Largely forgotten, the Gemini IV mission on June 3rd, 1965 marked the first American spacewalk. This mission marked the first time an American would float nearly free in space, observing the blue planet from the outside. Gemini IV was also the first EVA mission (Extra Vehicular Activity). The mission lasted for four days and was one of the longest spaceflights of its time. This sample essay from an Ultius professional writer explores Gemini IV – one of the proudest moments in US history.
Gemini IV mission objective
Gemini’s mission was to prepare for the objective of landing a man on the moon. Each Gemini mission before IV was in preparation for this, as would be most missions before the fateful moon mission. Gemini IV’s objective was to evaluate the evolving effects of spaceflight the longer they were out.
“Demonstrate and evaluate the performance of spacecraft and systems in 4-day flight. Evaluate procedures for crew rest and work cycles, eating schedules, and real time flight planning” (NASA).
Being the first EVA mission, the secondary objectives were to evaluate and demonstrate the EVA control and use of the HHMU and tether to prepare for space walking. Considering the best time scale for the mission:
Originally it was hoped that this would be a week-long mission but there were those who were concerned with flying a mission this long so soon. NASA’s longest manned spaceflight, the Mercury program’s Faith 7 mission, was only 34 hours long and there was little detailed biomedical data available on the Soviet Union’s Vostok missions which lasted as long as five days. There was also the practical matter that the development of the fuel cells needed to power the Gemini spacecraft on longer missions was behind schedule.
In the end, Gemini program officials settled on a four-day mission length for Gemini 4 – the maximum mission length practical on battery-power alone. While modest by today’s standards, the flight of Gemini 4 would quadruple NASA’s cumulative number of man-hours in space and be the first step towards meeting the objectives for the Apollo lunar missions. (LePage)
Making in-and-out plane maneuvers, and testing OAMS retro backup capacity was balanced by 11 experiments to reinforce the effectiveness of this process (NASA).
Inside the Gemini IV spacecraft
The Gemini IV spacecraft was prepared to take two men into space. It was shaped like a cone, whose base was 3.3 meters, and the height was 5.8 meters (LePage). Gemini IV was:
Built by the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation (which merged with Douglas in 1967 to become McDonnell Douglas which then merged with Boeing 30 years later), it consisted of two major sections. The first section was the reentry module which housed the crew, their equipment, food supplies and so on in orbit as well as the recovery systems needed to safely return them to Earth. Unlike today’s crewed spacecraft, the Gemini crew cabin was pressurized with pure oxygen at about one-third standard atmospheric pressure to save weight.
The next section, the adapter section, connected the reentry module to the launch vehicle during ascent. It consisted of a retrograde section which held a set of four solid retrorockets used to start the descent to Earth from orbit and an equipment section which housed the in-orbit propulsion systems, life support, power systems and all other equipment not needed for the return to Earth. (LePage)
Pushing the limits of technology at the time, the Gemini IV required the largest rocket available at the time to reach orbit with its launch mass of 3,700 kilograms. This rocket was a modified Titan II ICBM which was constructed by Martin Marietta. This corporation merged with Lockheed in 1995 to form the giant Lockheed Martin (LePage).
With that rocket, and “With the Gemini payload attached, the Titan II GLV (Gemini Launch Vehicle) was 33 meters tall and had a fully fueled launch mass of about 154 metric tons” (LePage).
The testing done to accomplish the Gemini IV mission objectives was done by the Gemini 1, 2, and 3 missions, as the technology to accomplish the goals was being developed as the limits of the existing technology was tested (LePage).
The Gemini IV crew
Both Edward H. White and James A. McDivitt had known each other since their days attending the University of Michigan and the Air Force Test Pilot School together. At the university White achieved his masters in aeronautical engineering and would fly Gemini IV. McDivitt made due with a bachelor’s degree, graduating first in his class (LePage). During the preparation for the mission at first a spacewalk was not on the docket, but,
Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov successfully performed the first “spacewalk”, as the press called it, as part of the day-long Voskhod 2 mission. Spurred on by the Soviet achievement and the apparent lack of any issues encountered by Leonov, there was renewed pressure to include not just a standup EVA on the Gemini 4 mission, but a full-fledged “spacewalk” where Ed White would completely exit the spacecraft. As preparations and debate for an EVA continued, NASA officials gave themselves to as late as the day before the launch to make a final decision on the matter. (LePage)
The pressure and competition of the Cold War and need to enter space before enemy nations enabled this leap into space for White and made history for America.
McDivitt and White arrived on time to the launch pad 19 at just after seven am, and made their way into the Gemini IV spaceship with T-100 minutes to launch. However:
Thirty-five minutes before the scheduled launch, while the erector was being lowered, it stuck at a 12-degree angle from the booster. Raised to its full height, then lowered again, the erector still stuck. After more than an hour, technicians found a connector incorrectly installed in a junction box, replaced it properly, and gave the signal to lower the erector. This time it worked. (Encyclopedia Astronautica)
This slight hitch delayed the launch one hour and 16 minutes, a relatively slight hold up for all that could have gone wrong.
The launch of the Gemini IV spacecraft was spectacular and booming at 10:16 am on Thursday, June 3, 1965. The innovation of the flight and the intrigue of the cold war created the entertaining environment that drew millions of people throughout the world looked and listened while Gemini IV lunged spaceward. Television coverage of the launch for the first time had an international audience, as the scene was broadcast to 12 European nations via Early Bird satellite. Heightened by the prospect of EVA and the first use of the new Mission Control Center in Houston, interest in Gemini IV reached levels never again matched in the program. (Encyclopedia Astronautica)
NASA had over 1,100 request for viewing and coverage from the media and the public, which the 800 seats at the launch area could not accommodate. Not one to back down from a challenge, NASA leased a nearby building across the street from the launch pad. This accommodation cost an astronomical sum, and besides the $96,165-year rent, MSC spent $166,000 for modifications, $8,000 for television monitors, and $6,600 for 610 chairs. B
ut “Building 6,” housing the NASA Gemini News Center, served its purpose well as the base for 1068 newspaper, magazine, radio, and television representatives, as well as 60 public relations people from industry. (Encyclopedia Astronautica) Although the building served its purpose local press would condemn NASA’s use of funds for such a perceived publicity stunt.
The Forgotten flight of Gemini IV
One of the main goals of Gemini IV was to put a man on a spacewalk, and test the equipment which he would use to do so. This was all part of the preparation for President John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a man on the moon, which needed a great deal of preparation. Such as:
“Demonstrate that humans and their equipment can survive up to two weeks in space– Demonstrate rendezvous and docking techniques in orbit– Demonstrate the technology and techniques needed to perform EVAs” (LePage).
The spacewalk was an integral aspect of this preparation.
Astronaut, Ed White had a wonderful time being the first American to spacewalk, and his experience was completely recorded for posterity. His experience was:
He stood on top of his spaceship’s white titanium hull. He touched it with his bulky thermal gloves. He burned around like Buck Rogers propelling himself with his hand-held jet. He floated lazily on his back. He joked and laughed. He gazed down at the earth 103 miles below, spotted the Houston-Galveston Bay area where he lives and tried to take a picture of it. Like a gas station attendant, he checked the spacecraft’s thrusters, wiped its windshield.
Ordered to get back into the capsule, he protested like a scolded kid. “I’m doing great,” he said. “It’s fun. I’m not coming in.” When, after 20 minutes of space gymnastics, U.S. Astronaut Edward Higgins White II, 34, finally did agree to squeeze himself back into his Gemini 4 ship, he still had not had enough of space walking. Said he to Command Pilot James Alton McDivitt: “It’s the saddest day of my life.” (Rothman)
Unlike the first man to walk in space, Russian Alexei Leonov, White’s spacewalk came back equipped with glossy full-color photos (Howell). This was a sensational experience both for the crew and the American public who were entranced by the images of White floating in space, gleeful, and childlike in his suit.
The Gemini IV space mission was both groundbreaking, entertaining, and the stuff of history. However, of all the people pulled into the mission it is clear that spacewalker Ed White takes the cup of joy from this experience. His record of spacewalking is out of this world.
Encyclopedia Astronautica. “Gemini IV.” Astronautix, n.d. Retrieved from: http://www.astronautix.com/flights/gemini4.htm.
Howell, Elizabeth. “Space Exploration Changed 50 Years Ago Today: The 1st US Spacewalk.” Space.com, 3 June 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.space.com/29555-first-nasa-spacewalk-ed-white.html#sthash.yzlRHRlS.dpuf.
LePage, Andrew. “The Forgotten Mission of Gemini 4.” Drew ex Machina, 3 June 2015. Retrieved from: http://www.drewexmachina.com/2015/06/03/the-forgotten-mission-of-gemini-4/.
NASA. “Gemini IV.” NASA.gov, 31 July 2015. Retrieved from: https://www.nasa.gov/multimedia/imagegallery/image_feature_1098.html.
NASA. “Gemini IV.” NASA.gov, n.d. Retrieved from: http://nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraftDisplay.do?id=1965-043A.
NASA. “Gemini IV.” NASA.gov, n.d. Retrieved from: http://www-pao.ksc.nasa.gov/history/gemini/gemini-4/gemini4.htm.
Rothman, Lily. “What the First American to Walk in Space Had to Say About the Experience.” TIME, 3 Jun. 2015. Retrieved from: http://time.com/3898131/edward-white-walk-space/.