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From the Archives, 1965: Melbourne lights up for Gemini IV’s space orbit

The astronauts were nearing the end of their first day in space when they passed on their 14th and 15th orbits – the two which brought them closest to Melbourne.

Earlier, they had been reported by the Carnarvon tracking station in Western Australia to be in A-1 condition.

It seemed their only problem was a troublesome hatch cover which forced them to forgo a second direct exposure to the weightless void of space.

Melbourne and its suburbs turned on their lights for the astronauts to see when they came to within about 350 miles north of Melbourne at 10.51 p.m. and 12.20 a.m.

Australian Associated Press reported that after White’s exhilarating and at times hilarious 20-minute “swim” in space around the Gemini IV more than 100 miles above the United States and the third revolution yesterday, the two astronauts had trouble closing the hatch over White’s seat.

It was not for another 12 hours that the mission control centre at Houston, Texas, found out what the trouble was and concurred with flight commander McDivitt’s suggestion not to open the hatch again.

The ratchet device to close it and the latch which sealed it had given them trouble, he reported.

Before details of the trouble became known, mission director Christopher Kraft told a press conference that White might reopen the hatch as originally planned, to discard some of the bulkier equipment used on his venture into space. This would give them more room in the cramped spacecraft.

Front page of The Age published on June 5, 1965.

Front page of The Age published on June 5, 1965.Credit:The Age Archives

Elated

Each of the Gemini “twins” had a chance to sleep during the night. Both had meals earlier, but mission control said the excitement had affected their appetites, McDivitt eating only about half of what he was expected to consume.

“They did not eat more because they were elated and excited,” the report said.

Part of today’s plan called for White and McDivitt to pretend they are returning from a Moon trip.

They had to try to orient themselves visually by spotting landmarks such as the Florida Peninsula.

The antics of White, a 34-year-old sandy-haired spaceman with a keen sense of humor, highlighted the first day voyage of Gemini IV as it streaked around and around the Earth.

Dr. Dwayne Catterson, one of the flight’s medical experts, said White slept fitfully during his first rest period because he was still exhilarated from the space swim.

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“He slept off and on which anyone would expect,” Dr. Catterson said.

The astronauts were rocketed from Cape Kennedy by a Titan II booster at 1.16 a.m. Friday, Melbourne time, for a four-day mission designed to put the United States into contention with the Soviet Union for the lead in manned space travel.

Although two of the three feats planned for the action-packed first few hours of the flight were not successful, White was a resounding success in the third.

This was his 20-minute jet-powered outing into space on the end of a 25-foot gold-plated combination tether umbilical cord.

Manoeuvre

White zipped around with his handheld jet-powered propulsion unit for several minutes before he ran out of fuel.

For the rest of the time he continued to manoeuvre himself around the craft, taking pictures of the Earth, McDivitt, the stars, and anything else he could see.

He enjoyed himself thoroughly and did not want to come back until he absolutely had to.

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He more than matched the feat last March of Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the world’s first space swimmer.

He walked on the spacecraft.

“It’s the saddest moment of my life,” White said to McDivitt when the commander ordered him inside before it became too dark to see.

Mission director Kraft told a press conference: “He didn’t want to get back in, but McDivitt prevailed.”

The mission plan had called for McDivitt to use Gemini’s thrusters to keep the craft within 400 feet of the spent second stage of the Titan II rocket, travelling on a slightly different orbital path.

Gemini was to close in to within 20 feet by the time White emerged, giving him the opportunity to touch the casing.

But McDivitt quickly found this was requiring about twice as much thruster action than anticipated – exhausting fuel needed for a manoeuvre on the final revolution of the flight to ensure reentry into the atmosphere in case Gemini’s retrorockets failed.

The mission director cancelled the effort and also cancelled a try for a second rendezvous which was to come in the fifth revolution.

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