Flying the Gusmobile
It didn't look remotely like a fighter plane. So why did astronauts who flew the Gemini spacecraft compare it to one?
- By D.C. Agle
- Air & Space magazine, September 1998
(Page 5 of 6)
"We had a window-mounted 16-mm camera and I decided that during this reentry I was going to take the camera and hold it up against the window to get a really good view of the reentry plume," he says. "And I did that and we got some very good shots. But you can also see where the Gs built up it was hard to hold. You can tell that the camera does change its position. I let go and it slammed into my chest. But we got some pretty good pictures on that one."
By 40,000 feet the Gemini crew deployed a drogue chute, which further slowed and stabilized the spacecraft. At 10,000 feet the Gemini's 58-foot-wide main chute unfurled and the spacecraft pitched forward so its occupants could return to Earth upright.
"The Gemini splashdown was easy," Dick Gordon says. "You are sitting up, and I remember going submerged and seeing the change in the color of the ocean. And then you pop back up like a cork."
Moments later, as the nose-mounted reentry control thrusters hissed and smoked, each Gemini crew discovered two very important things about the Gusmobile. One was that the heatshield, which had so recently prevented them from being incinerated, was now acting like a frying pan, making the cabin uncomfortably hot and sticky. Wally Schirra describes the other: "Gemini was my favorite spacecraft," he says, "but it made a lousy boat."
While Gemini was making crews seasick, NASA was building the next generation of spacecraft, one that would fly beyond Earth's orbit. That too was a stunning accomplishment, but the Apollo craft that would take us to the moon was more of a transport--not the hot and nimble fighter that was the Gusmobile.