Rescue of Gemini VIII
Gemini-8 was launched on
and made an emergency landing the same day..
The Atlas-Agena target
the Gemini VIII mission was successfully
launched from KSC Launch
14 at 10 a.m. EST March 16. The Gemini
VIII spacecraft followed
Complex 19 at 11:41 a.m., with command
pilot Neil A. Armstrong and
David R. Scott aboard. The spacecraft and its
target vehicle rendezvoused
docked, with docking confirmed 6 hours 33
minutes after the
launched. This first successful docking with an
Agena target vehicle was
by a major space emergency. About 27 minutes
later the spacecraft-Agena
encountered unexpected roll and yaw
motion. A stuck thruster on
put the docked assembly into a wild high
speed gyration. Near
limits and blackout, Armstrong undocked, figuring
the problem was in the
only made it worse. The problem arose
again and when the yaw and
rates became too high the crew shut the main
Gemini reaction control
down and activated and used both rings of the
reentry control system to
the spacecraft rates to zero. This used 75% of
that system's fuel.
crew wanted to press on with the mission and
Scott's planned space walk,
control ordered an emergency splashdown in
the western Pacific during
seventh revolution. The spacecraft landed at 10:23
p.m. EST March 16 and
and Scott were picked up by the destroyer
U.S.S. Mason at 1:37 a.m.
17. Although the flight was cut short by
the incident, one of the
objectives - rendezvous and docking (the first
rendezvous of two
orbital flight) - was accomplished.
to the rescue of Gemini
Neil Armstrong and rescuer
TWO MEN FROM OUTER
message that crackled
over the headsets of the Manned Space
Flight Center in Houston,
the lives of everyone involved in the space
flight officially called
It meant a capsule was coming down in the Pacific
almost two days early. It
to short an emergency in space.
and David Scott, the message meant they
were the main characters of
of which the world literally was the stage.
the men aboard the
Leonard F. Mason, on patrol in the Western
Pacific with the USS George
Mackenzie, It meant a routine mission had
become the most important
event in the ship's history.
for the housewife
radio, the executive beside the office TV, and
the student listening to
it raised a spectre that has silently been
haunting anyone who has
breath as a countdown neared zero-the
possibility of losing an
on a mission.
These thoughts, and a
were going through the mind on Cmdr.
Alan H. Hazen, as he stood
bridge of the Mason. His ship was turning to
a heading of 191-degrees
two screws were starting to turn out 27 knots. Enginemen
were firing up his two other boilers. That would bring his flank
up to 32 knots or over. But
the capsule was down in the ocean over one
hundred eighty miles away,
area known as 7/3, a landing area designator
for the seventh orbit.
Charles Stroble, on TAD orders to
Project Femini, checked his
for the hundredth time. He had been out on
them something between a routine job
and a rest. Now, everything
different. In his camera, was film from which
NASA would learn many
In the darkened areas of
radarman James B. Flynn, strained his eyes
at the yellow radar scope.
an Irishman, and his usual black tie had been
replaced by a bright green
in observance of St. Patrick's Day.
This was the first time
months since the ship had made a power run.
During her last sea trials,
had steamed flank-speed for an hour. Today, she
would run faster and harder
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
the propulsion system]. One hour and thirty-two
minutes after the call came
the Mason slowed to 22 knots to allow the two
extra boilers to be put
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
About a hundred miles
bobbing in three-foot waves, the prime
subjects of the message
seasickness, "It's a great capsule, "Capt.
Wally Schirra said later,
a lousy boat." For the time being they were
safe-overhead an Air Force
C-54 was flying,
and paramedics were already making their
spotted the capsule on radar is classified-but it
capsule was floating on the surface, where sea
return and the curvature of
earth tend to render radar readings difficult at best.
"It [the radar blip] was as
as the echo of a plane," he explained. "I yelled 'I've
got it'-181 degrees!"
the Mason was 100
there was still some doubt as to whether
or not it would be picking
capsule. Then, the final word was received,
and Cmdr. Hazen informed
the crew was
operator James Walson, EN1 went
through every detail in his
again, as the ship streamed through the seas
faster than it had ever
In the sick bay, DesDiv 32 staff doctor Lt.
Paul Fukuda checked
for checking the astronauts when they
came aboard. Behind the
"Exclusive Area, Keep Out," chief
radioman William A. Butler
his equipment for communications to Pearl
Harbor, and to monitor the
itself. Swimmers reviewed their mission, that
of assisting the recovery,
also of possibly finding the Reentry and Recovery Package,
a tiny package jettisoned from the capsule, which is very difficult
recover. And in the Combat
Center, attentive eyes watched each
sweep of the radar antenna
on the PPI scopes. As long as each sweep
produced the blip at 181
everything was going A-OK.
cruising at speeds
miles a second, the 32-knot speed of the Mason
must have seemed slow to
But the gray break in the horizon
became a ship, and the ship
a destroyer, and the destroyer soon became
a gray wall towering over
At 3:24 p.m. the Mason had made its
rendezvous with the Gemini
and astronauts, and with destiny.
are we glad to see
one astronaut, as the ship maneuvered
into position to take them
David Scott and Neil
Capsule safely abroad.
Cover for the occasion.
Four minutes later,
and Neil Armstrong, both wearing sunglasses
were lifted aboard the
The capsule followed in another seven minutes.
And the three Mason
the elusive R&R package.
Once aboard, the
given a medical examination and then went to sleep.
"We asked them if they had
about what they'd like to eat,"
F. Washem, "but they said they just
wanted to eat whatever was
menu." [It was spaghetti and meatballs. As
an extra treat, a shrimp
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].
were presented numerous souvenirs and also
gave many, in the form of
A routine administrative
was dispatched to PAMI [Pacific Accounting
Machine Installation, where
tabulations are kept on Navy billets and
personnel]. It read
ASTRONAUTS FROM OUTER
The next day, the ship
Okinawa, where astronaut Walter Schirra met
the astronauts as soon as
was lowered. The astronauts thanked
the ship's crew, and left
Small craft warnings
when the Mason steamed around Yokosuka's
signal point Sunday, March
The late afternoon sun could not provide enough
heat to make it warm.
The Commander U.S. Naval
Japan band welcomed the ship that was a
local hero as she backed
berth. Wives and dependents waited aboard the
USS Ernest G. Small, next
Crew members, lining the
special Sea detail, met her docking with mixed
emotions. They had just
in their greatest mission. For that they were
exhilarated. But now, it
And like actors after the final curtain, they felt
let down as the last entry
most eventful patrol of the ship was recorded.
The mission was
Mason had come home again.
information on Gemini-8 from NASA's History Office
information on Gemini-8 from On the Shoulders
information on Gemini-8 from Mark Wade
Mark has a good collection of shoulder
Larry Mason, Neil Armstrong
Joyce (Mason) Johnson
Joyce & Dick Johnson
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Last updated 15 June 2005