From the S&S archives

Astronauts arrive on Okinawa

Astronauts Neil Armstrong, left, and David Scott are back on solid ground after their wild ride aboard Gemini 8.


By THE ASSOCIATED PRESS Published: March 19, 1966

NAHA, Okinawa — Astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott bounded onto solid land Friday morning and then passed a thorough physical examination with flying colors.

The destroyer Leonard Mason carried them to this Western Pacific port. They arrived smiling and clean shaven. With a burst of energy they ran down the gangplank to the dock.

But a NASA doctor abruptly ordered them back aboard for a physical check.

Astronaut Walter Schirra, who flew to Okinawa to join Armstrong and Scott, told newsmen that the Gemini 8 fliers were found to be in "sound physical shape with no ill effects from the space flight or from the motion of the water" after they splashed down.

But Schirra said Armstrong and Scott had been seasick while waiting in the floating capsule to be picked up by the destroyer.

Schirra talked with the astronauts for 90 minutes aboard the destroyer.

He told newsmen they and the three Air Force para-rescue men who jumped into the water to assist them had all suffered seasickness.

"It is only fair to say that the Gemini is a fine space craft but a lousy boat," Schirra said.

He said Armstrong and Scott had slept eight hours aboard the destroyer and had a good meal.

Schirra said both were "disappointed that they had not carried out the objectives of Gemini 8 but were pleased with the space rendezvous and docking maneuver involving the Agena rocket."

"I would say they also had the best landing so far in the Gemini project," Schirra said. He added:

"As we see it now they had control problems while they were docking, and this was complicated by a rocking motion. They were not able to isolate the trouble, and they decreased their rate (speed) to a point where they could separate from Agena."

The astronauts arrived in this port in a light rain storm. They stepped ashore for the first time at 9:15 a.m.

But they were immediately ordered back aboard for the physical checkup and a talk with NASA officials.

After the physical and the conference with Schirra and the NASA officials, they left the ship for good at 11:15 a.m.

Limousines carried them about 200 yards along the dock area from the ship to three helicopters, which whisked them to Kadena AB.

There a C-135 jet transport waited to fly them to Cape Kennedy, Fla.

When Armstrong and Scott bounded down the gangplank there were cheers and applause from a watching crowd.

One group of U.S. servicemen carried a banner reading "Welcome astronauts to Okinawa."

A light rain fell.

The arrival scene was well inside the restricted U.S. military harbor, crowded with ships being loaded for Vietnam, and Okinawa civilians were not allowed inside. Some gathered in small groups outside the gates.

The small but enthusiastic welcome was capped off by a military honor guard and a U.S. Army band.

A group of three NASA officials — including Schirra — flew into Okinawa just before the destroyer arrived, and was at the bottom of the gangplank to welcome Armstrong and Scott.

They chattered in a small huddle.

Then Armstrong and Scott, along with Schirra and the others, returned to the destroyer.

Meanwhile, U.S. Navy crews pulled a canvas tarpaulin over the space capsule.

In the NASA party was Dr. Duane Catterson, chief of flight medicine at the Houston Manned Space Flight Center.

Catlerson decided Armstrong and Scott should have a thorough physical examination immediately.

He took them to the destroyer sick bay for the check. The vessel carried special space medicine equipment. It had been fitted out in advance for any Gemini emergency.

The destroyer was guided through the harbor by two tugboats.

As it was eased into its berth the Army band played "America," "Anchors Aweigh," the Air Force March and the Field Artillery March.

Before going ashore the first time, the astronauts shook hands with crew members of the destroyer and hugged the para-rescuemen who jumped into the ocean with them Thursday after splashdown.

About 700 Okinawa civilians crowded against the gates of the military harbor trying to get a glimpse of the astronauts.

The first word that the astronauts had been taken aboard the Mason came almost three hours after they made an emergency splashdown Thursday about 900 miles east of the coast of communist China.

The announcement was made by Lt. Cot. William Cook, 313th Air Div. information officer. He said he had been ordered to act as Okinawa spokesman for NASA.

Cook said the capsule also was taken aboard the destroyer.

U.S. military officials on Okinawa and at other Western Pacific bases swung into action to rescue the astronauts.

An Air Fore C-54 rescue plane was over the area when Gemini-8 floated down on its red and orange parachute. Divers jumped quickly into the water after the pinpoint splashdown at 10:23 p.m. in calm seas.

The destroyer Mason picked up the astronauts at 1:30 a.m. The capsule was retrieved a few minutes later.

Stevedores at Naha Port watch as the Leonard Mason arrives with the Gemini 8 astronauts and capsule.

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