USS Leonard Foster Mason DD-852
Rescue of Gemini VIII


Astronauts Neil Armstrong and Dave Scott

Gemini-8 was launched on March 16, 1966 
and made an emergency landing the same day..

The Atlas-Agena target vehicle for the Gemini VIII mission was successfully
launched from KSC Launch Complex 14 at 10 a.m. EST March 16. The Gemini 
VIII spacecraft followed from Launch Complex 19 at 11:41 a.m., with command
pilot Neil A. Armstrong and pilot David R. Scott aboard. The spacecraft and its 
target vehicle rendezvoused and docked, with docking confirmed 6 hours 33 
minutes after the spacecraft was launched. This first successful docking with an
Agena target vehicle was followed by a major space emergency. About 27 minutes
later the spacecraft-Agena combination encountered unexpected roll and yaw 
motion. A stuck thruster on Gemini put the docked assembly into a wild high 
speed gyration. Near structural limits and blackout, Armstrong undocked, figuring
the problem was in the Agena, which only made it worse. The problem arose 
again and when the yaw and roll rates became too high the crew shut the main
Gemini reaction control system down and activated and used both rings of the
reentry control system to reduce the spacecraft rates to zero. This used 75% of 
that system's fuel. Although the crew wanted to press on with the mission and
Scott's planned space walk, ground control ordered an emergency splashdown in 
the western Pacific during the seventh revolution. The spacecraft landed at 10:23
p.m. EST March 16 and Armstrong and Scott were picked up by the destroyer
U.S.S. Mason at 1:37 a.m. EST March 17. Although the flight was cut short by
the incident, one of the primary objectives - rendezvous and docking (the first 
rendezvous of two spacecraft in orbital flight) - was accomplished.

USS Leonard Foster Mason DD-852
to the rescue of Gemini VIII

Neil Armstrong and rescuer


The terse, urgent message that crackled over the headsets of the Manned Space 
Flight Center in Houston, effected the lives of everyone involved in the space 
flight officially called GTA-8. It meant a capsule was coming down in the Pacific 
almost two days early. It meant, to short an emergency in space.

For Gemini Astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott, the message meant they 
were the main characters of a drama of which the world literally was the stage.

For the men aboard the destroyer Leonard F. Mason, on patrol in the Western 
Pacific with the USS George K. Mackenzie, It meant a routine mission had 
become the most important single event in the ship's history.

And for the housewife beside the radio, the executive beside the office TV, and 
the student listening to his transistor, it raised a spectre that has silently been 
haunting anyone who has held his breath as a countdown neared zero-the 
possibility of losing an astronaut on a mission.


These thoughts, and a hundred more, were going through the mind on Cmdr. 
Alan H. Hazen, as he stood on the bridge of the Mason. His ship was turning to 
a heading of 191-degrees and the two screws were starting to turn out 27 knots. Enginemen were firing up his two other boilers. That would bring his flank speed 
up to 32 knots or over. But still, the capsule was down in the ocean over one 
hundred eighty miles away, in an area known as 7/3, a landing area designator 
for the seventh orbit.

Down below, FLEACTS  photographer Charles Stroble, on TAD orders to 
Project Femini, checked his cameras for the hundredth time. He had been out on
Gemini missions before-always considered them something between a routine job 
and a rest. Now, everything was different. In his camera, was film from which 
NASA would learn many things.

In the darkened areas of CIC Chief radarman James B. Flynn, strained his eyes 
at the yellow radar scope. He was an Irishman, and his usual black tie had been 
replaced by a bright green one in observance of St. Patrick's Day.

This was the first time in many months since the ship had made a power run. 
During her last sea trials, she had steamed flank-speed for an hour. Today, she 
would run faster and harder than she had ever run before.

Normally, it takes between two and three hours to fire up a cold boiler and "put 
it on the line" [engage it into the propulsion system]. One hour and thirty-two 
minutes after the call came out,  the Mason slowed to 22 knots to allow the two 
extra boilers to be put into service. It was a record for the engine room.

Noise, a constant visitor in the engine room, took on a new, urgent pitch, and the temperature began climbing from its normal 95-degree to 100... then 
105...110...and finally, 115.

About a hundred miles away, and bobbing in three-foot waves, the prime
subjects of the message were fighting seasickness, "It's a great capsule, "Capt.
Wally Schirra said later, "but a lousy boat." For the time being they were
safe-overhead an Air Force C-54 was flying, and paramedics were already making their own splashdowns.


The distance Chief Flynn first spotted the capsule on radar is classified-but it 
was considerable, considering the capsule was floating on the surface, where sea 
return and the curvature of the earth tend to render radar readings difficult at best.
"It [the radar blip] was as big as the echo of a plane," he explained. "I yelled 'I've 
got it'-181 degrees!"

Until the Mason was 100 miles away, there was still some doubt as to whether 
or not it would be picking up the capsule. Then, the final word was received, 
and Cmdr. Hazen informed the crew.

And the crew was ready-pick-upcrane operator James Walson, EN1 went
through every detail in his mind again, as the ship streamed through the seas 
faster than it had ever done before. In the sick bay, DesDiv 32 staff doctor Lt. 
Paul Fukuda checked his  instructions for checking the astronauts when they 
came aboard. Behind the doors marked "Exclusive Area, Keep Out," chief 
radioman William A. Butler tuned his equipment for communications to Pearl 
Harbor, and to monitor the capsule itself. Swimmers reviewed their mission, that 
of assisting the recovery, and also of possibly finding the Reentry and Recovery Package, a tiny package jettisoned from the capsule, which is very difficult to 
recover. And in the Combat Information Center, attentive eyes watched each 
sweep of the radar antenna indicator on the PPI scopes. As long as each sweep 
produced the blip at 181 degrees, everything was going A-OK.

After cruising at speeds near 7 miles a second, the 32-knot speed of the Mason 
must have seemed slow to the astronauts. But the gray break in the horizon 
became a ship, and the ship became a destroyer, and the destroyer soon became 
a gray wall towering over them. At 3:24 p.m. the Mason had made its 
rendezvous with the Gemini 8 capsule and astronauts, and with destiny.

"Boy, are we glad to see you," shouted one astronaut, as the ship maneuvered 
into position to take them aboard.

David Scott and Neil Armstrong

Capsule safely abroad.


Cover for the occasion.

Four minutes later, David Scott and Neil Armstrong, both wearing sunglasses 
were lifted aboard the destroyer. The capsule followed in another seven minutes. 
And the three Mason swimmers recovered the elusive R&R package.
Once aboard, the astronauts were given a medical examination and then went to sleep.

"We asked them if they had any preference about what they'd like to eat," 
explained Chief Commissaryman John F. Washem, "but they said they just 
wanted to eat whatever was on the menu." [It was spaghetti and meatballs. As 
an extra treat, a shrimp salad was added.] Later, at midnight, they were served 
steak and eggs.

Steaming back to Okinawa, the astronauts toured the ship. [neither had been 
aboard a destroyer before]. They were presented numerous souvenirs and also 
gave many, in the form of autographs.

A routine administrative message was dispatched to PAMI [Pacific Accounting
Machine Installation, where punch-card tabulations are kept on Navy billets and 


The next day, the ship berthed at Okinawa, where astronaut Walter Schirra met 
the astronauts as soon as the gangplank was lowered. The astronauts thanked 
the ship's crew, and left for Houston by plane.


Small craft warnings were flying when the Mason steamed around Yokosuka's 
signal point Sunday, March 20. The late afternoon sun could not provide enough
heat to make it warm.

The Commander U.S. Naval Forces, Japan band welcomed the ship that was a 
local hero as she backed into her berth. Wives and dependents waited aboard the 
USS Ernest G. Small, next to the Mason.

Crew members, lining the sides at special Sea detail, met her docking with mixed 
emotions. They had just participated in their greatest mission. For that they were 
exhilarated. But now, it was over. And like actors after the final curtain, they felt 
let down as the last entry in the most eventful patrol of the ship was recorded. 
The mission was accomplished; the Mason had come home again.

Other references

More information on Gemini-8 from NASA's History Office
More information on Gemini-8 from On the Shoulders
More information on Gemini-8 from Mark Wade

Mark has a good collection of shoulder patches

Larry Mason, Neil Armstrong and Joyce (Mason) Johnson

Joyce & Dick Johnson and Neil Armstrong.


This Web Page was created by and
is maintained by Paul D. Henriott
Last updated 15 June 2005