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Archive for Thursday, December 1, 2005

Former astronaut looks in on Gemini 12 restoration

James Lovell uttered famous ‘Houston, we have a problem’

December 1, 2005

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— Former astronaut James Lovell Jr. peered deep inside the Gemini 12 capsule that he flew in November 1966 during the first space mission in which two spaceships docked.

"All the spots on my seat are still there," Lovell said Wednesday.

Pointing to one seat, he told onlookers that was where Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin sat. Lovell sat in the other one.

The last time he saw the capsule was 20 years ago when it still was enclosed in a Plexiglas shell and on display at the NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Maryland.

But that shell was partially removed recently at the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, where preservation work soon will begin before it goes on display at the Alder Planetarium in Chicago. It will be on long-term loan there from the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.

"It looks pretty good," Lovell said as he inspected the capsule. "It smells the same."

Lovell and officials from the Alder Planetarium were at the Cosmosphere to meet with restoration experts to go over details of the restoration work. Lovell wanted to make sure it is brought back to its post-flight appearance.


Former astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. stands on a ladder next to Gemini 12 on Wednesday at Space Works in Hutchinson. Lovell, who flew and was in the craft for four days in 1966, had not seen it for nearly 20 years.

Former astronaut James A. Lovell Jr. stands on a ladder next to Gemini 12 on Wednesday at Space Works in Hutchinson. Lovell, who flew and was in the craft for four days in 1966, had not seen it for nearly 20 years.

"We don't want it shiny," Lovell said. "We don't want it to look like a new nickel. It takes away from the real artifact."

This is the third Gemini capsule the Cosmosphere's restoration shop has restored. The others were Gemini 6 and Gemini 10. Gemini 10 is on display at the Cosmosphere, and Gemini 12 is expected to be finished and delivered to Alder in February.

"Each one is real unique," said Jack Graber, the technology director for the Cosmosphere. Since the capsules were used for research and development, each model is different.

The Cosmosphere plans to clean the corrosion and preserve Gemini 12, rather than restore it to like-new condition, Graber said. Missing parts - including a few gauges, switches, handles and joysticks - would be replaced.

Adler President Paul Knappenberger said the planetarium is transforming itself by adding an exhibit gallery to tell the story of space exploration.

"Our goal is to inspire youngsters to think of themselves as explorers," Knappenberger said.

The way to encourage youngsters, he said, is to tell the stories of American space heroes and the challenges they faced.

Lovell lobbied to get the Gemini 12 spacecraft to Alder, which he called a "natural place for an artifact like this." He also has given the planetarium the handbook used to save the crew's lives during the near-fatal Apollo 13 mission, along with several other items to mark the institution's 75th anniversary.

Lovell - who uttered the now-famous words, "Houston, we have a problem" after the explosion aboard the Apollo 13 mission - also covetously eyed the Apollo 13 spacecraft now on display at the Cosmosphere, commenting how good that exhibit would look at Alder, as well.

But Cosmosphere President Jeff Ollenburger wasn't about to give that bit of space history up: "I think it looks perfect where it is," he told him.

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