December 27, 1965 Electronics
[Table of Contents]
Wax nostalgic about and learn from the history of early electronics.
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published 1930 - 1988. All copyrights hereby acknowledged.
When I originally tagged this Electronics magazine article for posting, it was before Golden State Warriors guard Stephen Curry tapped into his immense cerebral power to inform us all that NASA has been faking its accomplishments in space - notably all the moon landings. Now, based on such unimpeachable authority, I'm not so sure this story should even be posted, lest it potentially perpetuate a long-running ruse. In the manner of contemporary news pieces reporting on criminal activity while avoiding legal claims of libel or character assassination, please mentally preface all of the claims herein with "alleged" or "allegedly." The world's first successful spacecraft rendezvous, accomplished by Gemini 6 and Gemini 7, happened on December 15, 1965. Both astronaut crews participated in many communications experiments that included radio, visual, and laser media.
Electronics Review: Space Electronics
Soaring in space: Gemini 7 as seen from Gemini 6.
The date was kept
"We have company tonight." On the 11th day of a fortnight in space that laconic message from Gemini 7, soaring about 180 miles over Guam, raised cheers from a waiting world. It was the signal that a rendezvous had been kept; that two spacecraft, traveling at 17,500 miles an hour would be able to come together for the docking that is a vital prerequisite to landing a man on the moon. The entire mission, of stunning complexity and unprecedented length, went off with barely a hitch.
The loudest kudos went to the Westinghouse Electric Corp.'s radar system [Electronics, April 5, pp. 110-112D] and the International Business Machines Corp.'s onboard computers [Electronics, May 3, p. 71]. The two systems helped the astronauts steer their crafts to the rendezvous.
Formal wear. The complex steps that led to the rendezvous began the morning of Dec. 15, with the successful launching of Gemini 6. For the occasion of their meeting with Gemini 6, Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, who had been riding in their long underwear, put on their spacesuits. Gemini 6 went into orbit at 8:43 a.m. (EST). Gemini 7 was in a higher and wider orbit at this time, so Gemini 6 had to adjust its orbit with tiny rocket bursts to bring it in line with Gemini 7.
Slowly, during a series of seven steps, the gap narrowed to about three feet.
Much of the catch-up operation was guided from the ground. It was only in the last 235 miles that the astronauts were left to their own devices - radar and computer - to find their way in space.
Direct talk. During the early part of the rendezvous exercise, communication between the two craft was accomplished indirectly: messages from one capsule were first transmitted to the ground and then relayed to the other capsule. When they were within 230 miles of each other, the astronauts turned on small ultrahigh-frequency transceivers inside the craft so they could talk directly to each other. The radio was produced by the Collins Radio Co.
Meanwhile, on the ground, electronics scored another success. Live television pictures of the spacecraft recovery were relayed via Early Bird, from the mid-Atlantic to the shore. TV pictures of the recovery, taken from the deck of the U.S.S. Wasp, were transmitted with portable equipment developed by the International Telephone and Telegraph Corp. The pictures received by home transmitters were of unusually good quality.
Not a Whisper
The one electronic experiment that proved a dismal failure during the Gemini 6 and 7 flights was the laser communication test [Electronics, Dec. 13, p. 34]. But the problem, actually a series of problems, was not with the Gemini 7 laser transmitter, which was produced by the Radio Corp. of America, nor with the ground station gear produced by Electro-Optical Systems, Inc., a subsidiary of the Xerox Corp.
The faults were on the ground and most were human errors. Bad weather also contributed to the trouble: heavy cloud cover often blocked transmission of the laser beam. Trouble began early in the mission. A fire at the first scheduled receiving station, at Ascension Island, destroyed a shed housing some of the ground-base equipment. At the next scheduled station, in Hawaii, trouble in adjusting the laser caused further postponement. By the time Gemini 7 reached the third station, in White Sands, N. M., the craft's angle of inclination was too low for voice communication.
Butterfingers. On succeeding days more problems cropped up. At Ascension, for example, a technician dropped a laser tube. Meanwhile, the astronauts reported they were having trouble spotting the laser beacon. In an attempted solution, the beam's width was widened, but this didn't help.
There was speculation about removing the green filter on the ground stations' transmitters to make the beam more visible but officials decided the task was too delicate to be rushed.
Some success was finally reported over Hawaii, a week after the mission began. Astronaut Lovell spotted the ground station's beacon, locked onto it for two minutes, but didn't get a chance to test the voice communication.
Posted December 12, 2018