Saturday, February 13, 2016

The Gemini Rendezvous Layout

[Model train layout used by NBC News to demonstrate the Gemini 7 and Gemini 6A rendezvous maneuver. Photo shown in the Safety Valve letters to the editor column of the March ’66 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman and attributed to NBC News. The wikipedia entry on the rendezvous says that the mission plan was for Gemini 6A, after launching on 15 December ’65, to meet up with Gemini 7, which had launched on 4 December ’65, on its fourth orbit after leaving Earth. These 4 orbits are likely the four main loops you see in the trackplan. Over on the left you can see where the track comes together in some sort of curved switch or crossing - I wonder what sort of piece of track that is - I’ll have to dig in some old Atlas catalogues to see if I can figure it out.]

The ape, racing to the moon, holds no fascination for me . . .  I much prefer the sedate company of the tomcat who suns himself out on the back porch.
[E. L. Moore in an 8 April ’62 letter to Railroad Model Craftsman editor Hal Carstens.]

I’ve waded through lots of old model railroad magazines while on the E. L. Moore trail, seeing many sights and reading the most fascinating things. This is one, and with the death of Apollo 14 astronaut Edgar Mitchell earlier this month, and the confirmation of gravitational waves last week, I thought about posting this snippet of a small intersection of my interests in space exploration and model railroading.

Back in the March ’66 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman, a reader, Philip Schmucker of Detroit, wrote in and asked the editors if they knew anything about the model railroad he saw on tv that was used to demonstrate the docking of Gemini 7 and Gemini 6A that happened on 15 December 1965.

The editor was interested and contacted NBC for more information. This is what they reported:

... the NBC News Gemini coverage in which loops of HO trackage were laid so as to approximate the elliptical orbits of the two Gemini spacecraft, including the actual rendezvous. Al Chambers of the NBC News staff advises that the 12-foot-square layout was built by Model Railroad Equipment Corporation’s Andy Uveges, who used Atlas’ curvable track and switches. Tyco power cars specially built up by Andy held the Revell Gemini capsules. Diodes permitted the two cars to ride the same track. Power was also by Tyco. The track laid in close approximation of the actual flight pattern, designed to show the orbital mechanics of the two spacecraft. Much to NBC’s delight, Astronaut Wally Schirra referred to the flight as “just like being on rails” at the Dec. 30th news conference in Houston ...
[Safety Valve letters to the editor column, Railroad Model Craftsman, March 1966]

Those Revell Gemini spacecraft models might have been the 1/24 scale kit released in 1965 and re-issued in 2000 and 2012. Today one could use DCC to replace the diode-based control system, making this demonstration layout rather straightforward to recreate. 

[The Revell Gemini models making the rendezvous. Photo shown in the Safety Valve letters to the editor column of the March ’66 issue of Railroad Model Craftsman and attributed to NBC News. The wikipedia entry on the mission states that during rendezvous the two spacecraft remained in close proximity for 270 minutes and at one point got within a foot of each other.]

Some say good things come in threes, others say bad things come in threes, either way, the third bit of space news I’ve stumbled across this month is this amazing video, Cinema: A Space Odyssey

Let’s wrap this up with some words from Edgar Mitchell,

You develop an instant global consciousness, a people orientation, an intense dissatisfaction with the state of the world, and a compulsion to do something about it. From out there on the moon, international politics look so petty. You want to grab a politician by the scruff of the neck and drag him a quarter of a million miles out and say, ‘Look at that, you son of a bitch.'
[Edgar D. Mitchell (Astronaut; Apollo 14 moon walker; b. 17 Sept. 1930; d. 4 Feb. 2016)]

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