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Gemini IV Oral History Interview Excerpts

Gemini IV lifted off from Launch Complex 19 at Cape Kennedy on June 3, 1965, with astronauts James A. McDivitt and Edward H. White. Most remember the flight for demonstrating the ability of astronauts to operate safely in space with an orbiting vehicle. For 20 minutes White, who carried a hand-held maneuvering unit (known as a zip gun) powered by pressurized oxygen, was easily able to move about in space. Flight director Gene Kranz recalled the event as “one of those magical moments, like Alan Shepard’s launch and John Glenn’s reentry, that are forever embedded in my memory.”

Read below excerpts from oral history interviews conducted with some of the individuals who contributed to the mission's success and NASA’s legacy.

View the Gemini IV image gallery.

Larry E. Bell, Manager, Environmental Control Systems
Interviewed June 26, 2001

We didn't want to have a failure
We did our first EVA on Gemini IV, with Ed White and Jim McDivitt on that flight. There was a certain secrecy around our efforts to get ready to fly EVA on Gemini IV, not because it was classified, but because if we couldn't get there in time, we didn't want to have a failure, so we chose to do it under the disguise of a chamber test system. If you go look at the hardware that we flew with a chest pack, it's called a CVS, which stands for the chamber vent system.

Chamber A and Chamber B [of the Space Environmental Simulation Laboratory] were just being finished at that time, so the scenario was, we were building escape systems to go in and rescue a crewman if he got in trouble while in the chambers. So the umbilical and the chest pack and space suit were really rescue equipment for the chamber vent, and that’s why it was called the chamber vent system. We would do our chamber tests at night, after people went home.

About midnight, we'd fire the altitude chambers up and do all our chamber tests at night, and then in the morning when they came in they'd all be done, put away for the night. It was easier to keep doing that until we knew we had the hardware ready to fly. There was one, I think, about 48 hours, I never slept. I slept on my desk a few hours, trying to get that hardware to the Cape. It was successfully delivered and installed and then we went to Washington on the Gulfstream. Bob Gilruth, myself, Dick Johnston, an engineer by the name of Johnson, and several others. We briefed the Associate Administrator on the fact that we were ready to do an EVA. Wernher Von Braun was there from Huntsville.

When we got done briefing them, they went over and briefed the Administrator and then 24 hours later they made a press release that we were going to do an EVA on the next mission. At that time, the old Nassau Bay Hotel used to be over here, and Channel 2 actually went up and built a studio up on the top of the Nassau Bay Hotel. I should say, NBC did, with a big picture window so they could do press coverage from up there. So it was a big deal back when we did the first EVA because the Russians had just done that not too long before.

They will tell you that isn't why we did it, but that's why we did it on that flight, I might add. We were already planning on an extravehicular activity, but in all truthfulness, we moved it up to Gemini IV to get closer to the time the Russians had done it, because there was a still a race on in those days. Whether we admit it or not, we really were trying to beat the—not beat them, but appear to be on the same pace as they were.

It's just done in a little different package
We had been working on some of the hardware, but we didn't use the chest pack. It wasn't far enough along. We did use the umbilical that was being developed. At that time, it was going to fly on Gemini VI and I used a valve and some tankage that was out of the environmental control system that we'd built for the spacecraft, dismounted the valve and did all the engineering work here at the Johnson Space Center, under the Engineering Division. Had the Technical Services Division build the hardware, and the major components came from our suppliers, and then we packaged it and put it together.

The people that built the hardware, Garrett AiResearch, did not know it was being used for an EVA. The didn't know about it till the press release came out, and were somewhat unhappy that their hardware was not going to be the first hardware to do an American EVA. I said, "Well, your hardware is the first hardware to do an EVA. It's just done in a little different package." The oxygen tanks that we were using were originally for an ejection seat, and the ejection seats were too thick, so they'd gone to a different design. The bottles were available, so we used those for the emergency oxygen bottle in the chest pack.

The regulator was the environmental control system pressure suit regulator and the rest of it was built here, and put together here and tested by Ed White in the altitude chamber. Dick Johnston, in those days, had a policy. The engineer tried his hardware first, so the first person that took it to altitude was me, but I barely fit in the pressure suit. I had my neck crunched down. I never got up. I sat in a chair and they took me to altitude and then brought it down, and then Ed White was the second crewman to use it.

Read Larry Bell's oral history transcript

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection

Richard S. Johnston, Chief, Crew Systems Division
Interviewed November 3, 1998

You’re never going to have that thing ready
George [M.] Low came back from the Cape [Canaveral, Florida], and about a week before we launched Gemini III, the Russians had gone EVA. Low called me and Chuck Matthews and Deke Slayton over to his office and he said, "Can we go EVA on the next mission?"
I said, "George, I don't really know, but if you want us to, we'll try to do it."

He said, "I don't want anybody to know we're working on this."
I said, "Okay."

He said, "I want your division to handle the life support system and zip gun."

I said, "Okay." This was like on a Wednesday or Thursday. So I got all the guys that worked on the things together in my office on Friday and we designed the thing on my blackboard. I walk in his office on Tuesday morning with a mockup of the whole damn thing.
Low said, "This is great. I don't want anybody else to know we're doing this. You've got to keep track of who knows."

I said, "All right, I can do that. But I've got to tell you something I need. When I call the procurement office, I don't want to hear a lot of nonsense out of them about sole-source memos, blah, blah, blah, and all that. If we're going to get this done in two months, I've got to have the support of the people in the administration side. I don't want to be arguing with them."

He said, "Okay, I'll take care of it."

So we went about it, and in two months we built the damn thing, and we went through all the chamber tests and did everything. In fact, that's the only crew that came into my office on the way to the Cape—Ed White, what a great guy he was, and Jim McDivitt—and thanked us for what we did. And it was a super EVA.

But we didn't tell anybody about it in Headquarters for a long time, and finally George Mueller and, I guess, Bob Seamans were down at the Center when they called me to come over and give them a briefing, and I did. I'll always remember George Mueller said to me, "Boy, you're never going to have that thing ready."

I said, "Well, you watch us."

So we got it all finished up, and I had to go up and give a briefing to the Administrator of NASA and a couple of other people, and they flew a plane down, a jet, down to Ellington, picked Dr. Gilruth and Chris Kraft, and I up and took us down to the Cape, and we popped it on the press the day before launch.

Read Richard Johnston's oral history transcripts

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection


Eugene F. Kranz, Flight Director, Mission Control Center
Interviewed March 19, 1998

Space was not just something romantic to me
Gemini IV was to me probably one of the most exciting of the missions. Prior to Gemini III we were trying to set our own space records. We wanted to be the first to have an extravehicular operation; put a man out in space, free from the spacecraft. I got tagged to work with the team here at Johnson in building that EVA plan. And we were very imaginative; we called it Plan X. We’d finish our work here during the day; we’d go home, we’d eat, and then all the Plan X people would come back in and we’d work generally from about 6 or 7 in the evening until 1 or 2 in the morning, building the equipment, validating it in the altitude chamber, developing mission rules, etc.

And this was to me very exciting because I was one of those who believed in the space race. I wanted to beat the Russians. I didn’t like Russians. I’d seen their airplanes over in Korea; I’d seen them over the Formosa Straits. And, to put it bluntly, it was a battle for the minds and the hearts of the free world. So, space was not just something romantic to me. It was the battleground with the Soviet Union at that time. I really wanted to set this first space record.

Well, the unfortunate thing is, the Russians had already accomplished extravehicular operations. But, the neat thing about this was, we now knew when they had this enormous lead on us to begin with that this lead was now down to mere months. When they were doing their EVA, we were within striking distance of that EVA. So work on the EVA was really it. There were two things about Gemini IV: that was my first flight as a Flight Director; and secondly, I was one of the key members of Plan X. And when Ed White stepped outside the spacecraft, I was just proud as all hell that we’d closed this gap with the Russians. So that was Gemini IV.

Read Gene Kranz's oral history transcripts

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection

James A. McDivitt, Gemini IV Astronaut
Interviewed June 29, 1999

There’s a fly in the milk bottle
I will tell you a funny story about getting picked to fly on Gemini IV. I was called in and told I was going to command it, and then some time later it was announced at an astronaut pilots’ meeting and then finally they were going to make the public announcement. And so, I thought I’d tell my kids about it.

One Saturday morning we were sitting there having breakfast at a long table we had. And so, we finally got to this dramatic moment and I said, “Kids, I’m going to tell you something really important.” And, let’s see, this was in about ’64 or so. I think they were, like, eight and seven and five or so. And I tell them, “You know that Dad’s an astronaut and the astronauts fly in space. I just want to let you know that I’m going to fly in space soon.” And my older boy, who was probably seven or eight, says, “Oh yeah, Dad, I heard that at school.” And then my daughter said, “Oh yeah, Dad, I heard that at school, too.” And my younger son said, “Dad, there’s a fly in the milk bottle.”

I knew you’d be here!
We were told together that we were going to fly together. Yeah, my relationship with Ed couldn’t have been better. He was the best friend I ever had. We lived a block and a half or so apart in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He was getting a Master’s degree in aeronautical engineering, but he didn’t have an aeronautical engineering undergraduate degree. So, we took a lot of classes together. We started flying together. There were a lot of Air Force pilots assigned to the University of Michigan—probably about 150, 200 I would guess at the peak. There was a program there called the Guided Missile Program where the guys came in and got a couple of normal academic degrees; it covered all the background you needed to get in the missile business. So, we had a lot of people there.

I ended up being the scheduling officer for all the jet pilots. I did the scheduling; and we’d get all the pilots together from time to time and lay out the schedule for the next month or two. And Ed and I, since I did the scheduling, I just scheduled us together a lot. And we flew together. Then we both went to the Test Pilot School and after we graduated, he went to Wright-Patterson as a test pilot and I stayed at Edwards. And I remember when the Air Force had its pre-NASA astronaut selection, I walked in the room in the Pentagon and Ed was already there. I walked in the door and he says, “I knew you’d be here!” And I said, “I knew you’d be here, too!”

This is one of those ad hoc things
Well, this is one of those ad hoc things. You sort of made it up as you went along. That little maneuvering gun that we used didn’t have much thrust, because it was a hopeless device! I mean, there was no way you could really control yourself. You could control yourself on the air table in two axes; but unfortunately when you’re in space, you’re in three axes in six degrees of freedom. So, it would have been hopeless to try to maneuver around much with just it. But we didn’t have much gas in it and the tether wasn’t too long, and we couldn’t get in a lot of trouble. But the things that were important were getting the hatch open, getting the hatch closed, getting out, getting back in, the equipment that you needed, what the thermal protection was going to be, what the micrometeorite protection was going to be. Just the fact that we could go out and do that stuff was very important.

It was a fairly complex mechanism
And then probably the hairiest thing that happened to me in space was on the EVA with our hatch. We’d had a problem with the hatch in the altitude chamber at McDonnell. We’d done this chamber test and, because we were going to open and close the hatch in vacuum, well, we thought, we’ll put that into the chamber test. So, right at the end of the test, we depressurized the spacecraft. The altitude chamber’s just a big metal box; you can suck all the air out of it. So, we were in this vacuum, and we depressurized the spacecraft. The suits—we went through all the suit checks and stuff like that. Then we opened up the hatch.

It was very heavy on the ground, so we had some additional things that helped us get it open. Got it open, and went through some routine. Then we brought the hatch back down, and we went to lock it, and it wouldn’t lock. We were towards the end of the test. We’d been in it probably 10 or 12 hours by then; 14 hours. I don’t know what; it was a long, long time. And we were near the end of the whole test, and we just said, “Oh, we’ll just go through and do the rest of it in our suits,” pressurized in our suits. So, we did. And so, 30 or 40 minutes, the test was over; and we went in and they re-pressurized the chamber. We went on in and took a shower and did our debriefing; and then I went out to see the technician who was working on the hatch because it was a little concerning that when you moved the handle nothing happened to the latches.

[If you can’t get the hatch closed] you’re dead. You’re dead. You’ll either burn up—well, you’ll burn up on the way down for sure. And the spacecraft would sink as soon as it hit, too, because the hatch would be open. So anyway, I went down there and fiddled around with him while we were trying to figure out what was wrong with it. And there was a handle and a bunch of little gears around and teeth on them. Then they had to engage some of the little gears, and there were some other little gears. So, it was a fairly complex mechanism. It had to be set up so that you could disengage the handle so you wouldn’t inadvertently do something with it in flight. And those gears weren’t really going together properly. So, he did something to them and, you know, it worked. But fortunately, I saw what they look like.

When we got around to doing the EVA, when Ed went to open up the hatch, it wouldn’t open. I said, “Oh my God, it’s not opening!” We chatted about that for a minute or two. And I said, “Well, I think I can get it closed if it won’t close.” But I wasn’t too sure about it. I thought I could. But remember, then I would be pressurized. I wouldn’t be in my sports clothes, leaning over the top of the thing with a screwdriver. I’d be there pressurized. In the dark. So anyway, we elected to go ahead and open it up.

And we didn’t bother telling the ground about that. I mean, there was nothing they could do. They would’ve said, “No,” I’m sure. Anyway, we went ahead and opened it up; and Ed went out and did his thing. And that was one of the reasons I was kind of anxious to have him get back inside the spacecraft, because I’d like to do this in the daylight, not in the dark. But by the time he got back in, it was dark. When we went to close the hatch, it wouldn’t close. It wouldn’t lock. And so, in the dark I was trying to fiddle around over on the side where I couldn’t see anything, trying to get my glove down in this little slot to push the gears together. And finally, we got that done and got it latched.

And the next part of the plan was to re-pressurize the spacecraft and get all this junk off Ed, open up the hatch, and throw all this out. And there was no way I was going to do that! So, we carried all that stuff through the rest of the flight.

He didn’t want to come back in
Oh that was all a misconception. People made a big deal about that. It was no big deal at all. He was just having a ball out there. He didn’t want to come back in. I wanted him to come back in because I didn’t want to have to work on that hatch in the dark. But, even if he’d have come back in when I told him to come back in, we would’ve still been working on the hatch in the dark—because it took him a lot longer to get back in and get back down in it and buckled down. Fortunately, Ed was the same height as I was, so, we didn’t have a problem of trying to get the hatch closed. Our problem was getting it latched and locked. He wasn’t in the way when I was trying to do that stuff. But then there was euphoria. The press got a hold of that and created something great out of absolutely nothing. As usual!

Read Jim McDivitt's oral history transcript

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection

H. Joseph McMann, Jr., Manager, EVA Life Support Systems
Interviewed January 25, 2002

We put together a plan
We got ready for the Gemini IV EVA [extravehicular activity]. It was very hush-hush. On March 26th, Jim Correale called a bunch of us into his office. He was my branch chief at the time. They wanted to go EVA on Gemini IV. The flight was in June. So we talked about what we could do, and he said, “Talk about it over the weekend. Let’s get together Monday, and put together a plan.” So we put together a plan.

[The team included] Larry Bell and Roger Tanner, and one of the guys that got involved in it right after that was Wayne Draper. He was a comptroller. I put together a 60 bubble PERT [Program Evaluation and Review Technique] chart. I’d been to PERT school, which was a scheduling tool technique in 1963, and I used that to come up with this PERT chart, and then Wayne took that chart and broke it out into subcharts. We scheduled the whole thing out, how we were going to get the thing designed and built and certified and tested in time to support the EVA.

We had to disguise it, so we called it the chamber vent system [CVS]. We said we were building a system to use in the vacuum chamber to keep the guy alive in a spacesuit during testing. So came the day, though, that we had to go over and see Dr. Gilruth, the Center Director, and show him the hardware, he and his senior staff.

Larry Bell, who was leader of our team, got in there, and we brought the hardware and laid it on the table. I’m just kind of sitting in the back of the room, right behind and off to the side a little bit of Dr. Gilruth. So Larry’s up there talking. He’s got the viewgraphs going. He’s pointing out this and that and explaining things, and they’re passing the hardware around.

Part of the hardware was what we call a T-connector. It plugged into the suit, and it had two outlets. What would happen is, you could come in from the spacecraft with one hose, and you’d have your life support system on the other connector. When you got ready to go outside for EVA, you’d pop out the life support hose. This thing had to seal then or else you’d lose pressure in the suit. They had a springloaded, when you pop this thing out, this poppet came back and sealed. If it didn’t seal, you were dead.

So while Larry’s up there talking, Dr. Gilruth is sitting there. He’s got this T-connector in his hand, and he pokes that poppet and sees that it goes back and forth. In those days everybody smoked. He smoked a pipe. He had an ashtray there, his pipe, some paper matches. While Larry’s up there talking, explaining how this thing’s going to be safe and all that, Dr. Gilruth takes one of these paper matches and folds it, and he’s trying to jam that poppet open. Now, he wasn’t able to do it, thank God, because if he would have jammed it open [would have determined] whether or not we’d been able to go. But we got through it, and the rest is history.

I was responsible for doing the planning and getting the umbilical, the 25-foot umbilical. At that time I was in charge of the life support system we were going to use after Gemini IV. We had another system we were going to use for the rest of the Gemini Program. That system had an umbilical, so we were going to take one and get it early and use it on Ed White’s flight.

These later flights were going to be outside longer. We wanted to have a multi-layer, multi-wrap insulation on the umbilicals. But for Ed White’s flight, we didn’t have time to build all that. We just put a gold coating on it, and that’s where the famous gold umbilical came from. It was a gold-colored cloth. The gold surface gave enough thermal control for the short period of time he was going to be out.

You don’t want to make people mad
Later on we were going to go ahead and use the multi-layer umbilicals, multi-insulation wrap umbilicals. So I was running the contract for that, and after Ed White’s flight we had to get back to normal. We were going to do an EVA on Gemini VI. So in talking to my contractor out there, I said, “Okay, what about the umbilical?”
He said, “Well, we already gave you the umbilical.”

I said, “No, no, no. That was for Ed White’s flight. You need to give us another one.”

“Well, you didn’t tell us that.”

I said, “No, no. Yes, we talked about it.” I mean, everything was done word-of-mouth and fast.

He said, “Well, the long and short of it is I don’t have another umbilical.”

I said, “Well, you’ve got to go get one. We can’t show up short.”
I guess what had happened just prior to him going back then to his vendor for the umbilical, his vendor had seen Ed White’s flight, and he called up his purchasing contact and said, “Hey, was that our umbilical that they used?”

The purchasing contractor said, “No, it was our umbilical.”

The guy said, “Oh, okay.”

So now we go back to this guy and say, “Oh, we need you to work overtime. We need you to work weekends. We’ve got to have this umbilical.”

He said, “Oh, I’m too busy. I think not. I have a lot of other business.”

“What do you need? We’ll pay you overtime.”

He said, “No, it really isn’t a question of that. I just don’t need the business.”

We said, “What will it take? Whatever you want.”

The guy said, “Just one thing. I want a letter from your purchasing agent thanking us for providing the umbilical that Ed White used.”
We said, “You got it,” and he got it. See, you don’t want to make people mad like that when you’ve got to come back to them.

I knew later I couldn’t be trusted
So I was responsible for this life support system. I had picked it up, really. The whole idea or EVA on Gemini as we had started out with was a lot different than the Ed White thing and the thing we actually did. The idea at first was take a couple of old Mercury environmental control system [ECS] bottles and regulators and give them to a contractor and have him put them in a sling and put a relief valve on the suit and let them just dump flow into the suit and let it vent overboard 15 minutes. So we said, “Okay. We’ll do that.”

“Well, how much is that going to cost?”

So we let a contract for it, $135,000. Okay. That was in January of 1964. In February of 1964, they let the first contract change, did away with the Mercury bottles, went to a semi-closed loop system with an umbilical and raised the value to $700,000.

Then in April, I came in to manage it. This thing was already getting people’s attention. Well, we ended up spending 3 ½ million dollars on it by the time it was done, just by reason of the fact that our ideas of what we wanted just kept growing. It was also some of the Ed White stuff in there also. So it was my first lesson in economics. It’s always going the cost more, and never trust an engineer, because that’s what I was, and I knew later I couldn’t be trusted.

Read Joe McMann's oral history transcripts

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection

Edward L. Pavelka, Jr., Flight Dynamics Officer, Mission Control Center
Interviewed April 26, 2001

We had a unique control center
It would have been the Gemini IV mission. That was where we had the blue team, and we actually trained here in parallel with the prime team that trained at the Mercury Control Center at Cape Canaveral. We, under John Hodge, we had just one ship and we trained with as many simulations as they did and, of course, we had a unique control center. We were getting the benefit of learning how all the new digital TV displays worked, how all the controls worked. We had new positions down in the—we called it the RTCC. It was the real-time computing complex.

Today, the controllers do things with a keyboard. In those days we had a position that we would call computer supervisor or computer dynamic, and we would ask them to input certain parameters to compute a maneuver, or configure the computers for launch or whatever. So we were learning all that protocol here.

For Gemini IV, it was really our first time when we were on line. For Gemini III, we paralleled what they were doing, but it was not really a full-up backup of the control center here. If they had asked, we could have switched over and controlled the flight from here. It turns out that the control center at the Cape had a power problem during that flight. I didn't know, and I think most of the people in our control center here did not know that they were experiencing that problem.

Chris Kraft had his prime team at the Cape, and I think it would have been a pretty cold day before he was going to turn his control over to this other control center. I don't know what was going through his mind, but our data and our information on telemetry for the systems was all perfectly good here. From my position, we didn't really know there was a problem at the Cape until after they debriefed the flight. They were fairly miffed that we had good data and they didn't. Of course, they were in a real hot seat, but just like this, they could have said, "Houston, you're in control." That didn't happen. But we would have had a good mission had they done it. The mission turned out just fine as it was, but they were very fortunate. There were no anomalies during the period when they had their power problem.

We sort of invented the book on the rendezvous
Gemini IV was a situation where the instincts of the pilot were to drive straight at the target, we'll call it, the booster. It turns out that Kepler's laws say that if I apply energy at this part of the orbit, it's going to raise the orbit over here. If he were firing in a horizontal mode, what he would begin to do, he should stay in the same orbit with the booster, if he wants to rendezvous with it. But to move over there to it, what we didn't know in those days was, a radial maneuver rather than a horizontal maneuver thrusting at the target would be the way to go, because that would bring you back right to the target one orbit later. Again, you have to be patient.

In those days, a lot of the astronauts were test pilots, silk-scarf guys, we called them. They were excellent stick and rudder men. In this case, I think what happened was that the pilot instincts took over and he would thrust toward the vehicle. Well, initially, he would move that way, but then orbital mechanics would take over and he would begin to realize that velocity that he'd put in with his thrusters, 180 degrees around there, it's raising his orbit. So he's getting over there and he's going away from the target, rather than to it, because the Kepler’s laws of orbital mechanics are taking effect. So then he would thrust some more, it just made it worse.

After a while they called it off because of the use of the propellant. Those types of rendezvous were studied, because when you're very close to something, the strategy for a rendezvous, it's almost proximity operations and it's a little different strategy than if I launch and my target vehicle is 1,200 miles in front of me and I have three days to plan maneuvers between now and then to get there, which was the classical way that we planned rendezvous.

We sort of invented the book on the rendezvous in the Gemini Program, and it was to make sure that we had that capability for the Apollo lunar program, because it was absolutely mandatory that we know how to rendezvous in a routine and predictable and comfortable way, repeatable way, because [astronauts’] lives depended on it. That was their way to get back.

Read Ed Pavelka's oral history transcripts

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection

Jones W. Roach, Assistant Flight Director, Mission Control Center
Interviewed January 24, 2000

There was a lot of creativity
My biggest job during the Gemini Program was to lay out the design for the Mission Control Center. We did all the requirements for the Mission Control Center and worked with Philco, who won the contract. It was Philco Ford, I guess, at that time.

We had problems with people leaning over the consoles and touching buttons and switches, and so we wanted a cover on the command switches. We had a good idea, but people didn't know how to do it, so guys would take the plastic home and cook them in the oven, and that's how we made the first ones. There was a lot of creativity by people like that.

Gemini IV was when we had the first spacewalk. That was an exciting time, because there were 10 of us that worked every day our regular shift and then we worked at night preparing for a spacewalk. You can't imagine, we had no computers, we had only the old way—I can't even remember what it was called—paper that had about 16 copies in it. You'd type a deal, and then if you made a mistake, you had to pull them all apart, change them.

We had one secretary and about 10 of us worked on the ops side, worked with the flight crew every night, Jim McDivitt and Ed White, who lived a couple of doors from me and my family. We worked on IV doing that. We had another set of young people building the pack, they took a bail-out bottle and made the life support flight-rated where he could go in and be outside. We worked on that probably four to six weeks, got everything ready, and were prepared to go, and a week before the Russians did a similar thing. But we pressed on and did that and it was exciting in the control center.

Read Joe Roach's oral history transcript

Read about the Gemini IV mission

View the Gemini IV Image Gallery

Visit the JSC Oral History Collection

Richard W. Underwood, Photographer/Supervisor, Photographic Technology Laboratory
Interviewed October 17, 2000

We’re looking at things that no human had ever seen before
I remember after Gemini IV, when Ed White did his spacewalk, we had a camera that Ed took outside mainly to look at the outside of the machine, because it was very badly damaged, the early ones, the Mercury and the early Gemini [spacecraft]. Some engineers said it happened on the way up, and others said it happened on the way back. Two different attitudes of engineering to fix it. We said one day in a meeting, "Why don't we photograph it when it's out there. Then we'll know whether the damage happened going up or coming back."

White took 39 pictures, and Bob Gilruth, George Low and Max Faget and all the designers were looking at these pictures on this magnificent roll of film, and we had it spread out in the lab there. Dr. Gilruth says to me—I'm down all alone looking at the other end of the roll—and he says, "Hey, Dick, all the action's up here."

I said, "Well, I don't think so, Dr. Gilruth. I think it's all down here."

And he came down and looked and he said, "Well, those are just pictures of the Earth."

I said, "Yeah, but we're looking at things that no human being had ever seen before, parts of Africa and other places. You can see what really goes on."

He said, "Well, from now on, your job is to work with the astronauts to be sure they bring back great photographs of the Earth and then eventually when we go to the Moon." So that's how it evolved at that point. It evolved into this machine to take the lunar photographs on the surface and in orbit.

Read Dick Underwood's oral history transcript

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Carroll H. "Pete" Woodling, Chief, Crew Safety and Procedures
Interviewed January 19, 2000

The number-one flight that I remember
I just wanted to say there's three, I guess, really touch-and-go times that I think about when we were flying a mission, and the first one that I recall was the Gemini IV mission, where they couldn't get the hatch closed after the EVA. Couldn't very well simulate that, so the training there was minimum.

But with them in their pressure suits, Ed White had just finished the EVA and they were trying to close the hatch, and the pressure suits were working against them trying to push them out, and James McDivitt and Ed were trying to close the hatch. They were near exhausted. Ed was the strongest man that I ever knew. In his training, he was a real hard-training physical condition person, and if he hadn't been in the condition he was and as strong as he was, they would not have been able to close that hatch. Of course, that would have been really bad; we'd have lost both of them. That was the number-one flight that I remember.

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Kenneth A. Young, Engineer, Mission Planning and Analysis Division
Interviewed June 6, 2001

It’s a mistake in terminology
Gemini IV—I don't know who all has told you some of that story, but that, to us, was never a rendezvous, first of all. It was an attempted station-keeping exercise. Rendezvous, to us, or to the ones that originally planned it, was taking one vehicle to a target from the ground, first of all, and rendezvousing, or at least getting close enough to dock, or be able to dock if you had the mechanisms. Station-keeping was if you separated, like Gemini IV's case, the capsule from the booster and turned around and tried to fly back to it and station-keep with it. The terms weren't that well defined in those days and some people mistakenly said it was a rendezvous attempt. In my opinion, it's a mistake in terminology.

The other unfortunate thing about it was that it was kept secret from almost everybody. I was barely knowledgeable about it myself. Ed Lineberry and Bill Tindall were two of the main pushers for this exercise with the McDonnell Douglas people in St. Louis and the crew, of course, James McDivitt. But probably one reason that it wasn't successful is because they had some people that really didn't understand the rendezvous problem or even orbital mechanics well enough to have been planning this separate, turn around, and fly back at it, including McDivitt, frankly. No fault of his. He didn't have a background in orbital mechanics and didn't realize that if you thrust towards something it will raise your altitude and it will slow you down, at least over a quarter of an orbit it's not effective. You have to really force yourself back on a linear trajectory. He didn't really realize that.

It continued to vent
The other thing was they didn't think about the Titan venting its remaining excess propellant. Well, I think they did, but they couldn't estimate it. They never really thought about measuring it. Of course, Gemini III was only a couple of months earlier, and I don't even think they had the concept then.

So he got off the end of the Titan, and it continued to vent, and by the time he got situated and turned around, it was quite a ways off and he tried to drive at it like a car. That would have been all right if he had really expended quite a bit of propellant. Of course, he had a real restricted budget of propellant, because at that time we were still worried about de-orbit.

So he thrust at it for a little while and seemed to be closing, and then he let off, thinking, "Well, I'll just coast in there." Then orbital mechanics started to take hold and he was starting to go above and slow down relative to the Titan, and the Titan was continuing to thrust because of the venting. So they got further away and then he got kind of desperate and compounded his mistake.

The simulations they did, which were totally in secret up at St. Louis, just weren't valid enough to give them any real training for that situation, both the orbital mechanics effects and the effect of the venting. That was the reason it failed, but none of us rendezvous guys ever considered that a failed rendezvous. That was just a failed station-keeping exercise. So several of us spent months analyzing what went wrong and what the trajectory was. Of course, that was difficult to reconstruct. Unfortunately, the media got hold of it as if it were a rendezvous attempt, but it wasn't.

They did the spacewalk on that mission. They were trying to match the Russians to put a little jazz in our program to do a rendezvous, because the Russians had allegedly rendezvoused two Vostoks back in the previous summer, I think, where they flew by within two or three miles at hundreds of feet per second relative velocity and tried to call that a rendezvous. We said, "Nah, that's not rendezvous. That's just shooting at something." So we still feel like we did the first.

Read Ken Young's oral history transcripts

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