The Gemini 6 patch is hexagonal in shape, reflecting the mission
number; and the spacecraft
trajectory also traces out the number "6". The Gemini
6 spacecraft is shown superimposed on
the "twin stars" Castor and Pollux, for
"Gemini". I designed the patch to locate in the sixth hour
of celestial right
ascension. This was the predicted celestial area where the rendezvous should
occur (in the constellation Orion). It finally did occur there.
As originally designed, this patch carried the designation "GTA-6" (for
and showed Gemini 6 rendezvousing with an Agena. After the
failed launch of the Agena
target vehicle, and the decision to rendezvous with
Gemini 7 instead, the patch was redesigned
with the legend "GEMINI 6" in place
of the original "GTA-6" legend, and with a second Gemini
in place of the Agena.
"For the third time, GO!"
Crew: Walter M. Schirra Jr.,
Commander Thomas P. Stafford, Pilot
First rendezvous with another manned spacecraft
First mission with four astronauts in space
Final US spacecraft powered by only batteries
Payload: Gemini-VI capsule
Mission Objective: Originally
intended to demonstrated Gemini-Agena docking, this was not achieved due to
the loss of the Agena target vehicle. Primary objective was changed to rendezvous with
Secondary objectives included: Perform closed-loop rendezvous in
fourth orbit. Stationkeep with Gemini VII. Evaluate reentry guidance capability. Conduct
visibility tests for rendezvous, using Gemini VII as target. Perform 3 experiments. Spacecraft
Launch: Dec 15, 1965
8:37:26.471 am EST. Due to a Gemini Agena target vehicle (GATV) propulsion failure on 25 Oct, 1965
the mission was rescheduled. The Agena target vehicle Gemini Agena target vehicle GATV-5002 and
TLV 5301 with which the Gemini-VI-A was to rendezvous and dock, failed to go into orbit. A launch
attempt on Dec 12, 1965 failed because of a minor launch vehicle hardware problem.
Landing: December 16,
1965. Landing was at 23deg 35min North and 67deg 50min West. Miss distance was 12.9km (7nm).
Recovered by the USS Wasp (crew onboard in 66min).
Mission Highlights: All primary
objectives were achieved. Secondary objective on experiment D-8 Radiation in Spacecraft because
station keeping with Gemini VII interfered with the experiment.
Favorite Flight Milestones:
The first rendezvous ever.
The first "Beat Army" banner in space.
The first UFO reported from space with
bells and the harmonica rendition of "Jingle Bells"
Nice to be hoisted aboard.
After Project Mercury, Schirra worked with
the other astronauts and with NASA officials, scientists and
engineers in the development of Project Gemini, the intermediate
stage between the Mercury program and the Apollo Moon project.
He served as the backup command pilot for Gemini GT-3
(Gemini-Titan), the first American two-man space mission flown
by Grissom and John W. Young, an astronaut chosen with the
second astronaut class dubbed the "New Nine." On June 22, 1965,
Schirra was nominated by President Lyndon B. Johnson for
promotion from commander to captain.
Schirra's second spaceflight began on December 15, 1965, when he
was launched as the command pilot aboard Gemini GT-6A. The
mission was intended to perform the first rendezvous and docking
between different spacecraft, a vital prerequisite for missions
to the moon, but the unmanned Agena target for Gemini 6 failed
to reach orbit on October 25, 1965. Gemini 6 was removed from
the pad and replaced by Gemini 7, which was launched on December
4, 1965, on a planned 14-day flight. Gemini 6 was redesignated
Eight days later, Schirra and pilot Thomas P.
Stafford were in their spacecraft atop the Titan II booster when
it ignited, then shut down after only two seconds. Rather than
eject himself and Stafford, Schirra chose to remain in the
spacecraft while technicians confirmed that the booster was not
going to explode. On December 15, 1965, Schirra and Stafford
finally launched and less than six hours later they were
completing a non-docking orbital rendezvous with astronauts
Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, Jr., both from the "New Nine,"
aboard Gemini 7, 170 miles above the Mariana Islands. Gemini
GT-6A splashed down on December 16, 1965 in the Atlantic Ocean, just
eight miles from the USS Wasp after 16 orbits over 25
hours 51 minutes and 24 seconds.
Click on photo to enlarge
As we got within a half mile of Gemini 7, I
maneuvered with tender care. The light touch was critical. If I
overthrusted, our orbit might changed dramatically, and I'd have
botched it. Then, as we moved to within one hundred feet, it was
necessary to stop our velocity in relation to the velocity of
Gemini 7, or we would have whizzed right on by. I had practiced
the final phase of rendezvous over and over in a simulator, for
I wasn't sure how difficult it would be to stop right next to
It was tricky, but my
practice paid off. Computer readings based on radar told us our
closing velocity, and Tom was doing computations. "Go right, "
he'd say. "Go left. Speed up. Slow down". Stafford, whose eyes
were accustomed to the light that illuminated his plotting
board, looked outside just as the rendezvous was secure and
shouted, "Holy cow, Schirra! You blew it!" He was looking at
John Glenn's famous fireflies, frozen droplets of water
reflecting daylight. He mistook them for a field of stars, and
their random movement caused them to sense that the spacecraft
was out of control. "Those are fireflies, Tom," I said, and we
There was one debriefing that was great fun.
Jocelyn Gill, a NASA astronomer, was in charge of an experiment
that involved taking photographs of the heavens. Dr. Gill was
particularly interested in something the scientists call the dim
light phenomenon. For this experiment, she had supplied me with
very fast film, ASA 4,000, which was loaded into my Hasselblad
camera. So I decided that here was a chance to settle the
question of the fireflies once and for all.
I knew the fireflies were frozen molecules of
vapor vented from the spacecraft, and they were with us
constantly in the form of a fuzzy cloud. We could distinguish
them from each other, since they reflected the different colors
of the spectrum from the sun's rays. They appeared to John Glenn
as fireflies. To others taking a quick look, as Tom Stafford did
at the moment of rendezvous, they resembled a star field. As I
said before, their source was water released in the heat
exchange process that cooled our space suits. Another source was
urine. "We peed all over the world," I'm fond of saying, despite
the groans that come from the audience.
After the rendezvous, when we had some spare
time, Tom and I snapped color photographs of the molecular
cloud, one every forty five minutes. We logged each shot with a
label - urine drops at sunrise, urine drops at sunset, etc. when
the photos were processed at the cape, they were beautiful, and
I ordered a set of prints. I had them on the table during an
astronomy debriefing, mixed with other celestial photos. Dr.
Gill noticed one and asked, "Wally, what constellation is this?'
"Jocelyn,", I replied, "that's
the constellation Urion."