Tag Archives: Walter M. Schirra Jr.

15 December 1965

Gemini 7, as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 7, as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (Thomas P. Stafford/NASA)

15 December 1965: At 13:37:26 UTC, Gemini 6A, with NASA astronauts Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy and Major Thomas P. Stafford, United States Air Force, on board, lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at the Cape Kennedy Air Force Station, Cape Kennedy, Florida. During its fourth orbit, Gemini 6A rendezvoused with Gemini 7, carrying Major Frank F. Borman II, USAF, and LCDR James A. Lovell, Jr., USN.

This was the first time that two manned space vehicles had rendezvoused in Earth orbit.

The two spacecraft remained together for 5 hours, 19 minutes before separating to a distance of approximately 10 miles (16 kilometers).

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)

Gemini 7 had been in orbit since 4 December. Gemini 6, then 6A, had been postponed several times before finally launching on 15 December. It would return to Earth the following day, landing in the North Atlantic Ocean. Gemini 7 remained in orbit until 18 December.

The two-man Gemini spacecraft was built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation of St. Louis, Missouri, the same company that built the earlier Mercury space capsule. The spacecraft consisted of a series of cone-shaped segments forming a reentry module and an adapter section. It had an overall length of 18 feet, 9.84 inches (5.736 meters) and a maximum diameter of 10 feet, 0.00 inches (3.048 meters) at the base of the equipment section. The reentry module was 11 feet (3.353 meters) long with a maximum diameter of 7 feet, 6.00 inches (2.347 meters). The Gemini re-entry heat shield was a spherical section with a radius of 12 feet, 0.00 inches (3.658 meters). The weight of the Gemini spacecraft varied from ship to ship. Gemini VII had a gross weight of 8,076.10 pounds (3,663.26 kilograms) at launch. It was shipped from St. Louis to Cape Kennedy in early October 1965.

The Titan II GLV was a “man-rated” variant of the Martin Marietta Corporation 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 GLV-7 first and second stages were shipped from Middle River to Cape Kennedy on 9 October 1965.

The Titan II GLV was a two-stage, liquid-fueled rocket. The first stage was 70 feet, 2.31 inches (21.395 meters) long with a diameter of 10 feet (3.048 meters). It was powered by an Aerojet Engineering Corporation LR87-7 engine which combined two combustion chambers and exhaust nozzles with a single turbopump unit. The engine was fueled by Aerozine 50, a hypergolic 51/47/2 blend of hydrazine, unsymetrical-dimethyl hydrazine, and water. Ignition occurred spontaneously as the components were combined in the combustion chambers. The LR87-7 produced approximately 430,000 pounds of thrust (1,912.74 kilonewtons). It was not throttled and could not be shut down and restarted. Post flight analysis indicated that the first stage engine of GLV-7 had produced an average of 462,433 pounds of thrust (2,057.0 kilonewtons). The second stage was 25 feet, 6.375 inches (7.031 meters) long, with the same diameter, and used an Aerojet LR91 engine which produced approximately 100,000 pounds of thrust (444.82 kilonewtons), also burning Aerozine 50. GLV-7’s LR91 produced an average of 102,584 pounds of thrust (456.3 kilonewtons).

The Gemini/Titan II GLV-7 combination had a total height of 107 feet, 7.33 inches (32.795 meters) and weighed 346,228 pounds (157,046 kilograms) at ignition.

Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)
Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6A, 15 December 1965. (NASA)

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

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3 October 1962, 12:15:12 UTC, T minus Zero

Mercury-Atlas 8 lifts off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, 3 October 1962. (NASA)
Mercury-Atlas 8 lifts off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida, 12:15:12 UTC, 3 October 1962. (NASA)

3 October 1962: At 08:15:12 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time, Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy, lifted off from Cape Canaveral, Florida, aboard Mercury-Atlas 8 (MA-8). This was the fifth U.S. manned space flight and the third orbital flight.

The spacecraft, which Wally Schirra had named Sigma 7, entered a low earth orbit with the altitude varying from 84 nautical miles (156 kilometers) to 154 nautical miles (285 kilometers). Each orbit took 88 minutes, 54.6 seconds.

Schirra experimented with the manual flight control systems, took photographs and performed spatial-orientation exercises. There were some difficulties with the cooling of his pressure suit.

Wally Schirra took this photograph of Earth while in orbit over South America, 3 October 1962. (Walter M. Schirra, Jr./NASA)
Wally Schirra took this photograph of Earth while in orbit over South America, 3 October 1962. (Walter M. Schirra, Jr./NASA)

Sigma 7 completed 6 orbits and at T+8:52, fired the retro rockets to de-orbit. Reentry was successful and Sigma 7 landed within 0.5 miles (0.8 kilometers) of the primary recovery ship, the aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CVS-33).

The Mercury spacecraft, named Sigma 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. It was the 16th Mercury capsule built. Designed to carry one pilot, it could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. It was 9 feet, 7.72 inches (2.939 meters) long, and, bell-shaped, had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.5 inches (1.885 meters). The spacecraft weighed 2,700 pounds (1,224.7 kilograms) at launch.

Wally Schirra, wearing a B.F. Goodrich full-pressure suit, is helped into the Sigma 7 Mercury capsule. (NASA)

The rocket, a “1-½ stage”, liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 113-D, was built by Convair at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle. The LV-3B was 94.3 feet (28.7 meters) tall with a maximum diameter of 10.0 feet (3.05 meters). When ready for launch it weighed 260,000 pounds (120,000 kilograms) and could place a 1,360 kilogram payload into Low Earth orbit. The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Canoga Park, California. The XLR89 booster had two 150,000 pound thrust chambers, and the LR105 sustainer engine produced 57,000 pounds of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Schirra was the first astronaut to wear an Omega Speedmaster chronograph during spaceflight. (Omega Reference No. CK2998). The Speedmaster would become flight-qualified by NASA, and the Speedmaster Professional is known as the “moon watch.”

Sigma 7 is on display at the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame, Titusville, Florida, near the Kennedy Space Center.

Wally Schirra commanded Gemini 6A during the orbital rendezvous mission with Gemini 7. Later, he commanded Apollo 7, an 11-day orbital mission.

Captain Walter M. Schirra, Jr., USN, died 3 May 2007 at the age of 84 years.

Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy. (NASA)
Commander Walter M. Schirra, Jr., United States Navy. (NASA)

© 2015, Bryan R. Swopes

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