Tag Archives: Astronaut

3 April 1926 – 27 January 1967

Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom with scale model of Gemini/Titan II launch vehicle. (NASA)

3 April 1926: Virgil Ivan Grissom was born at Mitchell, Indiana, the second of five children. Upon graduation from high school during World War II, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. After the war, he went to Purdue University and earned a Bachelor of Science Degree in engineering, then joined the U.S. Air Force and was trained as a fighter pilot. He flew 100 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre during the Korean War. He attended a one year program at the Air Force Institute of Technology and earned a second Bachelor’s degree in aircraft engineering. Next he went to the test pilot school at Edwards AFB. After completion, he was assigned as a fighter test pilot at Wright-Patterson AFB.

One of 508 pilots who were considered by NASA for Project Mercury, Gus Grissom was in the group of 110 that were asked to attend secret meetings for further evaluation. From that group, 32 went on with the selection process and finally 18 were recommended for the program.  Grissom was one of the seven selected.

Major Grissom was the second American to “ride the rocket” aboard Mercury-Redstone 4. He named his space capsule Liberty Bell 7.  Next he orbited Earth as commander of Gemini III along with fellow astronaut John Young. He was back-up commander for Gemini VI-A, then went on to the Apollo Program.

As commander of AS-204 (Apollo I), LCOL Virgil I. Grissom, USAF was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chafee during a test on the launchpad, 27 January 1967.

Gus Grissom was an Air Force Command Pilot with over 4,600 hours flight time. He was the first American astronaut to fly into space twice.

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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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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