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11 November 1966, 20:46:33.419 UTC, T minus Zero

Gemini XII lifts off from LC-19 at 2:21:04 p.m., EST, 11 November 1966. (NASA)
Gemini XII lifts off from LC-19 at 3:46:33 p.m., EST, 11 November 1966. (NASA)

11 November 1966: Gemini 12 lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 3:36.33.419 p.m., Eastern Standard Time. Two NASA Astronauts, Captain James A Lovell, Jr., United States Navy, and Major Edwin E. (“Buzz”) Aldrin, Jr., United States Air Force, were the crew. This was the second space flight for Lovell, who had previously flown on Gemini VII, and would later serve as Command Module Pilot on Apollo 8 and Mission Commander on Apollo 13. It was Aldrin’s first space flight. He would later be the Lunar Module Pilot of Apollo 11, and was the second human to set foot of the surface of the Moon.

The Gemini 12 mission was to rendezvous and docking with an Agena Target Vehicle, which had been launched from Launch Complex 14, 1 hour, 38 minutes, 34.731 seconds earlier by an Atlas Standard Launch Vehicle (SLV-3), and placed in a nearly circular orbit with a perigee of 163 nautical miles (187.6 statute miles/301.9 kilometers) and apogee of 156 nautical miles (179.5 statute miles/288.9 kilometers).

Artist’s concept of Gemini spacecraft, 3 January 1962. (NASA-S-65-893)

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 Spacecraft 12 weighed 8,296.47 pounds (3,763.22 kilograms) at liftoff.

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin SM-68B intercontinental ballistic missile. It was assembled at Martin Marietta’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 (1,912.74 kilonewtons).¹ 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 (444.82 kilonewtons).²

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.³

Astronaut Buzz Aldrin standing in the open hatch of Gemini XII in Earth orbit. (NASA)

Gemini XII was the tenth and last flight of the Gemini program. The purpose of this mission was to test rendezvous and docking with an orbiting Agena Target Docking Vehicle and to test extravehicular activity (“EVA,” or “space walk”) procedures. Both of these were crucial parts of the upcoming Apollo program and previous problems would have to be resolved before the manned space flight projects could move to the next phase.

Buzz Aldrin had made a special study of EVA factors, and his three “space walks,” totaling 5 hours, 30 minutes, were highly successful. The rendezvous and docking was flown manually because of a computer problem, but was successful. In addition to these primary objectives, a number of scientific experiments were performed by the two astronauts.

Gemini XII is tethered to the Agena TDV, in Earth orbit over the southwest United States and northern Mexico. (NASA)
Gemini XII is tethered to the Agena TDV, in Earth orbit over the southwest United States and northern Mexico. (NASA)

Gemini XII reentered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, just 3.8 nautical miles (4.4 statute miles/7.0 kilometers) from the planned target point. Lovell and Aldrin were hoisted aboard a Sikorsky SH-3A Sea King helicopter and transported to the primary recovery ship, USS Wasp (CVS-18). The total duration of the flight was 3 days, 22 hours, 34 minutes, 31 seconds.

Gemini XII astronauts Major Edwin E. Aldrin, Jr., USAF, and Captain James A. Lovell, Jr., USN, arrive aboard USS Wasp (CVS-18), 15 November 1966. (NASA)

¹ Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s first stage as 458,905 pounds of thrust (2,041.31 kilonewtons)

² Post-flight analysis gave the total average thrust of GLV-12’s second stage as 99,296 pounds of thrust (441.69 kilonewtons)

³ Gemini XII/Titan II GLV (GLV-12) weighed 345,710 pounds (156,811 kilograms) at Stage I ignition.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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7 February 1984

Bruce McCandless outside Challenger in an MMU. (NASA)
Bruce McCandless outside Challenger in a MMU. (NASA)

7 February 1984: During mission STS-41-B, NASA astronauts Captain Bruce McCandless II, United States Navy, and Colonel Robert L. Stewart, United States Air Force, left the Space Shuttle Challenger (OV-099) on the first untethered space walk.

McCandless tested each of the Manned Maneuverung Units (MMU) while Stewart tested a work station. For 5 hours, 55 minutes, they used the nitrogen-fueled Manned Maneuvering Units (MMU) to move about the outside of the space ship. At the farthest, McCandless was 320 feet (98 meters) away from Challenger.

Manned Maneuvering Unit #3 in the collection of the National Air and Space Museum.

The Manned Maneuvering Unit was designed and built by Martin Marietta Corporation (now, Lockheed Martin). It is constructed primarily of aluminum. The MMU is powered by two batteries with 852 watts at full charge, and propelled by 24 gaseous nitrogen thrusters, providing 1.4 pounds of thrust (6.2 newtons), each. The astronaut controls the MMU with two hand controllers. It has six-axis motion and automatic attitude hold. Including a full supply of nitrogen, the MMU weighs approximately 338 pounds (153.3 kilograms). It is designed for a maximum of 6 hours of operation. The unit is 50.0 inches (127.0 centimeters) high, 33.3 inches (84.6 centimeters) wide and with control arms extended, has a maximum depth of 48.0 inches (121.9 centimeters).

Captain Bruce McCandless II, United States Navy, NASA Astronaut. (NASA)

Bruce McCandless II was born 8 June 1937 at Boston, Massachusetts. He was the son of Rear Admiral Bruce McCandless, United States Navy, who was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions aboard USS San Francisco (CA-38) at the Naval Battle of Guadalcanal, 12–13 November 1942, and grandson of Commodore Byron McCandless. His mother was Sue Worthington Bradley McCandless.

Midshipman Bruce McCandless II, USNA (The 1958 Lucky Bag)

McCandless graduated from Woodrow Wilson High School, Long Beach, California, in 1954.  As the son of a Medal of Honor awardee, he was qualified for an automatic appointment as a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy, Annapolis, Maryland. He entered the Academy as a member of the Class of 1958. He stood first in his class in his Plebe year. He studied electronics, and photography, and was a member of the Academy’s sailing team. Aboard Royano, he competed in the annual Newport to Bermuda race.

Midshipman McCandless graduated second in his class at the United States Naval Academy, 4 June 1958 and was commissioned as an Ensign, United States Navy. He trained as a Naval Aviator at Pensacola, Florida. McCandless was promoted to the rank of lieutenant (junior grade) 4 December 1959

Lieutenant (j.g.) McCandless married Miss Bernice Doyle, 6 August 1960, at the U.S. Naval Academy Chapel. They would have two children, Bruce McCandless III and Tracy McCandless. She died in 2014. They had been married for 53 years.

Douglas F4D-1 Skyray, Bu. No. 134959, of VF-102 “Diamondbacks” aboard USS Forrestal (CV-59), circa July 1961. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant (j.g.) McCandless flew the Douglas F4D-1 Skyray (F-6A after 1962) and the McDonnell F-4B Phantom II with Fighter Squadron 102 (VF-102, “Diamondbacks”), serving aboard the supercarrier USS Forrestal (CV-59), and then the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise (CVN-65). On 1 June 1962 McCandless was promoted to lieutenant.

McDonnell F-4B-7-MC Phantom II, Bu. No. 148389, of VF-102, “Diamondbacks,” aboard USS Enterprise (CVN-65), circa 1962–1964. (U.S. Navy)

Lieutenant Bruce McCandless II was accepted into the NASA’s Astronaut Group 5 astronaut, 4 April 1966, and assigned to the Apollo Program. He was promoted to lieutenant commander, 1 November 1966 He served a Mission Control communicator to Apollo 11 during the first Moon Walk, 21 July 1969.

Bruce McCandless II, second from left, in the Mission Operations Control Room, Mission Control Center, Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas, during the Skylab 4 mission, 23 November 1973. McCandless is showing Flight Director Neil B. Hutchison “a mockup of the occulting disc for the T025 Coronagraph Contamination Measurement Engineering and Technology Experiment to be used by the crewmen of the third manned Skylab mission (Skylab 4)” (NASA)

McCandless was promoted to commander, 1 November 1972. On 1 October 1979, he advanced to the rank of Captain, United States Navy.

Captain McCandless did not fly until the space shuttle became operational. He served as a Mission Specialist aboard Challenger (STS-41-B) in 1984, and Discovery (STS-31) in 1990.

Launch of Discovery Mission STS-31, 12:53 UTC, 24 April 1990. (NASA)

Captain McCandless logged more than 5,200 hours of flight, and 312 hours, 31 minutes, 1 second in space and completed 208 orbits of the Earth.

Captain Bruce McCandless II, United States Navy (Retired), NASA Astronaut, died 21 December 2017 at the age of 80 years. He is buried at the United States Naval Academy Cemetery, Annapolis, Maryland.

Bruce McCandless at a distance of approximately 320 feet (98 meters) from the space shuttle Challenger, 7 February 1984. (NASA)
Captain Bruce McCandless II, U.S. Navy, at a distance of approximately 320 feet (98 meters) from the space shuttle Challenger, 7 February 1984. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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