The primary objectives of Gemini 3 were
to 1) demonstrate manned orbital flight; 2) evaluate the
two-man design, 3) demonstrate and evaluate the tracking
network, 4) demonstrate the Orbital Attitude and Manoeuvring
System (OAMS) capability in orbital manoeuvres and in
retrofire backup, 5) demonstrate controlled re-entry and
landing, 6) evaluate major spacecraft subsystems, 7)
demonstrate systems checkout, pre-launch, and launch
procedures, 8) demonstrate and evaluate recovery procedures
and systems. This was primarily a testing shakedown for the
new, manoeuvrable Gemini capsule.
The secondary objectives were to 1)
evaluate flight crew equipment, biomedical instrumentation,
and personal hygiene system, 2) perform 3 experiments, 3)
evaluate low-level longitudinal oscillations (Pogo) of the
Gemini Launch Vehicle and 4) general photographic coverage
This was the first time the United States
sent two astronauts into space at the same time but it was
not only Gus Grissom's mission but also his vehicle from the
very beginning. Because of his Mercury experience, Grissom
was assigned to the Gemini spacecraft and became very close
to the McDonnell engineers and technicians who were building
it. So close that the first three cockpits were designed
around him, giving him the best view of the instrument panel
and out the window. It was later dubbed the " GUSMOBILE"
because, as his pilot John Young would later say, "He was
the only one that could fit inside without banging his head
on the hatch."
Grissom was one of the smaller astronauts
and as it turned out, 14 of the 16 astronauts could not fit
into the cabin as designed, and all later cockpits had to be
modified. For Tom Stafford (Gemini VI and IX) both his seat
and the hatch had to be modified to accommodate his six-foot
frame. While this was truly Grissom's vehicle, it was what
Young smuggled onboard that would later cause some new and
more stringent rules about what the astronauts might take
with them on future missions.
In a joking reference to the sinking of
Liberty Bell 7 on the second suborbital Mercury mission,
Gemini 3 became the only one of the Gemini missions to get a
"nickname." Subsequent Gemini missions only received
numbers, and were numbered with Roman numerals. Officially
the flight was Gemini 3, unofficially it was the voyage of
During Project Mercury, each pilot had
named his own spacecraft, although Cooper had some trouble
selling NASA on Faith 7 for the last spacecraft in the
program. Grissom and Young now had the same difficulty with
"Molly Brown." Grissom had lost his first ship, Liberty Bell
7, which sank after a faulty circuit blew the hatch before
help arrived. "Molly Brown," the "unsinkable" heroine of a
Broadway stage hit, seemed to Grissom the logical choice for
his second space command. NASA's upper echelons thought the
name lacking in dignity; but since Grissom's second choice
was "Titanic," they grudgingly consented, and the name
remained "Molly Brown," though only quasi-officially.
With a "You're on your way, Molly Brown,"
from CapCom (capsule communicator) L. Gordon Cooper, Jr.,
the third flight of Gemini, the first to which men entrusted
themselves, began at 9:24 Tuesday morning, March 23 1965.
The lift-off was so smoothly that neither Grissom nor Young
felt anything. Their real cues were seeing the mission clock
on the instrument panel start running and hearing Cooper
announce it from mission control.
When the first-stage engine cut off two
and a half minutes later, acceleration plunged from six g's
to one. The second-stage engine ignited, bathing the
spacecraft in a flash of orange-yellow light that was a
normal product of fire-in-the-hole staging - that is,
second-stage ignition before, instead of after, separation.
The launch vehicle had slightly exceeded its predicted
thrust, but a warning from Cooper prepared the pilots for
the larger than expected pitch down when the second stage
took over the steering. Young, who had never been in space
before, was entranced by his view of Earth's horizon and the
sense of rapid motion as second-stage thrust built up.
Five and a half minutes after launch, the
second-stage engine shut down. The pop of the pyrotechnics
that severed spacecraft from launch vehicle sounded like the
bark of howitzers to Young. Grissom fired the aft thrusters
to kick the spacecraft into orbit. He lost track of the time
and fired too long, ending up with his incremental velocity
indicator showing a slight over speed. But he wound up with
an orbit of 122 by 175 kilometres, very close to the
intended 122 by 182 kilometres.
About 20 minutes into the first orbit,
just after "Molly Brown" passed beyond range of the
mid-Atlantic Canary Island tracking station, the oxygen
pressure gauge in the environmental control system reported
an abrupt drop. Young, assigned to watch this gauge,
naturally assumed that something was wrong with the system.
But a quick glance showed odd readings on several other
meters and suggested that the real trouble might be in the
instrument power supply. Young switched from the primary to
the secondary electrical converter to power the dials, and
the problem vanished. The whole episode, from Young's first
notice of the anomalous reading to his shift from primary to
secondary power, took 45 seconds, one clear payoff from
intense pre-flight training.
Gemini 3 crew did chalk up at least one
historic first by manoeuvring in orbit. The first OAMS burn
came an hour and a half after launch and lasted a carefully
timed 75 seconds, cutting spacecraft speed by 15 meters per
second and dropping it into a nearly circular orbit. Three
quarters of an hour later, during the second revolution,
Grissom fired the system again, this time to test the ship's
translational capability and shift the plane of its orbit by
one-fiftieth of a degree. During the third pass, Grissom
completed the fail-safe plan with a two and a half minute
burn that dropped the spacecraft's perigee to 72 kilometres
and ensured re-entry even if the retrorockets failed to
Another somewhat historical first was the
corned beef sandwich that made it into space. Wally Schirra,
always the jokester, bought it at "Wolfie's" in Cocoa Beach
and gave it to Young, who smuggled it on board the
spacecraft. Schirra would later say that he had to cater the
sandwich for Grissom and Young since they could not get
takeout while in space. When it was time for the crew to eat
the space food they carried, Young brought out the sandwich
and handed it to Grissom. Gus jokingly said that Young would
probably get in trouble because there was no mustard on it.
Grissom, who ate only a few bites since he wanted no crumbs
floating around the cabin, was right.
Something of a storm later blew up when
the press got wind of the sandwich in space. When the news
got to Congress, the lawmakers were upset. What was not made
clear, apparent to either the legislators or the press was
that the official food was only there for evaluation of its
taste, convenience, and reconstitution properties and had
nothing to do with any scientific or medical objectives of
the mission. No one expected to learn very much about the
effects of space food on so short a flight. The fracas did,
however, produce some new and more stringent rules about
what the astronauts might take with them on future missions.
As the three-orbit mission neared its
close, Grissom and Young ran through the retrofire
checklist. With everything ready, the pilot fired the
pyrotechnics that separated the adapter from the re-entry
module, giving the two spacemen their biggest jolt so far.
He then armed the automatic retrofire switch. One after the
other, the four rockets exploded into life and burned
themselves out. Another set of pyrotechnics cut loose the
expended package as "Molly Brown" arced back toward the
planet she had left four and a half hours before.
At first, re-entry seemed to match the
simulator training Grissom and Young had been through, right
down to the colour and pattern of the plasma sheath that
surrounded the spacecraft. However, "Molly Brown" seemed to
be off course. Initial readings from the computer put the
calculated splashdown point more than 69 kilometres from
their intended landing site. The Gemini spacecraft was
designed to have enough lift to be piloted to a relatively
precise landing but its aerodynamic behaviour had less real
lift than theoretically predicted in wind tunnel tests. So
despite Grissom's best efforts to reduce the gap, splashdown
of Gemini 3 was short by about 84 kilometres.
An even bigger surprise occurred just
before splashdown while the spacecraft was assuming its
landing attitude. After the main parachute deployed, Gemini
3 hung vertically by its nose but prior to landing a cabin
switch had to be toggled to shift the spacecraft to a
two-point suspension with its nose some 35 degrees above
horizontal. When Grissom hit the switch, Gemini 3 literally
dropped into place, pitching both men into the windshield.
The shift to the landing position was so abrupt that
faceplate to Gus Grissom's helmet was broken and Young's was
scratched. The jolt when they hit the water a few minutes
later was mild by comparison.
Looking out his window, all Grissom saw
was water even though the Gemini spacecraft was designed to
float. He soon realized that the main parachute was being
pulled by the wind, dragging the nose of the spacecraft
down. With a deliberate and steady hand, Grissom released
the chute. The unsinkable "Molly Brown" righted herself,
bobbing to the surface fully watertight.
The original mission plan required the
crew to remain on board until the spacecraft was picked up.
However, the recovery ship, the aircraft carrier Intrepid,
was about 110 kilometres away so Grissom requested a
helicopter pick them up and take them to the carrier. With
memories of the ill-fated Liberty Bell 7, Grissom refused to
open the hatch until Navy divers had attached a flotation
collar to "Molly Brown." He was not going to lose another
spacecraft so he and Young endured an additional 30 minutes
while the divers worked. Not only was it becoming hotter
inside the sealed spacecraft but it was being buffeted and
tossed about by the long Atlantic swells. "That was no
boat," recalled Young. Although Young managed to keep his
breakfast down, Grissom was not as fortunate becoming a
casualty of the heat and pitching waves. Once the hatch was
open, they wasted little time getting out and into the
"horse collar" that hoisted them into the awaiting
All primary objectives were achieved
except the controlled re-entry objective was only partially
achieved. The angle of attack during re-entry was lower than
expected. Secondary objectives were only partially achieved.
The personal hygiene system was only partially tested,
Operating mechanism failed on S-2 - Synergistic Effect of
Zero Gravity on Sea Urchin Eggs Experiment and the
photographic coverage objective was only partially
successful because of an improper lens setting on the 16mm
As primarily a testing shakedown for the
new, manoeuvrable Gemini capsule, Gemini 3 was a complete
success. During the flight, the astronauts used the
thrusters to change the shape of their orbit and drop to a
lower altitude. There could be no doubt that Gemini was
ready for its role in the manned space flight program. The
time of testing was over.