An amazing collection of five spiral-bound monthly calendar books, dated 1964–1968, and "Notebook #2", spiral-bound, and labeled on the front cover, “Property of D. O. Coons, Center Medical Office, NASA, MSC. Notebook #2, 1Jan 66—30 Apr ‘67. These date books were used by Dr. Coons between 1964 and 1968, when he was working most closely with the Apollo and Gemini programs. The books themselves are a fascinating peek into daily life at NASA, and contain many references to specific flights and events in which Dr. Coons was intimately involved.
The most sobering entry in the date books occurs on January 27, 1967, an infamous day in the history of American space exploration. Written in the top portion of the date, in pencil, and obviously well before that fateful day, “Plug Out Test…Involves a prelim. Run at the crew & pad count.” At 6:31PM on that fateful evening, the Apollo 1 spacecraft burst into flames on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, killing Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee. Written in the lower portion, in blue ballpoint are just three words: "The Apollo Fire.” Also, he has crossed out his schedule for the week following the Apollo accident, and written in "To West Point Pat White" on January 30, and "At USMA West Point, Return from W. Pt.," on January 31. These entries refer to Coons' involvement in Ed White's funeral services; White was laid to rest at West Point Cemetery.
On March 18, 1965, Alexei Leonov became the first man to conduct a space walk. The importance of this event did not escape Coons, who wrote on a small slip found on the March page of his 1965 planner “Mar18/65 1st thought re: earlier space walk.” Another notation in the 1965 book during the first week of June, Coons has written simply "GT 4" on June 4, with an arrow extending through June 7. This is, of course, a reference to the Gemini IV space mission, when Ed White became the first American astronaut to walk in space.
The days, weeks, and months contained in the five planners provide a very detailed look at preparations for many of the Gemini missions, with many falling into the period covered by the books. Most of the writing is in pencil, with meetings, reviews, tours, travel, and meetings all recorded by Coons.
“Notebook #2” reads almost like a day-to-day diary of Coons’s daily work activities and very detailed meeting notes. Planning meetings for various Gemini missions are included, with mentions of many prominent names, including Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins, Young, Slayton, Shepard, Kerwin, See, Stafford, Scott, Kranz. A selection of entries follows:
“21 Jan 66: GM VIII EVA.…Demo retrieval of EV backpack…Eval tether dyn & holding tech.…Prepare for AMV on GM IX. Eval ELSS & other equip—expmnt retrieval, pwr. tool.” A space walk was supposed to take place during the Gemini 8 mission, but due to a malfunctioning thruster, the mission had to be aborted less than 11 hours after it began.
“ 26 Jan GM 8 Ops meeting. Mission rules. 1. If Agena has to be maneuvered to obtain correct orbit, the Gem will not be launched until another day…If back pack went u/s would they launch or scrub…Chris made a pitch about 1. Jammed (busy) flt pln. 2. Of that may spend 2nd night on Agena. 3. Crew may modify EVA & general flt plan as may ground.”
“In answer to ques from A. Shepard the last real cut @ a mock up is this review. Hereafter CDR (paper exercise) will fix design on basis of previous activity & final drawings,” with Coons noting at the bottom of the same page, “Some of the crew members behaved shabbily during briefing.”
“17 Feb meet w/ Deke re: Astro candidate interviewing. Intend to run interviews 1st thru 5th.”
Astronauts Elliot See and Charles Bassett were slated for the Gemini 9 mission. However, they were both killed when their plane crashed into the McDonnell Aircraft Building 101 on February 28, 1966. A reference is made to this as Coons writes: “Note: called on Marilyn See at 1030 hrs & was advised by John Young at the door that ‘she did not want to see a doctor.’”
“23 May 66. ASTD briefing on AAP—historical interaction from LEM truck & crawler thru palette to SIVB, All is aimed @ a 7xx–day Mars Mission.”
“6 June 66 To prove that the Gem X EVA hardware will meet the requirements of the Gem X flight plan by subjecting it to a simulated emr as defined below with a work load designed to represent the in-flight case.”
“Collins gave a rationalized account of how hw would do it—he has added that he reckons putting hook on nose will be hardest. Collins is describing s/c, Ag. body said ‘umbilical is extremely flexible.’ ‘Very very flexible.’”
“15 Jul—Have Mike Collins eyes done specially by Johnson (optical) re: small retinal hemorrhage & haze in lt. lens.”
“Gem XI Ops meeting…Tether lock pin came off…Gold flaking off EVA visor—no answer yet. Total EVA time 106 min…go out on day side, do adapter @ night.”
“16 Aug: Requirements for Orbital & Interplanetary Missions up to 400 days. We need a set of requirements to guide design of hardware to do the above.”
Also included, and originally located in the 1967 planner is a handwritten list of six crews including the Apollo 1 prime crew, “Grissom, White Chaffe,” as well as both of the back-up crews “McDivitt Scott, Schweikart,” and “Schirra, Eisele, Cunningham.” Other crews are “Stafford, Young, Cernan,” “Borman, Collins, Anders,” and “Conrad, Gordon, Williams.”
Other topics covered in this single notebook include radiation studies, more talk of the Apollo program, Russian involvement, selecting two groups of scientific astronauts (flying and non-flying), Gemini XII, astronaut selection criteria and notes, and also two references to right after the Apollo 1 fire: “Met w/ John Lobb and later Owen Maynard re: analysis of data for any anomalies prior to 29:45:1.”
In very good overall condition, with staining to opening pages of #2, and expected toning and age wear.
These books offer a one-of-a-kind and extremely technical look inside life at NASA during some of its most fertile years, as the Gemini project was in full swing, with the Apollo program coming together, and Coons even looking at a bigger picture of interplanetary travel. All the major missions and events are noted, many in great detail, with this archive acting as a primary source for telling the NASA story.
Terms and abbreviations used in our descriptions.