"Gemini 5, have a nice trip and drive carefully. Eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one. Roger, we have liftoff, and the clock is operating."
That voice saying the clock is operating was Shawnee Oklahoma's Gordon Cooper who was making his second trip into space.
From the Oklahoma History Center, this is Oklahoma Memories. I'm Michael Dean.
Cooper was one of the seven original astronauts and had previously flown on a mission in the Mercury series. It was on August 21, 1965, that he became the first American to make two trips into space. Also on board was Charles Pete Conrad. Until this flight, the United States had trailed the Russians in the space race; the Russians launched the first satellite into space, the first man into space, the first woman into space, the longest manned flights in space. Every step of the way, they led, and we followed, but that all changed with the Gemini 5 mission with Gordon Cooper in command.
Gemini bridged the gap between the Mercury flights, proving that man could successfully fly in space, and the planned Apollo flights that would send an American to the moon and back. The purpose was to extend flight times to that required to fly to the moon and return, walk and work in space, and rendezvous with other objects in space...all the things required for the lunar missions.
About halfway through the eight-day Gemini 5 mission, they hit a milestone.
"The Flight Director would like to speak to you for just a moment. 'Roger.' 'Good morning, Gordo.' 'Chris, how are you?' 'How does it feel for the United States to be the new record holder?' 'At last, huh?' 'Roger. Congratulations.'""
The mission was not without a series of problems. The oxygen tank for the power supply was new and partially failed, the orbital thruster system ran short of fuel causing some of the experiments to be cancelled, and Pete Conrad was suffering from sheer boredom.
"Gordo composed this yesterday after our system pooped out on us. And you can sing it to We Were Sailing Along. It goes like this. We were drifting along by the CSQ, but the radio suddenly said here's word for you, your controls are dead but you're not through, so here we are for three days more with the end quite far. 'Hey Pete you're doing great until the last line. Recompose that, will ya?' We'll work on it. We have a few more that are better.""
This was the first Gemini mission with a patch. It featured a covered wagon with the words ""8 days or bust"" on its side. During the flight Conrad sketched a drawing of the wagon about halfway over a cliff. After they landed Conrad called the mission ""Eight days in a garbage can."" (The garbage can reference referring to the small size of the Gemini capsule about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.).
They successfully landed on August 29, 1965, and promptly received a call from President Lyndon Johnson.
"So I just want to say God bless you both. We're glad you're back. We shall be everlastingly proud of you, and we are so thankful for all the blessings that are ours.""
During a visit to Oklahoma City in the year 2000, Cooper talked about the Gemini program.
"It was a great program. In some ways it wasn't as much fun as Mercury, but it was more fun in some ways because you knew what to expect, and it was a great program. The whole program was good because it was a really successful R and D program, and it went right down the track time wise. We didn't really encounter any undue delays. It was an ideal program as far as test programs.
Gordon Cooper died in October 2004. You can learn more about Oklahomans in the manned space program by visiting the Oklahoma History Center, where you'll see a display featuring the actual Gemini 6 capsule that Oklahoman Tom Stafford flew in December of 1965.
The Oklahoma History Center is located on NE 23rd Street, just east of the state capitol in Oklahoma City. Oklahoma Memories is a production of the Oklahoma History Center, dedicated to collecting, preserving, and sharing our state's past. I'm Michael Dean.