Which Space Mission Was Guided Home Safely With A Wristwatch And Grease Pencil?
Answer: Mercury-Atlas 9
On May 16, 1963, NASA Astronaut L. Gordon Cooper, Jr. found himself in a rather tight (and hot) spot. Cooper was the sole crew member aboard Faith 7 an orbital space craft ferried aloft as part of the Mercury-Atlas 9 space mission by an Atlas LV-3B rocket–the first manned mission in the Mercury program.
For the majority of Cooper’s time in space, orbiting the Earth almost two dozen times over the course of a day and a half, the mission was problem free. As the time for re-entry drew near problems began cropping up. On the 20th orbit Cooper lost altitude readings and on the 21st orbit a short circuit left the automatic stabilization and control systems without power. In addition to the electro-mechanical failures the level of carbon dioxide and the temperature in the small capsule were rapidly climbing.
Cooper kept his wits about him and using his watch to time his manual over ride of the thruster system, his knowledge of astronomy to use the stars as reference points, and a grease pencil to draw his altitude and bearing on the window of the capsule, he executed an absolutely beautiful textbook landing. Under Cooper’s expert touch, Faith 7 splashed down in the ocean 4 miles from the recovery ship, the USS Kearsarge . That landing was, to date, the most precise capsule landing in NASA history.
Cooper’s cool headed flight marked the last of the Mercury missions and the last manned mission until the launch of Gemini III in the spring of 1965.