Tag Archives: Astronaut

23 March 1965

Gemini III lifts off at Launch Complex 19, Kennedy Space Center, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 14:24:00 UTC, 23 March 1965. (NASA)
Gemini III lifts off at Launch Complex 19, Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 14:24:00 UTC, 23 March 1965. (NASA)

23 March 1965: At 14:24:00 UTC, Gemini III was launched aboard a Titan II GLV  rocket from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. Major Virgil I. (“Gus”) Grissom, United States Air Force, a Project Mercury veteran, was the Spacecraft Commander, and Lieutenant Commander John W. Young, United States Navy, was the pilot.

The purpose of the mission was to test spacecraft orbital maneuvering capabilities that would be necessary in later flights of the Gemini and Apollo programs. Gemini III made three orbits of the Earth, and splashed down after 4 hours, 52 minutes, 31 seconds. Miscalculations of the Gemini capsule’s aerodynamics caused the spacecraft to miss the intended splash down point by 50 miles (80 kilometers). Gemini III splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, north east of the Turks and Caicos Islands. The recovery ship was USS Intrepid (CV-11).

Gus Grissom would later command the flight crew of Apollo 1. He was killed with his crew during the tragic fire  during a pre-launch test, 27 January 1967.

John Young served as Spacecraft Commander for Gemini 10, Command Module Pilot on Apollo 10, back-up commander for Apollo 13, commander Apollo 16, and back-up commander for Apollo 17. Later, he was commander of the maiden flight of the space shuttle Columbia STS-1 and again for STS-9 and was in line to command STS-61J.

The flight crew of Gemini III, John W. Young and Virgil I. Grissom. (NASA)
The flight crew of Gemini III, Lieutenant Commander John W. Young, U.S. Navy, and Major Virgil I. Grissom, U.S. Air Force. (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 Gemini III spacecraft is displayed at the Grissom Memorial Museum, Spring Mill State Park, Mitchell, Indiana.

© 2016, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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19–20 February 1979

Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the Iniversity of Cincinatti College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Informaton Office)
Professor Neil A. Armstrong in his classroom at the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, 1974. (Peggy Palange, UC Public Information Office)

19–20 February 1979: Professor Neil A. Armstrong of the University of Cincinnati College of Engineering, member of the Board of Directors of Gates Learjet Corporation, former United States Navy fighter pilot, NACA/NASA research test pilot, Gemini and Apollo astronaut, and The First Man To Set Foot On The Moon, set five Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and National Aeronautics Association class records for time to climb to an altitude and altitude while flying the prototype Learjet 28, serial number 28-001.

Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28, March 1979.
Professor Neil Armstrong and co-pilot Peter Reynolds in the cockpit of the record-setting Learjet 28.

Armstrong, with Learjet program test pilot Peter Reynolds as co-pilot, and with NAA observer Don Berliner aboard, flew the Learjet 28 to 15,000 meters (49,212.598 feet) in 12 minutes, 27 seconds at Kittyhawk, North Carolina on 19 February. On the same day, during a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Elizabeth City, North Caroline, Armstrong flew the Learjet to 15,584.6 meters (51,130.577 feet), setting records for altitude and for sustained altitude in horizontal flight.

The following day, 20 February 1979, flying from Elizabeth City, North Carolina to Florence, Kentucky, Armstrong again set altitude and sustained altitude in horizontal flight, in a different class, by taking the Learjet to 15,585 meters (51,131.89 feet).

Learjet 28, serial number 28-001
Learjet 28, serial number 28-001

The Learjet 28 was a development of the Learjet 25 twin-engine business jet. It was operated by two pilots and could carry 6–8 passengers.  The Model 28 used a new wing design. It was the first civil aircraft to be certified with winglets. The prototype first flew 24 August 1977, and it received certification from the Federal Aviation Administration 29 July 1979.

The Learjet 28 is 47 feet, 7 inches (14.503 meters) long with a wingspan of 43 feet, 10 inches (13.360 meters) and overall height of 12 feet, 3 inches (3.734 meters). It has an empty weight of 8,267 pounds (3,749.9 kilograms) and gross weight of 15,000 pounds (6,803.9 kilograms).

The Learjet 28 is powered by two General Electric CJ610-8A turbojet engines, each  producing 2,850 pounds of thrust at Sea Level, and 2,960 pounds of thrust for takeoff (five minute limit).

The business jet has a cruise speed of 470 miles per hour (756.4 kilometers per hour) at 51,000 feet (15,544.8 meters). Its maximum speed is 549 miles per hour (883.5 kilometers per hour). Maximum range is 1,309 miles (2,106.6 kilometers). The service ceiling is 51,000 feet (15,544.8 meters), the same as the record altitude.

The aircraft was limited by its older technology turbojet engines, and only five Learjet 28s were built.

The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, has been re-registered several times. At the time of its FAI record-setting flights, it carried FAA registration N9RS. Later it was registered as N3AS. The most recent information shows it currently registered as N128LR.

A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.
A bronze statue of Neil Alden Armstrong in front of the Hall of Engineering.

Neil Alden Armstrong, one of America’s most loved heroes, passed away 25 August 2012.

Learjet 28 (Business Aviation Online)
Learjet 28 N128LR. (Business Aviation Online)

FAI Record File Num #2652 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1e (Landplanes: take off weight 3 000 to 6 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Time to climb to a height of 15 000 m
Performance: 12 min 27s
Date: 1979-02-19
Course/Location: Kitty Hawk, NC (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #8657 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1f (Landplanes: take off weight 6 000 to 9 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 15 584.6 m
Date: 1979-02-19
Course/Location: Wichita, KS (USA) – Elisabeth City, NC (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #8670 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1f (Landplanes: take off weight 6 000 to 9 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 15 584.6 m
Date: 1979-02-19
Course/Location: Wichita, KS (USA) – Elisabeth City, NC (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #2653 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1e (Landplanes: take off weight 3 000 to 6 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 15 585 m
Date: 1979-02-20
Course/Location: Elizabeth City, NC (USA) – Florence, KY (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

FAI Record File Num #2654 [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – superseded since approved
Region: World
Class: C (Powered Aeroplanes)
Sub-Class: C-1e (Landplanes: take off weight 3 000 to 6 000 kg)
Category: Not applicable
Group: 3 : turbo-jet
Type of record: Altitude in horizontal flight
Performance: 15 585 m
Date: 1979-02-20
Course/Location: Elizabeth City, NC (USA) – Florence, KY (USA)
Claimant Neil A. Armstrong (USA)
Aeroplane: Learjet 28 (N9RS)
Engines: 2 G E CJ-610

The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, registered as N128LR, in 2009. (Lone Mountain Aircraft Sales)
The first Learjet 28, serial number 28-001, registered as N128LR. (Lone Mountain Aircraft Sales)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC, T + 4 seconds

Launch of Friendship 7 from Launch Complex 14, Kennedy Space Center, 14:47:39 UTC, 20 February 1962. (NASA)

20 February 1962, 14:47:39 UTC: At 9:47:39 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, NASA’s Mercury-Atlas 6 lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. This was the third launch of a manned Mercury spacecraft, and the first time that an Atlas rocket had been used.

Aboard the spacecraft was Lieutenant Colonel John Herschel Glenn, Jr., United States Marine Corps, an experienced fighter pilot and test pilot.

John Herschel Glenn, Jr., NASA Project Mercury Astronaut. (Ralph Morse/LIFE Magazine)

2 minutes, 10 seconds after liftoff, the booster engines cut of and were jettisoned. 23 seconds later, the escape tower, no longer needed, was also jettisoned. The Atlas sustainer engine continued to burn until T+00:05:20. The spacecraft had now reached 17,544 miles per hour (28,234 kilometers per hour) and was in an elliptical orbit around the Earth. At T+00:05:24 the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Atlas booster.

Glenn’s orbit had an apogee of 162.2 statute miles (261 kilometers) and perigee of 100 miles (161 kilometers). The orbit was inclined 32.54° relative to Earth’s orbital plane. Friendship 7 completed an orbit every 88 minutes, 29 seconds.

Analysis showed that the Atlas had placed Friendship 7 in orbit at a velocity with 7 feet per second (2.1 meters per second) less than nominal. However, computer analysis showed that the orbital trajectory was good enough for nearly 100 orbits.

This photograph of Friendship 7’s cockpit was taken in orbit around the Earth, 20 February 1962. Astronaut John Glenn’s hands and legs are visible at the lower edge of the image. (Ohio State University)

During the 4 hour, 55 minute, 23 second flight, the Mercury capsule orbited the Earth three times. John Glenn was the first American astronaut to orbit the Earth.  (Cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin had orbited the Earth 12 April 1961.)

After re-entry, the capsule parachuted into the Atlantic Ocean, only six miles from the recovery ship, USS Noa (DD-841).

The Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 13th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by steam thrusters fueled by hydrogen peroxide. The Mercury was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, conical, and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2½ inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 109-D, was built by the  Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (118,000 kilograms) and could place a 3,000 pound (1,360 kilogram) payload into low Earth orbit.

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Friendship 7 is displayed at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

John Glenn's Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)
John Glenn’s Mercury spacecraft, Friendship 7, on display at the Smithsonian Institution National Air and Space Museum. (Photo by Eric Long, National Air and Space Museum, Smithsonian Institution.)

© 2017, Bryan R. Swopes

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