Greetings from The Aero Experience Team


The Aero Experience is a celebration of Midwest aviation and aerospace achievement. We invite you to join us as we explore the treasures of Midwest aviation through first-hand experiences. Our contributors take turns flying lead, and we are always looking for new destinations. Check in with The Aero Experience frequently to see where we will land today, and then go out and have your own aero experiences!

Blue skies,

Carmelo Turdo, Mark Nankivil and Fred Harl - The Aero Experience Team

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Inside Mercury and Gemini: Exclusive Look Inside America's First Manned Spacecraft

By Carmelo Turdo
The Aero Experience continues our salute to the McDonnell Aircraft Gemini Space Program by commemorating the 50th anniversary of the completion of the last flight  - November 11-15, 1966.  In our previous post, we featured the dedication of the memorial to the Gemini Program and the two astronauts, Elliot M. See and Charles Bassett, who lost their lives February 28, 1966 on a flight to the St. Louis-based McDonnell Aircraft factory for training in the rendezvous simulator.  After years of work on the memorial, it will now be displayed for posterity.  

We continue our coverage of the 50th anniversary of the Gemini Space Program's last flight with an exclusive look into the spacecraft that launched the U.S. Manned Space Program from the beginning - McDonnell's Mercury and Gemini spacecraft.  The subjects of this story are the Mercury and Gemini Engineering Development Fixtures now on display at the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room located in what is now Boeing St. Louis headquarters.  They are on loan from the Smithsonian National Air & Space Museum, and have been on display there since 1974.  While the mission spacecraft and their crews get most of the public attention, there are actually many other pieces of equipment and training aids that are critical to a program's success.  The Aero Experience thought that a look inside these full-scale artifacts would give a realistic view of what it was like to live in the spacecraft orbiting the earth over 50 years ago.  Thanks to Boeing's Mary Barr, Communications for the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room, we were granted exclusive access to take interior photos of the Mercury and Gemini exhibits this spring, and there is now no better time to publish our findings.  

In the time before the advent of 3-Dimensaional engineering software, the Mercury Engineering Development Fixture was constructed to provide a full-scale mockup for the engineers, assembly workers and the astronauts during the development phase of the Mercury spacecraft.  The mockup was valuable for fitting systems and for developing the cockpit layout and working environment for the astronauts in training for America's first manned space missions.  It is likely that some or all of the original Mercury Seven astronauts used this equipment during their training at the McDonnell Aircraft production facility that was located nearby.  The interior frame is made of wood, as is the cockpit interior, heat shield cover and retro rockets.  The external skin and escape tower are metal, and the instrument panel is an accurate representation of the one found in the actual spacecraft.  The following series of photos gives a first-hand view of what it may have looked like to fly a mission in the Mercury spacecraft.

Similarly, the Gemini Engineering Development Fixture served as a 3-Dimensional design aid during the rapid development of the Gemini spacecraft that proved so important in the run-up to the manned moon missions.  The mockup, marked as constructed in February 1964, is made primarily of wood, though more use of metal, fiberglass and plastic is evident in the larger, double crew vehicle.  The aft section features more metal components posing as fuel tanks and wiring connecting wooden rockets and fuel cells.  Unlike the Mercury fixture, the Gemini console is made for layout only and does not contain functioning lights or instruments.  The engineers and astronaut crewmen found this mockup useful for planning the best available cockpit arrangement for long-duration missions.  The foam mannequin is wearing a space suit and helmet worn by McDonnell engineers during the development of the Gemini spacecraft.  This series of photos takes us into the spacecraft.

The Aero Experience would like to thank Mary Barr of Boeing Communications at the James S. McDonnell Prologue Room in St. Louis for providing access to the exhibits and critical background information for this story. 

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