," GP-62120, 6 April 1966; letter, Mathews to Burke, "Contract NAS 9-4412, Heat Shield Qualification Spacecraft Acceptance Review, Phase 11, Board," GP-62260, 5 July 1966; memo, Scott H. Simpkinson to Dep. Mgr., GPO, "Saturn S-IVB Airlock Experiment proposal," GT-65558, 26 Jan. 1966; memo, Simpkinson to Dep. Mgr., GPO, "Airlock contract requirement negotiations," GT-65778, 7 Sept. 1966); letter, Gen. Samuel C. Phillips to Marshall, Attn: Saturn V Program Mgr., "Application of Gemini Experience to Apollo," 7 April 1966; TWX, Phillips to Marshall et al., "Meeting on Application of Gemini Launch Vehicle Experience to Apollo," MAT-2-460, 22 July 1966; letter, Phillips to MSC, Attn: Mgr., GPO, "Gemini/Apollo Launch Vehicle Meeting," 15 Sept. 1966; John B. Lee, recorder, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, February 4, 1966," p. 4; André J. Meyer, Jr., notes on GPO staff meetings, 1 Feb., p. 1, 18 May 1966, p. 2; Simpkinson, interview, Houston, 18 Jan. 1967; Col. John G. Albert, interview, Patrick AFB, Fla., 26 May 1967.

2 LeRoy E. Day, interview, Washington, 25 Jan. 1967; Lee, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, April 22, 1966," p. 3; Meyer, notes on GPO staff meeting, 26 April 1966, p. 1; TWX, Mathews to McDonnell, Attn: Burke, "Contract NAS 9-170, Gemini, Delivery Schedules for Spacecraft 11 and 12," GP-7530, 25 April 1966.

3 Memo, Mathews to dist., "Establishment of a Committee for Apollo/Gemini Mission Planning Coordination," GV-02466, 18 Jan. 1965; memo, Mathews to dist., "Mission Planning Gemini XI and XII (Onboard Direct Rendezvous)," GV-66300, 27 Dec.1965, with enclosure, "Ground Rules for McDonnell Aircraft Company [sic] Onboard Direct Rendezvous Study," Ref. ECP 659, n.d.; memo, Mathews to dist., "Mission Planning Gemini VIII through XII (Tethered Vehicle Studies)," GV-66296, 16 Dec. 1965; Meyer, notes on GPO staff meeting, 25 Jan. 1966, p. 1; "Abstract of Meetings on Trajectories and Orbits, June 29 and July 8, 1966," 14 July 1966; Lee, "Minutes of Senior Staff Meeting, April 15, p. 966,"p. 3; memo, Mathews to dist., "Gemini XII," GV-66284, 2 Dec. 1965; Meyer, notes on GPO staff meeting, 11 Jan. 1966, p. 1; memo, John A. Edwards to Assoc. Adm., Manned Space Flight, "OAO-A 1 Gemini XII," 2 Sept. 1966; letter, Maj. Gen. Ben I. Funk to Robert R. Gilruth, 12 July 1966.

4 MSC News Release No. 66-20, "Gemini and Apollo Crews Selected," 21 March 1966; MSC News Release No. 66-46, 17 June 1966.

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