Weird crap in Mike’s place: Gemini 5 flight plan
In the arena of space collecting there are many levels to handle the many different interests and bank accounts. The most cost effective are things such as patches from the various missions, photo or other swag commonly found in NASA gift shops or on the web. The more serious collectors opt for autographs from Apollo era astronauts, or even flown artifacts. Several online dealers advertise flown items such as small pieces of parachute material in Lucite paperweights or embedded in the covers of pens. However amongst the most serious of collectors, large and intact flown items are the most highly prized. Personal effects of the crew such as sun-glasses or razors, all the way to tools, hand controllers, console displays are highly prized. Of these are flown and intact mission flight-plans among the most scarce.
What is a Flight-Plan?
What is a flight-plan? It’s simply a manual, typically 100 pages in length or more depending on the mission duration, which hasthe mission’s timeline broken down to one-hour increments per page. Only one was carried per flight , and as the central manual out of a dozen or more carried onboard the spacecraft it would likely include hundreds of hand-written notes by the crew. These would cover observations of the earth or moon, corrected times to specific events and numbers uploaded from and in the case of the Apollo 12 volume, custom cartoons drawn by BC’s Johnny Hart.
Years ago I was lucky enough to acquire the Gemini 5 flight plan from pilot Pete Conrad. Gemini 5 is a special mission as it would record the one critical “first” that would go unanswered by the Soviets. The Russians managed to scoop up the low-hanging fruit when it comes to the early firsts: first satellite, first man in space, first spacecraft to go to the moon, first soft-landing on the moon, longest mission duration, first spacewalk…and on and on. But by 1965 they pretty much blew their wad, and any new records would come at a much higher cost in both effort and lives as they developed a more flexible spacecraft than the Vostok or Voskhod (the result would be the Soyuz, still in use today).
The most major and critical “first” was that Gemini 5 would last longer than a week, being the duration of a full lunar mission. Others included Gordon Cooper becoming the first person to fly in orbit a second time, and the first use of fuel-cell technology as opposed to batteries, essential for long duration missions. It would take the Soviets five long years before they would break the duration record with the 17-day marathon of Soyuz 9 in 1970.
In short, the Gemini 5 flight was one the “tortoises” took the lead from the hare and would never look back leading to the eventual lunar landing four years later. And that is all documented in my flight-plan.
If you have a flown item, it is particularly nice to have it visible in a photo, on television or referenced in the Air-to-Ground transmissions. Mission documentation works well for the latter. Below is the page from 1 day, 2 minutes into the mission. Conrad jots down instructions to change some settings needed to handle possible issues with the new-fangled and very fussy fuel cells.
Conrad’s commander, Gordon Cooper, was the pilot of the final Mercury mission lasting 34 hours. In the following clip after some housekeeping notes, Conrad is given special instructions.
Unfortunately, a lot of collectors are scooping up the documentation and breaking them up one page at a time. It provides a chance for someone to own a page that went to the moon, but the integrity, the story that the manual tells is unfortunately destroyed. Buzz Aldrin is notorious on this, where a single page out of the hundreds in the Apollo 11 flight plan can fetch $30,000.
Personally, I’d love to get an intact Apollo fight plan, and have one from the Space Shuttle mission, STS-51B. In the case of the former, price does matter and so that will likely never grace my displays. But a friend has the one from Apollo 12, so I can always visit that if I get the urge.
Shuttle documents are gradually leaking into the market now since it is no longer flying for prices that are far saner than the earlier flights. You might want to pick one of those up, but be careful, you might get “the bug” and your savings will never forgive you.