Space History – NASA’s 1st Week-Long Space Flight

8-21-1965 Launch of Gemini-Titan 5. Two astronauts – Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad. One Gemini spacecraft – the capsule with the least amount of personal space of any U.S. spacecraft. And eight long days in low-Earth orbit.

Gemini 5 completed 120 orbits of the Earth back in 1965, and those eight days in space simulated the full duration of a lunar landing mission – the time it takes to go to the moon, land and explore, and return safely to the Earth. At the time of the Gemini 5 mission NASA still had to master many skills before finally embarking on a manned lunar mission – skills like Extra Vehicular Activity (EVA), rendezvous and docking, and the human aspects of long-duration space flights. NASA had to understand all the logistical issues with having humans in space for the time it takes for a moon landing mission so they couldĀ  iron out the details before planning mission outside Earth orbit, and Gemini 5 was the mission to do that. Pete Conrad later remarked that he wished he’d brought a book.

SLC-19 Gemini-Titan Launch Pad 2009-04-13

SLC-19 Gemini-Titan Launch Pad 2009-04-13

Like all Gemini missions, Gemini 5’s Titan rocket boosted them into space from Cape Canaveral’s Space Launch Complex 19 – a pad specifically made for launching Gemini-Titans. I took the photo on the left – it’s Space Launch Complex 19 as it looks today (Abandon in Place). Visiting the old “space race” launch facilities is one of my favorite things to do whenever I go to the Cape.

Pete Conrad and me

Pete Conrad and me

Gordon Cooper and Charles “Pete” Conrad spent 8 days in that Gemini 5 capsule. This mission was Pete Conrad’s very first space flight, but it wouldn’t be his last. Pete was the Commander of Gemini 11, and Commander of Apollo 12 – the first precision Lunar landing. Pete was the third of only 12 men to have ever walked on the Moon. Conrad also commanded the first Skylab mission. The photo on the left is the day I met Pete Conrad and the entire Apollo 12 crew. Pete died in a motorcycle accident soon after this meeting. I believe that my brother may have taken the last video footage of the Apollo 12 crew together – which we passed along to Apollo 12 moonwalker Alan Bean.

Astronaut Gordon Cooper at an autograph signing Sep 2004

Astronaut Gordon Cooper at an autograph signing Sep 2004

Gordon Cooper was a Mercury Astronaut prior to the Gemini 5 mission, and flew Faith 7 – the last of the Mercury missions. Cooper was the first man to enter into Earth orbit a second time, and the first man to sleep in space.

The photo on the left is of Gordon Cooper signing autographs for his fans (Mercury Astronauts Scott Carpenter and Wally Schirra were also there that day). I remember at one of Cooper’s book signings someone asked him, “Who’s the best pilot you’ve ever seen?” And without missing a beat, Cooper said, “You’re looking at him.”

SpaceShipOne Cover signed by Astronauts Melvill, Binnie

SpaceShipOne Cover signed by Astronauts Melvill, Binnie

Until SpaceShipOne’s first spaceflight on June 21 2004, Gordon Cooper was the last man to fly into space alone. Cooper passed away on the same day that SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X-Prize by flying the same spacecraft into space twice in two weeks. It was a bitter-sweet day in space history.



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