Category Archives: Space Flight

3 June 1966

Gemini IX-A launch from LC-19, 13:39:30 UTC, 3 June 1966. (NASA)

3 June 1966: NASA Astronauts Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan launched from Launch Complex 19, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, at 13:39:33 UTC, aboard Gemini IX-A. The Gemini was a two-man space capsule built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis. The launch vehicle was a Titan II GLV rocket. Stafford and Cernan were the original Gemini IX back up crew, but the primary crew, Charles Bassett and Elliott See, were killed in an aircraft accident three months earlier.

Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan. (NASA)

The three-day mission was to rendezvous and dock with an Agena Target Docking Adapter in low Earth orbit, and for Gene Cernan to perform several space walks and to test a back pack maneuvering unit.

Gemini IX-A successfully rendezvoused with the ATDA at 17:45 UTC, 3 June. However, the protective shroud had not separated from the Agena and docking with it was not possible.

“The Angry Alligator.” (NASA S66-37966)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

3 June 1965, 15:15:59.562 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini 4 lifts of at Launch Complex 19, 15:15:59 UTC, 3 June 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 4 lifts of at Launch Complex 19, 15:15:59 UTC, 3 June 1965. (NASA)

3 June 1965, 15:15:59.562 UTC: Gemini 4/Titan II GLV ¹ lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida. On board were Major James Alton McDivitt, United States Air Force, command pilot; and Major Edward Higgins White II, U.S.A.F., pilot.

The mission was planned to include an orbital rendezvous with the Titan II booster, and an Extravehicular Activity (“EVA”). For a number of reasons, the rendezvous attempt was not successful.

James Alton McDivitt (left), and Edward Higgins White II, photographed 7 May 1965. (NASA)

Unusually, the flight crew were not allowed to name their spacecraft, and there was no mission patch worn on their pressure suits.

The Gemini IV spacecraft separated from the Titan II GLV launch vehicle 6 minutes, 5.6 seconds after liftoff at an altitude of 532,349 feet (162,260 meters) traveling 25,743 feet (7,846.5 meters) per second. It entered a 152.2 × 87.6 nautical mile (281.9 × 162.2 kilometers) orbit with a period of 1 hour, 28 minutes, 54 seconds.

Gemini 4 returned to Earth on 7 June, “splashing down” in the North Atlantic Ocean at 17:12:11 UTC. The mission duration was 4 days, 1 hour, 56 minutes, 12 seconds. The recovery ship was the United States Navy aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CVS-18).

The Gemini 4 spacecraft is on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum.

Gemini Spacecraft.

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). At launch, Gemini IV weighed 7,879.05 pounds (3,573.88 kilograms).

NASA Mission Report, Figure 3-1, at Page 3–23

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin Marietta 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.² 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.³

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.

¹ When identifying spaceflight missions, NASA was inconsistent in using Roman numerals (Gemini IV) or Arabic (Gemini 4), even switching from one to the other in consecutive paragraphs in official reports.

² The Gemini IV first stage engine produced a flight average of 467,870 pounds of thrust (2,081.19 kilonewtons).

³ The Gemini IV second stage engine produced a flight average of 103,103 pounds of thrust (458.63 kilonewtons).

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

2 June 1957

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger II, U.S. Air Force, seated in the gondola of Project Manhigh I, 2 June 1957. (U.S. Air Force)
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., U.S. Air Force, seated in the gondola of Project MANHIGH I, 2 June 1957. Captain Kittinger is wearing a slightly-modified David Clark Co. MC-3A capstan-type partial-pressure suit (S836) and ILC Dover MA-2 helmet for protection at very high altitudes. (U.S. Air Force)
Project Manhigh I balloon and gondola. (U.S. Air Force)
Project MANHIGH I balloon and gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

2 June 1957: At 6:23 a.m., Central Daylight Time (11:23 UTC), Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force, lifted off from Richard E. Fleming Field (SGS), South Saint Paul, Minnesota, in the gondola of a helium balloon designed and built by Winzen Research Inc.

At 8:04 a.m. (13:04 UTC), Captain Kittinger reached a pressure altitude of 95,000 feet (28,956 meters). This was only 400 feet (122 meters) short of the balloon’s theoretical pressure ceiling. Using U.S. Weather Bureau data, the linear altitude of the balloon was calculated to have been 97,000 feet (29,566 meters).¹

The Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) was not asked to certify this flight, so an official record was not set.

Project MANHIGH I was intended to test various equipment and human physiology in a near-space condition. Cosmic radiation was a particular concern. This was the first of many high-altitude research balloon flights that Kittinger would make.

. . .  A Winzen crew conducted the launching, as provided by the Man-High contract, in collaboration with members of the Aeromedical Field Laboratory and other units at Holloman. The 475th Air Base Squadron, Minneapolis, provided additional helicopter support. The vehicle was a two-million-cubic-foot plastic balloon, 172.6 feet in diameter, which quickly reached the planned ceiling altitude of 95,000 feet, setting a new record for manned balloons. Test specifications called for a twelve-hour flight. However, because of an oxygen leak (due to an improperly connected valve) and also certain communications difficulties, Colonel Stapp and Mr. Winzen decided that Captain Kittinger should come down after not quite two hours at altitude. The balloon pilot was not happy with the decision, replying by radio, “Come and get me.” But he did come down, and landed successfully at 1257 hours none the worse for his experience.

History of Research in Space Biology and Biodynamics, Part II, Chapter 3, NASA History Office, December 1958.

Kittinger landed next to a stream approximately 7 miles (11 kilometers) south-southwest of Alma, Minnesota. The total duration of his flight was 6 hours, 36 minutes. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, the first of six he would receive during his career in the Air Force.

Ground track of Project MAN-HIGH I balloon, 2 June 1957.
Ground track of Project MANHIGH I balloon, 2 June 1957. (U.S. Air Force)

The Project MANHIGH balloon and gondola were designed and built by Winzen Research, Inc., South St. Paul, Minnesota. The gondola was used in all three MANHIGH flights (Kittinger, June 1957; Simons, August 1957; McClure, October 1958).

The balloon was constructed of polyethelene sheet with a thickness of  2 mils (0.002 inch/0.051 millimeter). The seams were bonded using a heat-sealing technique which had been developed by Otto Winzen. When fully inflated with helium, the envelope had a volume of 2,000,000 cubic feet (56,634 cubic meters) and diameter of 172.6 feet (52.6 meters).

Illustration of Project MANHIGH gondola. (U.S. Air Force)

The gondola is 8 feet high and 3 feet in diameter (2.4 × 0.9 meters). It consisted of a cast aluminum section with 6 portholes which served as the primary load-bearing unit of the gondola. The rest of the gondola consisted of an aluminum alloy cylinder and two hemispherical end caps. The capsule was pressurized and filled with a 60-20-20 mixture of oxygen, nitrogen, and helium.

The gondola was suspended from an open 40.4 foot (12.3 meter) diameter parachute, which was, in turn, attached the gas balloon’s suspension rigging. Four explosive devices could sever the attachments and release the gondola and parachute.

The balloon, parachute and associated equipment weighed 1,012 pounds (459 kilograms). The gondola and installed equipment weighed 598 pounds (271 kilograms) and carried another 246 pounds (112 kilograms) of used lead-acid batteries as ballast. Kittinger, with his personal equipment, food and water, added 240 pounds (109 kilograms) to the payload. Finally, there was 70 pounds (32 kilograms) of equipment for experiments, cameras and film. The total weight came to 2,166 pounds (982 kilograms).

The Project MANHIGH gondola is on display at the National Museum of the United States Air Force, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio.

Project MANHIGH gondola at the National Museum of the United States Air Force. (U.S. Air Force)

Joe Kittinger flew three combat tours during the Vietnam War for a total of 483 combat missions. On 1 March 1972, flying a McDonnell Douglas F-4D Phantom II, he shot down an enemy Mikoyan-Gurevich MiG-21. He was himself shot down on 11 May 1972. He and his Weapons System Officer, 1st Lieutenant William J. Reich, were captured and spent 11 months at the Hanoi Hilton.

Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force.
Captain Joseph W. Kittinger, Jr., United States Air Force. Captain Kittinger is wearing the wings of an Air Force Senior Pilot and an Air Force Basic Parachutist Badge. The red, white and blue striped ribbon represents the Distinguished Flying Cross. (U.S. Air Force)

Joe Kittinger holds six Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) world records for distance set with balloons. Three are still current.² In 2012, he was technical advisor for Felix Baumgartner as he set a new world record for the highest parachute jump from the Red Bull Stratos balloon and gondola. Kittinger died 9 December 2022.

Vera Winzen, founder and owner of Winzen Research, Inc. The Project MAN-HIGH gondola is in the background. (Joel Yale)

Winzen Research, Inc. was formed in 1949 by Otto Christian Winzen, an aeronautical engineer, and his wife, Vera M. Habrecht Winzen. Both were immigrants from Germany. Mr. Winzen had previously worked for the gas balloon laboratory of General Mills, Inc. Mrs. Winzen had borrowed money from her parents to start the company and held a 2/3 ownership of the company. She ran the factory and trained its workers. She also had four U.S. patents related to balloon construction.

Otto Christian Winzen was born 24 October 1917, at Cologne, Nordrhein-Westfalen, Germany. He was the son of Christian Winzen and Lilly Lerche Winzen. At the age of 19, Winzen sailed from Bremen, Germany, aboard the Norddeutsche Lloyd passenger liner S.S. Europa, on 29 June 1937. He arrived at New York City, New York, United States of America, on 5 July 1937.

Winzen studied aeronautical engineering at University of Detroit Mercy, a private Roman Catholic university in Detroit, Michigan. It was the first university to offer a complete 5-year degree program in aeronautical engineering. While there, he met the world famous aeronaut, Jean Felix Picard, and his future wife, Vera Habracht.

Reportedly, during World War II, Otto Winzen was interred as an enemy alien.

Otto Winzen later married Marion Grzyll. He committed suicide 23 November 1979 (the first Mrs. Winzen’s 59th birthday).

Major David G. Simons, M.D., U,S, Air Force, at left, with the Project MANHIGH gondola, Otto C. Winzen, and Vera M. Winzen (the future Mrs. Simons), circa 1957. (Photograph by Joel Yale/LIFE Photo Collection)

Wera Maria Habrecht was born 23 November 1920 at Heidenheim, Germany. She was the first of two children of Max Theodore Habrecht, a commercial photographer, and Maya Widenmann Habrecht. The family emigrated to the United States in 1923, with Mr. Habrecht traveling there first. Mrs. Habrecht followed later with her children, Wera and Roland. They first sailed from Hamburg, Germany, 13 November 1923, to the British seaport of Grimsby, Lincolnshire, aboard the passenger/cargo ship S.S. Dewsbury. On 16 Novemberl  the family boarded S.S. Montlaurier at Liverpool, England, and then sailed for New York City. The Habrecht family settled in Detroit, Michigan.

Vera M. Habrecht, 1939. (The Triangle)

With her first name “americanized,” Vera M. Habrecht attended Cass Technical High School in Detroit, Michigan, graduating in 1939. She then studied art at the Walker Art Center and the Minneapolis School of Art, both in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

Miss Habrecht was introduced to Mr. Winzer by Professor Picard. They were married 1 February 1941, in Detroit.³ They divorced in 1958.

Mrs. Winzer was herself an aeronaut. In 1957 she competed in the 30th Annual International Gas Balloon Races in Holland.

During Project MANHIGH, she met Major David G. Simons, M.D., U.S.A.F. Major Simons flew the MANHIGH II mission, 19–20 August 1957. They were married 12 June 1959. It was the second marriage for both. This marriage also ended in divorce, 5 May 1969. Dr. Simons died 5 April 2010.

On 26 May 1975, she married her third husband, Clifford Charles La Plante, at Arlington, Virginia.

While conducting pollution research Mrs. La Plante, under the name Vera M. Simons, set a Comité International d’Aérostation (the FAI Ballooning Commission, or CIA, world record for the Longest Flight for a Female Pilot, at 133 hours, 45 minutes, 1 October 1979.⁴

Vera Maria Habrecht Winzer Simons La Plante died at Austin, Texas, 31 July 2012, at the age of 91 years.

Vera Simons with a gas balloon, Holland, 1975. (NASM)

¹ Air Force Missile Development Center Technical Report MANHIGH I, AFMDC-TR-59-24, Pages 33 and 35

² FAI Record File Numbers 1045, 1046, 1047

³ Some sources state that Mrs. Winzen had been married previously, and that she had a daughter from that marriage. TDiA has not found any information to support this claim.

⁴ CIA Record File Number AA002

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

29 May 1947, 0130 GMT

Hermes II (NASA)

29 May 1947: At 1930 hours, Mountain Daylight Time, a Hermes II two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket was launched from Launch Complex 33 at southern end of the White Sands Proving Grounds, east of Las Cruces, New Mexico.

White Sands Proving Grounds Gate sign

Earlier in the day, a launch attempt failed when the first stage engine failed to produce thrust. Repairs were made and the second attempt succeeded—sort of. . .

The plan was for the rocket to arc toward the north, heading for the far end of the proving grounds. Instead, the Hermes II arced to the SOUTH.

The Range Safety Officer was prevented from sending a DESTRUCT signal when a program scientist physically restrained him. The rocket peaked at 35 nautical miles (65 kilometers), passed over Fort Bliss and El Paso, and after about five minutes of flight, hit the ground about one-half mile from the Buena Vista Airport in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico.

People standing on the rim of the crater on the night of 29 May 1947. (El Paso Times)

At impact, the rocket dug a crater 50 feet (15.2 meters) across and 24 feet (7.3 meters) deep. The explosion shook buildings in El Paso and 25 miles (40 kilometers) away in Fabens, Texas. The rocket barely missed a powder magazine where mining companies were storing dynamite and other explosives.

Fortunately, there were no injuries, and property damage was minor.

Hermes II crater near Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. The crater is approximately  50 feet across and 24 feet deep, (White Eagle Aerospace)

Hermes II was the world’s first multi-stage rocket. Developed from the German V-2 rocket (Vergeltungswaffen 2), it was intended to serve as a test bed for ramjet development. The upper stage had a broad wing for flight tests of a split-wing two-dimensional ducted-airfoil ramjet. (For this launch the ramjet was not operational.) The span of the fins were increased to improve stability.

The Hermes II was 51.50 feet (15.70 meters) tall. The tail fins had a span of 17.75 feet (5.41 meters), and the second stage wing span was 15.26 feet (4.65 meters). The rocket had a gross weight of 31,750 Pounds (14,400 kilograms). The liquid oxygen/alcohol-fueled engine produced 60,000 pounds of thrust (267 kilonewtons).

In 1948, the Hermes II was redesignated RTV-G-3 by the U.S. Army.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes