1965: Gus Grissom and ‘Gemini 3’ really Launched NASA’s Space Program

Astronauts Young and Grissom walk up the ramp leading to the elevator that will carry them to the spacecraft for the first manned Gemini mission. They wear Gemini G3C intravehicular suits.

March 23, 1965 Major Virgil Grissom and Lt. Cdr. John Young completed the world’s first maneuverable manned spacecraft through a near-perfect flight of four hours and 54 minutes.

Gemini 3 blasted off from Cape Kennedy as America’s first two-person space flight.

This was truly the beginning of a whole new era in man’s travel into space.


“Molly Brown”, as the craft was named, flew nose forward, backward, upside down — all on their three-orbit journey. The spacecraft’s maneuverability was integral to the space program’s development and freedom from total control on earth of basic operations.

From the debriefing:

“Molly Brown” lifted off so smoothly that neither Grissom nor Young felt anything. Their real cues were seeing the mission clock on the instrument panel start running and hearing Cooper announce it from mission control. There was less noise than they had heard on the moving-base simulator in Dallas. When the first-stage engine cut off two and a half minutes later, acceleration plunged from six gravities to one. The second-stage engine ignited, bathing the spacecraft in a flash of orange-yellow light that disconcerted Young for the moment it took him to realize that this was a normal product of fire-in-the-hole staging – that is, second-stage ignition before, instead of after, separation. The launch vehicle had slightly exceeded its predicted thrust, but a warning from Cooper prepared the pilots for the larger than expected pitchdown when the second stage took over the steering. Young, who had never been in space before, was entranced by his view of Earth’s horizon and the sense of rapid motion as second-stage thrust built up.

It reads better than most novels or the dribble excreted by Hollywood these days.

John Young smuggled a corn beef sandwich aboard, an incident that resulted with the crewmen being reprimanded when they returned to Earth and subsequent crews were warned against pulling similar stunts. Evidently, there was concern that bread crumbs from the sandwich could be harmful to the electronics aboard Molly Brown.

“Oh boy,” Commander young said to President Johnson by radiophone from the aircraft carrier after pickup from the Atlantic. “The only thing wrong with it was it didn’t last long enough.”

Cape Kennedy NASA officials bragged how the Gemini did things that the Russians had never said they could do with their Vostok and Voshkod craft.

  • First time a manned spacecraft had used rocket power for real alterations of its flight path
  • First time re-entry into the earth’s atmosphere had been controlled (Essential to the Apollo Project)

The nickname he gave the capsule is a reference to the musical “The Unsinkable Molly Brown.” After Major Grissom’s first ride in space on July 21, 1961 — and he is the only man to do it twice — his Liberty Belle 7 capsule sank in the Atlantic.

After a rust-colored cloud of smoke and steam flashed from the tail of the two-stage rocket and the first manned Gemini flight was airborne.

Three minutes later, Maj. L. Gordon Cooper Jr., who almost two years ago made the nation’s last manned flight, said from his communicator’s position in the control center:

“You’re on your way, Molly Brown!”

“Yeah, Man,” Major Grissom replied.

45 years later: “Yeah Man” still feels like the appropriate response. In an era where astronauts were heroic icons, this larger than life launch set the table for a climactic decade of space travel.
Sure seems like light years from where we are today.


See also: “GT-3 Debriefing,” pp. 3-2 through -6; “GT-3 Flight Crew Self-Debriefing,” NASA Program Gemini working paper No. 5026, 3 June 1965, pp. 2-1, 3-2; “GT-3 Mission Report,” pp. 7-11, -20, -21; “Air-to-Ground Voice,” p. 3; Grissom and Young, “Molly Brown was OK,” p. 41.
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About the Author

- Writer and Co-Founder of The Global Dispatch, Brandon has been covering news, offering commentary for years, beginning professionally in 2003 on Crazed Fanboy before expanding into other blogs and sites. Appearing on several radio shows, Brandon has hosted Dispatch Radio, written his first novel (The Rise of the Templar) and completed the three years Global University program in Ministerial Studies to be a pastor. To Contact Brandon email [email protected] ATTN: BRANDON

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