50 years ago today: Into the drink


Gemini 9


We’re button in our Gemini capsule, aiming 11:41 EDT launch.  Two countdowns are underway at once.  Over on Pad 14, an Atlas is poised to launch 99 minutes before us, lofting the Agena upper stage that will serve as our target for rendezvous and docking.  The weather is go.  Our Gemini is go.  The Atlas/Agenda appears go, right on schedule.  Sealed in our tiny world, we listen as isolated as if we are on the moon.  Ignition, and the Atlas lifts off.  Following its programmed flight perfectly.  BECO, booster engine cutoff, and two Atlas engines fall away, leaving the center sustainer engine firing.  Then, two minutes into the flight, a hundred seconds from booster shutdown, something happens.  Later we learn that a pinched wire caused a short circuit in the steering that threw the rocket hard over.  Instead of orbit, our Agena heads for the Atlantic.

Mission scrubbed.  Expletive deleted!  Secure the cabin….

But we’ve already got a plan.  Following the loss of the Gemini 6 Agena during launch last October, NASA instituted a quick-and-dirty backup, developing an alternate target vehicle bolted together from spare parts, the Augmented Target Docking Adapter.  The claim it can be launched in just two weeks.  We’ll know on June 1.

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