Space History – Cheating in Space

The trouble with writing a “This Day in Space History” column is… this time of year. There are two major Apollo Moon landing missions at the end of July (and one of them is Apollo 11, “the Big one”). That means that we “space history” folks typically only get to read about those two Apollo missions during the last two weeks of July. But the beginning of August has a bit of a “history hole,” and this year I intend to cheat a little and fill in that hole with three important Space History events that actually occurred at the end of July but aren’t usually covered.

GT-8 Agena Target Vehicle (Image Credit: NASA)

GT-8 Agena Target Vehicle (Image Credit: NASA)

18-Jul-1966 – Gemini X launched from Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 19, carrying astronauts John Young and Michael Collins. Gemini X docked with an Agena Target Vehicle (ATV), and was the first mission to use the Agena’s engine to boost the docked spacecraft into a higher orbit. Gemini X also docked with a different Agena Target Vehicle – the one launched for docking with Neil Armstrong’s and Dave Scott’s Gemini 8 mission. During Gemini X, Michael Collins made two spacewalks.

Collins was later the Command Module pilot on the famous Apollo 11 mission. Young became the ninth man to walk on the Moon as commander of Apollo 16.

Readers of this blog know that I often write about “The Seven Forgotten Leadership Lessons of the Space Race.” John Young, the commander of Gemini X, has a special place of honor in my mind because he was the one who illuminated the seventh forgotten leadership lesson during an interview for a recent documentary. Until I saw that interview I had thought that the leadership lesson of the Apollo 1 disaster was that we should speak up, no matter what. Because of John Young I came to realize that the real leadership lesson of the Apollo 1 fire was very different – a warning from history for all managers and leaders. More on that subject during the January blog on Apollo 1.

Grissom entering Liberty Bell 7 w/John Glenn (Image Credit: NASA)

Grissom entering Liberty Bell 7 w/John Glenn (Image Credit: NASA)

21-Jul-1961 – Mercury-Redstone 4 was launched from the Cape’s Launch Complex 5 (now a museum), carrying Gus Grissom and his Liberty Bell 7 capsule. This was the United States’ second suborbital flight into space. During the recovery the Mercury capsule  sank when hatch unexpectedly blew off, filling the capsule with water and making it too heavy for recovery. Thanks to the movie “The Right Stuff,” there’s been much speculation as to whether Gus may have blown the hatch manually. Many people forget that during the recovery of the very next Mercury flight, John Glenn and his Friendship 7 spacecraft were hoisted aboard the recovery vessel USS Noa. While still inside the capsule, Glenn indicated to the recovery crew that he intended to blow the hatch manually. When he went to blow the hatch the detonator plunger recoiled and left a distinctive and unavoidable cut on the back of  Glenn’s hand. Interestingly, Grissom had no such injury after his hatch blew. Gus Grissom died during the Apollo 1 fire at Cape Canaveral’s Launch Complex 34. This blog’s header picture (across the very top of the page) is a photo that I personally took of the abandon ruins of Pad 34 at sunrise.

25-Jul-2005 – Space Shuttle Discovery launched, STS-114 – First post-Columbia mission. It seems very strange to consider that all three NASA missions where lives were lost occurred at the very same time of year (Apollo 1, Challenger and Columbia all met with disaster during the last week of January or the first week of February). This launch of Discovery was the very first launch after the loss of the Space Shuttle Columbia.



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