Space: Gemini's Week

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"What a helluva bore," yawned a controller at Houston's Manned Spacecraft Center as Astronauts Frank Borman and James Lovell monotonously orbited the earth last week. By week's end, as Gemini 7 completed its seventh uneventful day in space, the flight had indeed escaped the spine-tingling crises that enlivened—and plagued—earlier shots. But the ennui in Houston and elsewhere in the U.S. was a high accolade. It demonstrated that flawless performance has become commonplace, that near-perfect timing, preparation and execution of Gemini flights have become routine.

Higher in Tone. Without major troubles to occupy them, the astronauts were free to concentrate on minor ones.

Early in the flight they complained that their sleep was being interrupted by the noise of a motor that automatically tightened cuffs around Lovell's thighs for two out of every six minutes—part of an experiment designed to keep the heart from getting lazy in a weightless environment. Houston promptly agreed to turn the motor off during the ten-hour sleeping period.

To alleviate the silence, Houston also began piping background music into Gemini 7 on a radio band that would not interfere with normal voice communications. Some of the popular tunes, like Fly Me to the Moon, seemed more appropriate for the Apollo program, others for a teen-age hangout. But later in the week, largely at the urging of NASA Secretary Geri Ann Vanderoef, the Kraft Music Hall, as it was called in honor of Flight Director Chris Kraft (TIME cover, Aug. 27), took on an elevated tone with selections from Bach,

Handel, Glinka and Dvorak. Against this soothing background, Astronaut Lovell was allowed to strip off his space suit and fly in his underwear. He thus became the first U.S. astronaut to fly without a pressurized suit, which affords the only protection against a sudden, accidental decompression of the Gemini spacecraft.

Higher in Orbit. The Gemini 7 astronauts chalked up some other, more significant firsts. Once in orbit, they fired thrusters to turn Gemini and adjust its velocity, then flew in formation with their detached, third-stage booster for 16 minutes. By aligning the spacecraft with setting stars on the earth's horizon, they were able to navigate precisely without aid from computers on the ground. They were also able to track the first three minutes of the spectacular flight of a Polaris missile as it was fired from beneath the Atlan tic by the nuclear submarine Benjamin Franklin.

Only a few minor troubles marred the otherwise perfect flight. A fuel-cell warning light flashed on, but the cell itself appeared to be operating perfectly. The astronauts were unable to spot another light—a laser beam projected from a station in Hawaii—and thus could not conduct a planned laser voice-communications experiment. Astronaut Borman also sheepishly reported that a urine-sample bag had come apart in his hand.

"Before or after?" queried Houston.

"After," Borman reported ruefully.

"Sorry about that, Chief," said Flight Surgeon Charles Berry.

Late in the week, when accelerated preparations at Cape Kennedy all but guaranteed that Gemini 6 and Astronauts Wally Schirra and Tom Stafford would be ready to blast off by Sunday, Gemini 7 was ordered into a new orbit.

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