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  Gemini 6: What if the Agena hadn't failed

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Author Topic:   Gemini 6: What if the Agena hadn't failed
jasonelam
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From: Monticello, KY USA
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posted 01-18-2014 10:52 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for jasonelam   Click Here to Email jasonelam     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I was recently reading an article about the Gemini 7/6 mission, and it got me to thinking: if the Agena hadn't exploded during the Oct. 25 attempt, would the launch of Gemini 6 been plagued by an aborted launch attempt like what actually happened on Dec. 12?

If that were the case, what would have happened to the Agena and the mission?

Tom
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posted 01-18-2014 11:22 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Tom   Click Here to Email Tom     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
There's a good chance, if the launch was affected by the same glitch, it would have been delayed 3 days (as it was in December) and fly it's original rendezvous and docking mission with Agena 6.

moorouge
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posted 01-18-2014 02:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
The launch of '6' would have failed. As the glitch that caused the pad shut down was investigated, a second more serious fault was found - a plug lodged in a fuel line.

What would have happened if '6' had failed on launch is pure conjecture, but might '7' have been tasked with the first rendezvous and docking?

Jim Behling
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posted 01-18-2014 03:25 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
The launch of '6' would have failed.
No it wouldn't. It would have followed the same scenario as the real Gemini 6. After the Agena launch, the Titan booster would have done the same shut down and the investigation would have uncovered the same two problems. This would have allowed a successful launch later.

PeterO
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posted 01-18-2014 03:27 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for PeterO   Click Here to Email PeterO     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
The launch of '6' would have failed.
Not necessarily. Gemini 6 was de-stacked and re-erected after the GATV failure, so it's possible the fuel line was not plugged during the initial launch attempt.

moorouge
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posted 01-18-2014 03:41 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jim Behling:
After the Agena launch, the Titan booster would have done the same shut down and the investigation would have uncovered the same two problems.
I was assuming that the plugs worked as specified. If they had, then the plugged fuel line would have affected the launch.

Which raises another question. If the Titan had left the pad with the blocked fuel line, would the crew have had to use the ejector seats and would they have survived to fly again?

On edit - following the failure to launch in October, both spacecraft and launch vehicle were placed under guard in bonded storeage. It was assumed that validity of check-outs made in October remained valid when it came to making both ready for the December launch and the compressed preparation needed. Thus, it is highly likely that the plug in the fuel line was present in October.

Jim Behling
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posted 08-14-2014 09:43 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
Thus, it is highly likely that the plug in the fuel line was present in October.
Quite the opposite, it means it was very likely the blockage was present in October. The cover was on the vehicle the whole time and was never removed.
quote:
If the Titan had left the pad with the blocked fuel line, would the crew have had to use the ejector seats and would they have survived to fly again?
No, it wouldn't have left the pad. The investigation found that the engines were already shutting down due to the blockage and not the plugs falling out.

Blackarrow
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posted 08-14-2014 05:08 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Blackarrow     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
If Gemini 6 had been able to rendezvous and dock with the Agena (essentially the goal of Gemini 8) what would have been the mission of Gemini 8? Simply a repeat of the Gemini 6 success to gain more experience of docking? Would the abort of Gemini 8 have had any different effect on the future careers of Neil Armstrong and David Scott, given that they would not have achieved the first ever space docking?

Skylon
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posted 08-15-2014 08:40 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Gemini's 8 through 12 were all designed as "generic" rendezvous and docking flights. The idea was to gain as much experience, with as many different variations on that theme as possible before Apollo. I'm sure different rendezvous profiles would have been selected.

I doubt Armstrong and Scott's careers would have been negatively impacted by not being "first" at docking. Armstrong would have handled the crisis in the same appropriate way and come through with a clean reputation, whereas Dave Scott was the most highly regarded among his group - Slayton foresaw moving him onto McDivitt's Apollo crew before Gemini 8 even flew.

calcheyup
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posted 08-15-2014 09:06 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for calcheyup     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by Jim Behling:
Quite the opposite, it means it was very likely the blockage was present in October. The cover was on the vehicle the whole time and was never removed.
I'm confused, you say it's "quite the opposite" and then agree with what he posted; that the blockage was in the fuel line during the original launch timeframe.

So, what is the question, exactly — what would have happened had the plug not fallen out? Or, would the fuel line not have been blocked on it's original launch date?

I'm afraid I don't understand the premise of this thread. As I understand it, the problems that afflicted the launch on its postponed date would have also been an issue on its original launch date.

One thing I'd like to add, anyone wanting to know one of the biggest factors why Schirra had no patience for Mission Control on Apollo 7 needs to intimately acquaint themselves with this event, it's severity, and the disastrous repercussions it could have led to had a pilot of Schirra's caliber not been in that seat.

schnappsicle
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posted 08-20-2014 07:45 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for schnappsicle   Click Here to Email schnappsicle     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by calcheyup:
One thing I'd like to add, anyone wanting to know one of the biggest factors why Schirra had no patience for Mission Control on Apollo 7 needs to intimately acquaint themselves with this event, it's severity, and the disastrous repercussions it could have led to had a pilot of Schirra's caliber not been in that seat.
First of all, I don't know if any astronaut would have pulled the D-ring during the Gemini 6 launch abort. From everything I've read, the ejection system was a total failure and a sure path to an early grave.

I think the major reason Schirra acted the way he did on Apollo 7 was because he felt that he was in many ways superior to everyone else, especially Chris Kraft. I fully understand and agree with his concept that the captain runs the ship, but the things Mission Control were asking him to do were rather simple things that didn't interfere with the mission or cause any danger to the crew. The biggest problem I have with Schirra's behavior is that his refusal to do, or allow his crew to do, the few additional tasks that were asked of them increased the load on the subsequent crews and could have changed Apollo 8 to an earth orbital mission just to finish testing out the entire Apollo CSM system. To me, that's just not right. He acted very selfishly.

Yes, I'm sure that the Gemini 6 abort had something to do with the way he acted on Apollo 7, but he had such a great flight when Gemini 6 finally launched. It didn't seem to bother him then. Maybe he was more bothered by the fact that he'd trained for years to perform the first docking only to have his mission become a rendezvous mission. While cool, it's certainly not as cool as the first docking. Perhaps they could have flipped the crews around and moved the Gemini 6 crew down the line until NASA was ready to shoot for the first docking. It's the same thing they did with the Apollo 9 crew. That would have made more sense to me.

I think that of all the theories I've heard regarding his behavior on Apollo 7, the one that makes the most sense to me is he felt all along that he should have commanded the first Apollo mission. He fought for years to get that flight only to lose out to Grissom. I think the arguments he had during that time caused him to have a lot of bitterness towards Kraft, Slayton, and NASA management in general. By the time Apollo 7 finally flew, he could no longer contain his hostilities.

To me, it's one of the saddest endings to a career I've ever seen. Schirra was my hero for what he did on his Mercury and Gemini flights, but I'll never understand why he tried to sabotage the space program on his final flight.

Paul78zephyr
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posted 08-20-2014 08:17 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Paul78zephyr     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
My take on Schirra:

He was human and was addicted to nicotine. Nicotine withdrawal is documented as potentially greatly debilitating, manifesting itself to varying degrees and in varying ways depending on the individual. One of the most common symptoms is irritability.

Apollo 7 was Schirra's longest flight by far at almost 11 days. His previous flights were much shorter - MA-8 ~9 hours, GT-6A ~26 hours, too short for withdrawal symptoms to manifest themselves. Simple 'will power', fighter jock machismo, and military discipline cannot overcome the withdrawal effects of this drug.

Before you poo poo this 'simple' explanation let me say that I am a former heavy smoker (last cigarette in January 1989) and I know first hand the effects of nicotine withdrawal. This is why it is so difficult to quit smoking.

Jim Behling
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posted 08-20-2014 08:39 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Jim Behling   Click Here to Email Jim Behling     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by calcheyup:
I'm confused, you say it's "quite the opposite" and then agree with what he posted; that the blockage was in the fuel line during the original launch timeframe.
I can't remember my original here. Here is the summary:

Regardless whether the plug stayed in, the cover would have caused the engines to shutdown before launch, which really was the case on the first attempt to meet up with Gemini 7. And this cover was likely in place during the October attempt. If the Agena launch was successful in October, it likely would have been for naught, since the Gemini would have not launched (due to the cover) and I think Agena's batteries have limited life.

moorouge
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posted 08-20-2014 05:13 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I think that to lay the blame for Apollo 7's problems on Schirra is misplaced. Like any good captain, he stood up for his crew.

The first brush with Mission Control came on the second day of the flight, hardly enough time for nicotine withdrawal to become a problem. Schirra cancelled the TV show because the crew had fallen behind the flight plan because of the addition of two extra burns of the RCS engines and an unscheduled urine dump.

The flight proceeded normally until day eight when Eisele's medical harness began to burn his skin. Attempts had been made to repair it several times and mindful of the spark that caused the Apollo 1 fire, Eisele refused to wear it anymore. Schirra backed him up.

Cunningham was next to object. He was asked to repeat an experiment forty times and told Mission Control that he had had his fill of 'Mickey Mouse' operations. It was Cunningham who caused another scheduled TV show to be postponed for one orbit saying that it was simply timed to fit in with somebody's terrestial TV schedule rather than the crew's work load.

I'll agree that it was Schirra who led the final disagreement with Mission Control prior to re-entry. His crew were suffering from head colds and had consumed 72 aspirin and used 330 paper tissues. The worry was that if made to wear their helmets they would be unable to clear the pressure build up in their ears. It's worth noting that he had a lot of quiet support in this from some officials in Houston. All the time this was going on, the crew were being overloaded with many more 'crazy tests'. Is it so wrong for a caring captain to tell those far removed from the action and not appreciating the stresses that he was going to put his crew first even if it did mean going against the flight plan?

The suggestion that this flight left tasks to be completed by following missions doesn't stand scrutiny. By the mid-point the crew had completed 24 of the 36 main objectives, 4 were partially complete and 6 had to wait until the re-entry phase of the flight.

Schirra was the consumate astronaut and any suggestion otherwise is misplaced in my opinion.

Fra Mauro
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posted 08-20-2014 05:55 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for Fra Mauro   Click Here to Email Fra Mauro     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
First time I heard of the nicotine theory, and it does make sense. I also think that the Apollo 1 fire changed him.

I don't have a problem with the Apollo 7 crew objecting to requests by Mission Control, it was the attitude behind the complaints.

I never thought that putting Schirra on a long-duration mission was a good idea.

calcheyup
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posted 08-21-2014 12:37 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for calcheyup     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
I'll start at the start here:

quote:
Originally posted by schnappsicle:
First of all, I don't know if any astronaut would have pulled the D-ring during the Gemini 6 launch abort. From everything I've read, the ejection system was a total failure and a sure path to an early grave.
When you're sitting in that seat, and the other possibility staring you in the face is your vehicle blowing you into pieces too small to fill a grocery bag, then I will accept your opinion that it was a no-brainer not to eject. No matter how dangerous the ejection system was, it was no more dangerous than being in a rocket about to blow up. And that's the situation Schirra had to evaluate and come to a decision on.
quote:
I think the major reason Schirra acted the way he did on Apollo 7 was because he felt that he was in many ways superior to everyone else, especially Chris Kraft. I fully understand and agree with his concept that the captain runs the ship, but the things Mission Control were asking him to do were rather simple things that didn't interfere with the mission or cause any danger to the crew.
Schirra was in command of a completely untested new vehicle in space, after the first incarnation of it had killed three of his friends on the launch pad. So if he objected to things being added to the flight plan, I can understand why.
quote:
The biggest problem I have with Schirra's behavior is that his refusal to do, or allow his crew to do, the few additional tasks that were asked of them increased the load on the subsequent crews and could have changed Apollo 8 to an earth orbital mission just to finish testing out the entire Apollo CSM system. To me, that's just not right. He acted very selfishly.
This is just a historically inaccuarate statement. "Changed" 8 to an orbital mission? Multiple test flights were originally planned, but 7 was so successful that it negated the necessity of another test flight. Don't try to re-write history as if 8 was always scheduled to go to the Moon and Schirra endangered that. That's just plain false. In reality, the exact opposite is true: the success 7 allowed 8 to go to the Moon.
quote:
Yes, I'm sure that the Gemini 6 abort had something to do with the way he acted on Apollo 7, but he had such a great flight when Gemini 6 finally launched. It didn't seem to bother him then.
I'm not saying what happened on Gemini should have bothered him on Gemini.

My point is this: Schirra, knowing firsthand how hairy a possible abort could be, didn't want his Apollo vehicle to be launched under adverse wind conditions. This was an agreed upon mission rule that was violated immediately thanks largely to the same "go fever" that killed three of his friends. It's his crew's life up there. How anyone could not understand how this wouldn't immediately put him into a bad mood is beyond me. I think there are even some interviews where Schirra mentioned something along the lines of "they broke a major mission rule on the launch pad, so I wasn't worried about breaking their rules."

quote:
I think that of all the theories I've heard regarding his behavior on Apollo 7, the one that makes the most sense to me is he felt all along that he should have commanded the first Apollo mission.
Pure speculation. More likely, Schirra was upset that he was being asked to go outside the flight plan on a completely untested vehicle, and understood exactly how grave the consequences of anything fouling up were.
quote:
To me, it's one of the saddest endings to a career I've ever seen. Schirra was my hero for what he did on his Mercury and Gemini flights, but I'll never understand why he tried to sabotage the space program on his final flight.
Wait, so completing one of the most successful and significant test flights in aviation history and paving the way for a moon landing nine months later constitutes an attempt to "sabotage the program"? That is one of the most appalling comments I've ever read regarding the mission and a huge slap in the face to Schirra and the 7 crew.

moorouge
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posted 08-21-2014 05:32 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
An addition to my last post.

I'm unaware that mission rules were 'bent' with regard to wind speed on Apollo 7. The launch was late by about three minutes but this was due to some extra chilling of the second stage.

The flight was to be open ended up to eleven days. Most of the objectives were achieved during the first three days of the mission. There is a suggestion that the Flight Directors decided to use the extra time to test the crew on additional pressures and to gain further information. If this was the case, then they picked on the wrong crew for such psychological exercises. Both Schirra and Cunningham were known to have short fuses when faced with officialdom at its blundering worst.

Perhaps another factor was that for the first few days of the flight the crew got very little sleep. They found that sleepiing in the couches led to them developing back and abdominal pains. It took three days before they managed to work out a routine that enabled them get enough sleep.

No wonder matters got a little fraught. Schirra had a new, unproven spacecraft to fly and a rookie crew. He knew also that he had to deliver the goods if a moon landing was to be met by Kennedy's target date. He had every justification for being a 'little short tempered'.

To repeat, it is to Schirra's credit that he successfully proved that Apollo was fit for purpose and that he did this despite the best efforts of those on the ground to make life difficult for him and his crew.

Skylon
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posted 08-21-2014 09:28 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for Skylon     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Schirra's attitude I think was a combination of factors. The cold didn't help certainly, and probably exacerbated his attitude. But I think also, at that early point in NASA's history the relationship between the ground and the spacecraft was not as clearly defined - I think Schirra, the Navy Academy Man, believed when up there he was in charge, he was the Captain of the ship. MOCR was his chief engineer for lack of a better term, helping him stay on track of his job, and keeping him appraised of the condition of his vehicle, but HE had the final say over anything. Besides, from Schirra's viewpoint his butt was on the line, flying that spacecraft. This was totally counter to Kraft's viewpoint that the Flight Director was the one in charge.

I often wonder how the flight would have transpired if another veteran, and frankly, stronger, personality had been aboard with Schirra. Cunningham, as pointed out, had a reputation for having a chip on his shoulder, whereas Eisele probably just picked up on the attitude of his senior commander. It's been observed Schirra's attitude was "typical" for him, but that his crewmates picked up on his attitude was what damaged their careers.

calcheyup
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posted 08-21-2014 12:45 PM     Click Here to See the Profile for calcheyup     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
quote:
Originally posted by moorouge:
I'm unaware that mission rules were 'bent' with regard to wind speed on Apollo 7.
Well, luckily you don't have to take my word for it. I'll let Wally Schirra explain. From an interview posted on this site:
That was not the time to launch that day, and I didn't want to. Those were the wrong conditions, that violated mission rules. They broke the mission rule that we had established, that said we were not to launch under those conditions. We were not to launch if the wind was to blow us back over the beach, which would then force a land landing if we had to abort. That would essentially have been a death penalty. The winds on launch day were such that they would have blown us back over the beach. There was no problem about which day we launched. It was really a case of, someone wanted to go. I fought that, until I became rather difficult, and I finally yielded, with great concern. I conceded when we got to about T minus an hour and counting, when I realized that this could be a hard one to redo. But they were the ones who should have called the shutdown, not I.

"I said, okay, if you're going to be violating rules, guess what I'm going to be doing! We're going to judge these rules from now on. If you are going to break that rule and not give me a chance — then I am going to break some of the rules that you have given me problems with!"

moorouge
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posted 08-22-2014 02:07 AM     Click Here to See the Profile for moorouge   Click Here to Email moorouge     Edit/Delete Message   Reply w/Quote
Slightly off topic but since mission rules have been mentioned, this might be of interest: The Role of Flight Mission Rules.

On edit - I haven't yet unearthed the precise mission rule for launch criteria. However, I can report that the wind was from the east blowing at about 20 knots when Apollo 7 lifted-off. After lift-off the wind gradually backed until at 40,000 feet it was blowing from a westerly direction and was averaging about 25 fps. Perhaps it is this change that caused Mission Control to 'bend the rules' and allow the launch to proceed.

This said, the major concern would have been that the wind might have blown the launch vehicle into the tower before it had been cleared.

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