Daily Archives: March 16, 2017

16 March 1966, 17:41:02 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini VIII lifts off from Launch Complex 19, Kennedy Space Center, 17:41:02 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)
Gemini VIII lifts off from Launch Complex 19, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, 17:41:02 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)

16 March 1966: At 17:41:02 UTC (12:41:02 p.m. Eastern Standard Time) Gemini VIII, with astronauts Neil A. Armstrong and David R. Scott, lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida, aboard a Titan II GLV booster. Their mission was to rendezvous and dock with an Agena Target Vehicle launched earlier aboard an Atlas rocket.

David R. Scott and Neil A. Armstrong, flight crew of Gemini VIII. (NASA)
David R. Scott and Neil A. Armstrong, flight crew of Gemini VIII. (NASA)

The docking, the first ever of two vehicles in Earth orbit, was successful, however after about 30 minutes the combined vehicles begin rolling uncontrollably. The Gemini capsule separated from the Agena, and for a few minutes all seemed normal. But the rolling started again, reaching as high as 60 r.p.m.

The astronauts were in grave danger. Armstrong succeeded in stopping the roll but the Gemini’s attitude control fuel was dangerously low. The cause was determined to be a stuck thruster, probably resulting from an electrical short circuit.

The mission was aborted and the capsule returned to Earth after 10 hours, 41 minutes, landing in the Pacific Ocean. U.S. Air  Force pararescue jumper (“PJs”) parachuted from a C-54 and attached a flotation collar to the Gemini capsule. The astronauts were recovered by the Gearing-class destroyer USS Leonard F. Mason (DD-852).

The Gemini VIII spacecraft is displayed at the Neil Armstrong Air and Space Museum, Wapakoneta, Ohio.

Gemini VIII with flotation collar. (NASA)

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 19 feet (5.791 meters) and a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters) at the base of the adapter section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a diameter of 7.5 feet (2.347 meters). The weight of the Gemini varied from ship to ship but was approximately 7,000 pounds (3,175 kilograms)

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin’s Middle River, Maryland plant so as not to interfere with the production of the ICBM at Denver, Colorado. Twelve GLVs were ordered by the Air Force for the Gemini Program.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 63 feet (19.202 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). The second stage was 27 feet (8.230 meters) long, with the same diameter. The 1st stage was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR-87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by a hypergolic combination of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the two components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR-87-7 produced 430,000 pounds of thrust. It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. The 2nd stage used an Aerojet LR-91 engine which produced 100,000 pounds of thrust.

The Gemini/Titan II GLV combination had a total height of 109 feet (33.223 meters) and weighed approximately 340,000 pounds (154,220 kilograms) when fueled.

The Atlas-Agena Target vehicle takes off at Launch Complex 14, 17:00:00 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)
The Atlas-Agena Target Vehicle takes off at Launch Complex 14, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, 15:00:03 UTC, 16 March 1966. (NASA)

The docking, the first ever of two vehicles in Earth orbit, is successful, however after about 30 minutes the combined vehicles begin rolling uncontrollably. The Gemini capsule separates and for a few minutes all seems normal. But the rolling starts again, reaching as high as 60 r.p.m. The astronauts are in grave danger. Armstrong succeeds in stopping the roll but the Gemini’s attitude control fuel is dangerously low. The cause is determined to be a stuck thruster. The mission is aborted and the capsule returns to Earth after 10 hours, 41 minutes, landing in the Pacific Ocean.

Agena Target Vehicle as seen from Gemini VIII. (NASA)
Agena Target Vehicle as seen from Gemini VIII. (NASA)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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16 March 1926

Robert Hutchins Goddard, Ph.D. (1882–1945) (NASM)

16 March 1926: At 2:30 in the afternoon, Robert Hutchings Goddard, Ph.D., a professor in physics at Clark University, launched the first successful liquid-fueled rocket from his Aunt Effie’s farm (the Asa Ward Farm) at Auburn, Massachussetts.

In his diary, Dr. Goddard wrote:

“March 16. Went to Auburn with S [Henry Sachs] in am. E [Esther Christine Kisk Goddard] and Mr. Roope [Percy M. Roope, Ph.D.] came out at 1 p.m. Tried rocket at 2:30. It rose 41 feet & went 184 feet in 2.5 secs., after the lower half of the nozzle burned off. . . .”

Robert H. Goddard, Ph.D., with Nell, the first liquid-fueled rocket, mounted on the launch stand at Auburn, Massachusetts, 16 March 1926. (Percy M. Roope, Ph.D.)

The following day, he described the rocket flight in greater detail:

“”The first flight with a rocket using liquid propellants was made yesterday at Aunt Effie’s farm in Auburn. The day was clear and comparatively quiet. The anemometer on the Physics lab was turning leisurely when Mr. Sachs and I left in the morning, and was turning as leisurely when we returned at 5:30 pm. Even though the release was pulled, the rocket did not rise at first, but the flame came out, and there was a steady roar. After a number of seconds it rose, slowly until it cleared the frame, and then at express train speed, curving over to the left, and striking the ice and snow, still going at a rapid rate. It looked almost magical as it rose, without any appreciably greater noise or flame, as if it said ‘I’ve been here long enough; I think I’ll be going somewhere else, if you don’t mind.’ Esther said that it looked like a fairy or an aesthetic dancer, as it started off. The sky was clear, for the most part, with large shadowy white clouds, but late in the afternoon there was a large pink cloud in the west, over which the sun shone. One of the surprising (the rest of this sentence is from the next image) things was the absence of smoke, the lack of very loud roar, and the smallness of the flame.”

Dr. Goddard’s diary entry for 17 March 1926. (Clark University Archives and Special Collections)

The rocket, called Nell,¹ was fueled by gasoline and liquid oxygen. It was 11 feet, 3 inches (3.429 meters) tall and weighed approximately 10.4 pounds (4.7 kilograms) when fueled. The engine produced an estimated 9 pounds (40 newtons) of thrust.

Dr. Robert H. Goddard with "Nell," a liquid-fueled rocket, in hi sworkshop at Clark University. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
Dr. Robert H. Goddard with “Nell,” a liquid-fueled rocket, in his workshop at Clark University, Worcester, Massachussetts. (National Museum of the United States Air Force)
Apollo 10 (AS-505) lifts off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 16:49:00 UTC, 18 May 1969. (NASA)
43 years later, a liquid-fueled multi-stage Saturn V rocket, Apollo 10 (AS-505) lifts off from Launch Complex 39B at the Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 16:49:00 UTC, 18 May 1969. (NASA)

¹ Nell was a reference to the title character, “Salvation Nell,” from a 1908 play by Edward Brewster Sheldon. The character was portrayed by a leading actress of the time, Minnie Maddern Fiske, née Maria Augusta Davey, and popularly known simply as “Mrs. Fiske.”

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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