Gemini 11: Asleep in space


Fifty years ago…

We’re flying over Houston, standing in the open hatch, floating above our seat two days after launch.   These short three-day Gemini flights are loaded to the hatches with tasks, packed with practice for Apollo.  We made history less than 90 minutes into the mission, the first one-orbit rendezvous, docking a few minutes later with our Agena target, we being ourselves and the mission command pilot, the iridescent, irrepressible Pete Conrad.  Before we bed down for the night, we each take turns practicing docking, in both daylight and darkness.

We’re flying over Houston, daylight below, nothing to do on the dayside half of the pass, photographing stars in the UV on the nightside, that’s why were poking out of the hatch with a wide view of the universe above and the earth below.  This is the second time we’ve opened the hatch.  On our second work day, we made a spacewalk intended to last two hours but the old nemesis of spacewalking, fatigue, roared back.  With inadequate handholds, we were quickly exhausted, sweat blinding our eyes, alarming even cool-headed Pete Conrad, who commanded us back inside after just a half hour.

We’ve flown over Houston and are heading out over sea.  Already this day, we’ve fired up the Agena’s big engine to push us to a record altitude, nearly 750 nautical miles.  “The earth is round,” Pete called before we came back downstairs, opening the hatch three hours later.  With nothing to do until sunset, the fatigue floods back.  We doze off, floating gently as if in an ocean current, as does Pete Conrad strapped in his seat below and to the left.

It’s a first never repeated in the next fifty years, perhaps never, sleeping while hanging half out the hatch, open to all the universe, sleeping not on but a hundred miles above the sea.

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