Dec 18, 2015
By Stewart Bailey, Curator
Flight of Gemini 7
After the completion of Project Mercury, which proved that humans could survive and operate in space, the next step for NASA was to perfect all the things necessary to get to the moon and back. These lessons were learned in the flights of Project Gemini; a series of twelve missions from 1964 through 1966.
One of the most daring missions of the series was Gemini 7, which was to place its two-man crew into orbit for a period of fourteen days. Flight planners estimated that the crews going to the Moon would be in space for up to two weeks between the flight out, the stay on the lunar surface and the return, so they needed to know if humans could live and work effectively in space for that long. Gemini 7 lifted off on December 4, 1965 carrying astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell. During the mission they conducted over twenty experiments (the most of any Gemini flight) to determine how the body adapted to micro-gravity.
On the eleventh day of the mission, they performed the unique duty of being a rendezvous target for the Gemini 6 spacecraft that had launched on December 15, 1965. The two spacecraft spent four and a half hours flying in formation; getting as close as 40’ feet apart, before Gemini 6 moved off to complete its own mission.
On December 18th, 1965, Gemini 7 made a de-orbit burn and plunged into the Earth’s atmosphere for a fiery re-entry, and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. Although slightly weakened, Borman and Lovell were in good spirits; showing no ill effects from their record-setting flight that paved the way to the Moon landings of the Apollo Program.
When a Gemini spacecraft returned to Earth, it used the atmosphere as a “brake” to slow down until it was low enough and slow enough to deploy a parachute for a “splashdown” in the ocean. Once afloat down, the spacecraft was met by helicopters from an aircraft carrier, which dropped swimmers to attach a floatation coll
ar on the capsule and assist the astronauts out of the craft. They were then lifted by the helicopter, which took them to the ship.
Sea King 149006
This Sikorsky UH-3H Sea King Helicopter, Bureau Number 149006 is the actual helicopter used to pick up astronauts Borman and Lovell after their history-making flight of Gemini 7, fifty years ago. At the time, it was configured as an SH-3A, and was assigned to HS-11 aboard the USS Wasp. It was later converted to a UH-3H and last served at Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington. It flew to the museum in 2005 and was painted to resemble Sea King #152711; which recovered the crew of Apollo 11. So while it is painted to represent another famous Sea King, it had its own place in space history!