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    Description

    Gemini 9A Flown Gilt over Silver Fliteline Medallion Originally from the Personal Collection of Mission Commander Tom Stafford, with His Extensive Signed Letter of Authenticity. This 25mm x 19mm shield-shaped sterling silver medal has the mission insignia on the front which depicts the Gemini spacecraft in rendezvous with an Agena Target Vehicle and a tethered astronaut forming the figure "9", all in front of a large Roman numeral "IX". The reverse gives the surnames of the crew, Cernan and Stafford, as well as the engraved dates of the mission, "June 3-6 1966". Excellent.

    Included with this lot is an interesting signed three-page LOA on Stafford, Burke and Hecker letterhead that tells the entire story of this mission. It reads, in part (full transcription on our website): "The Gemini IX gold plated sterling silver medallion enclosed with this letter was carried into space on my Gemini IX flight during June 3 to 6, 1966. The gold plated ones are the rarest of the flown medallions. There was a sad sequence of events that led me to command this flight.

    "Just days before my Gemini 6 flight of December 1965, I learned that I would be the back-up commander for Gemini IX with Eugene Cernan as back-up pilot. That would allow us to rotate into position for the last flight of the program, Gemini XII. Fellow astronauts Elliot See and Charlie Bassett were selected as the prime crew for Gemini IX, and we all started extensive training in early 1966.

    "This is the worst way a back-up crew could get a flight, stepping in for lost colleagues. Gene and I never imagined our next flight opportunity would develop in this way, and it took some time to see past this tragedy.

    "This gold plated medallion reflects the history of tragedy to triumph related to the flight of Gemini IX. It was an important step to understand the dangers of exploring and working in space. The lessons learned help to enable the ultimate success of our national goal with the landing of men on the moon during July 1969."


    More Information:

    LOA transcript:

    "The Gemini IX gold plated sterling silver medallion enclosed with this letter was carried into space on my Gemini IX flight during June 3 to 6, 1966. The gold plated ones are the rarest of the flown medallions. There was a sad sequence of events that led me to command this flight.

     

    "Just days before my Gemini 6 flight of December 1965, I learned that I would be the back-up commander for Gemini IX with Eugene Cernan as back-up pilot. That would allow us to rotate into position for the last flight of the program, Gemini XII. Fellow astronauts Elliot See and Charlie Bassett were selected as the prime crew for Gemini IX, and we all started extensive training in early 1966.

     

    "On February 28, 1966, all four of us headed to the McDonnell plant where they were building the Gemini space vehicles. We flew two of our NASA T-38 jets to Lambert Field at St. Louis, Missouri, with me and Gene in one and Elliot and Charlie in the other. We were briefed before departure than the weather at Lambert was marginal, but nothing to be worried about. I had plenty of experience with instrument landings in poor weather while stationed in Germany during the mid-1950s. In route to St. Louis, we found that the weather conditions were deteriorating. I lined up with Elliot's jet as we began our instrument approach to the runway, but could barely his wing just a few feet away. I then realized we were coming in faster than I expected. When we finally broke through the clouds, we were both beyond the beginning of the runway and too high. I radioed to Elliott and expected him to do a standard missed approach, but he suddenly disappeared to my left into the clouds. I radioed that I was performing a standard missed wingman approach, moving ten degrees to the right.

     

    "Once Gene and I broke through the clouds again, I could see Elliot flying low over the McDonnell buildings next to the field trying to line up on the runway and land. Snow was beginning to fall with visibility rapidly diminishing. I radioed that we were making a missed approach and went into a holding pattern above the field. I was finally allowed by Lambert approach control to line up and make an instrument landing after several minutes of waiting with my fuel running low. After taxing off the runway, I radioed the tower and was advised to meet McDonnell personnel at their taxi ramp. I stopped and raised the canopy, then was told that a plane had crashed near the building where the Gemini spacecraft were built. Once Gene and I were inside their aircraft ready room they told us the bad news. Elliott and Charlie were both dead and several people were injured. Gene and I were shocked.

     

    "This is the worst way a back-up crew could get a flight, stepping in for lost colleagues. Gene and I never imagined our next flight opportunity would develop in this way, and it took some time to see past this tragedy.

     

    "Our training continued for a rendezvous with an Agena and Gene planning to perform a spacewalk. We were set for a May 17 launch, but again for me, the rendezvous target failed to reach orbit. This time it was an Atlas booster failure and not the Agena's fault. Unlike my Gemini 6 flight, there was a back-up vehicle available to us for Gemini IX. It was called the ATDA, or Augmented Target Docking Adaptor, which was basically a mini Agena with a docking ring but no big engine to change our orbit.

     

    "Our second launch was set for June 1, and the ATDA did make orbit but we had a data update problem with our Titan rocket. This caused our second scrub. And the ATDA was sending the ground some unexpected telemetry. We would need to reach it soon or it would run out of control fuel, plus there might be some other problems with the nose shroud.

     

    Another little issue was discussed between me and Mercury astronaut Deke Slayton, now head of the astronaut corps. He told me that I if something bad happened to Gene during his spacewalk, NASA management did not want me to leave a dead astronaut in space and I had to bring him back. I was not sure how to respond! I did not want to abandon Gene, but did they not know how difficult it would be to bring him back in and close the hatch? And if I could not bring him back in, having his body mass slinging back and forth during reentry, with hot plasma streaming through a slightly open hatch would be a major problem! Then what might remain of him could foul the parachute lines prior to splashdown. And if I made it through that, any open hatch would allow water to enter, and the spacecraft would sink in minutes. After a few moments, I told Deke that once there's liftoff, I'm the commander. If something goes wrong, I will be making the decisions.

     

    "Well, after we made it into orbit during our third attempt on June 3, things did go wrong. The ATDA was still there, but the shroud did not fully separate and we could not dock. I called it the 'Angry Alligator' because that's exactly what it looked like. The next day, things got worse.

     

    "Gene started his spacewalk and moved around to the back of our Gemini where a 'Buck Rogers' type backpack was stored. It would allow Gene to fly around with ease in space. But it was a struggle for him to get situated properly due to his rigid space suit as he moved toward the back of Gemini. His heart was beating rapidly due the extreme exertion. Parts of his space suit insulation began to fail and then his helmet visor began to fog over. He was blind. Communications between him and me via a line in a long tether began to fail. All I could hear was garbled squawks. We had to work out a system for one squawk meaning 'yes' and two squawks meaning 'no'. I ended the spacewalk early, and after extreme efforts by both of us, Gene got safely back inside. He would be coming home alive!

     

    "On June 5, we finally were able to relax and make preparations for returning to earth the next day. I wanted to make a spot on landing next to the recovery ship. This was possible because of a new software program and using the 'lift' component of the Gemini spacecraft. With some planning with ground controllers at the end of our day on the 5th, Gene and I did a small engine burn to put our orbit into a favorable position to take advantage of the lift component. We completed the proper series rolls and split S's after our retro rockets fired and splashed down within easy sight of the recovery carrier USS Wasp. It turns out that our splash point was just .38 nautical miles from our aim point. That turned out to be the nearest to target landing of any manned spacecraft until the second Space Shuttle flight of November 1981.

     

    "This gold plated medallion reflects the history of tragedy to triumph related to the flight of Gemini IX. It was an important step to understand the dangers of exploring and working in space. The lessons learned help to enable the ultimate success of our national goal with the landing of men on the moon during July 1969."



    Auction Info

    Auction Dates
    May, 2019
    9th-11th Thursday-Saturday
    Bids + Registered Phone Bidders: 7
    Lot Tracking Activity: N/A
    Page Views: 191

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