Tragedy struck the NASA community on Feb. 28, 1966. Gemini-IX prime crew members Elliot M. See and Charles A. Bassett were flying a T-38 Talon aircraft from Houston to St. Louis to attend a rendezvous simulation at the McDonnell Aircraft Corporation’s plant, the manufacturer of the Gemini spacecraft. While attempting an instrument landing at Lambert International Airport in marginal weather, their aircraft struck the roof of a McDonnell building before dropping into an outside storage area. See and Bassett died instantly and several McDonnell employees suffered minor injuries. Their Gemini spacecraft being readied for shipment escaped damage. Backup crew members Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan, flying in a separate T-38, landed safely. Robert R. Gilruth, director of the Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC), now NASA’s Johnson Space Center in Houston, said of the deaths of See and Bassett, “Both of these men were fine persons and excellent professional test pilots. We will miss them more than I can say.”
Robert R. Gilruth
Director of the Manned Spacecraft Center
An investigative panel chaired by Alan B. Shepard, Chief of the Astronaut Office at MSC, considered multiple factors in the cause of the crash, such as the inclement weather that included rain, snow, and fog that limited visibility, necessitating an instrument approach. In the final analysis, the panel ruled pilot error as the primary cause, due to the pilots’ inability to maintain visual reference for a landing. Since the spacecraft escaped damage, McDonnell shipped it to NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on schedule two days after the accident. The deaths of See and Bassett resulted in a shuffling of astronaut flight assignments but did not delay the remainder of the Gemini missions. Stafford and Cernan replaced See and Bassett as the prime crew for Gemini-IX and flew the mission in June 1966. See and Bassett were buried at Arlington National Cemetery on March 4.