Neil Armstrong is best known as the first man to walk on the moon. Armstrong almost never made it to the moon shot program due to the problems he experienced aboard the Gemini 8 mission. That space flight experienced some of the most pressing dangers and excitement of the early space flight missions.
Gemini Space Program
The Gemini space program consisted of 10 mission using the two-man Gemini space capsules. The purpose of the Gemini missions was to try out equipment and techniques to be later used on the Apollo moon missions. The Gemini space flights were carried out over a 20-month period in 1965 and 1966. Mission tasks included "flying," or maneuvering, the space craft and docking with other space vehicles. The Gemini flights ranged from five hours in length to almost two weeks in space.
Gemini 8 Mission Details
Gemini 8 was scheduled to lift off on March 15, 1966. The actual launch occurred one day later at 11:41 a.m. Neil Armstrong was the command pilot and David R. Scott the pilot. The mission was scheduled to last three days. Scheduled mission tasks included the first ever docking between two spacecraft and a space walk. The docking target was the Gemini Agena Target Vehicle, which launched approximately two hours before Gemini 8. The Gemini capsule joined up and docked with the Agena target vehicle 6 hours and 33 minutes after launch.
Problems With the Mission
When the docking maneuver was completed, the Gemini and target vehicle started tumbling in space. Unknown to the astronauts, a short circuit in the orbital maneuvering system had caused one of the thrusters to start blowing out fuel, providing thrust to tumble the spacecraft. After unhooking from the target craft, the spinning of the Gemini increased in speed and the spacecraft was turning at one revolution per second. Neither the astronauts nor ground control knew what was causing the spinning and the pilots were becoming very disoriented.
Armstrong Saves the Gemini
Neil Armstrong saved Gemini 8 by disconnecting the circuit breakers for all thrusters, shutting down the faulty one in the process. Armstrong then activated the reentry control thrusters and was able to control and maneuver the spacecraft. However, using the reentry thrusters rapidly used the fuel needed to return the Gemini to earth and the mission was cut short. Gemini 8 splashed down in the Pacific Ocean just 10 hours and 41 minutes after launch. The astronauts on board had narrowly avoided a disaster in space.
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