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Schirra’s Visit


Astronaut Walter Schirra caused quite a commotion on this date in 1966 on a visit to Fargo. The famous astronaut, known perhaps best for playing Jingle Bells on his harmonica during the Gemini 6 flight, was invited to Fargo to speak at the sixth annual Farm Forum. The speech was his first public appearance since the Gemini 6 post-flight news conference, and led to a packed house at the Fargo Memorial Auditorium.

Schirra planned on flying himself to Fargo aboard a NASA jet aircraft, but cold and snowy weather presented a hazard to landing the plane on Fargo's runways. "It lands at 170 miles per hour. With any snow on the runway, it's likely to keep right on going," the astronaut told Fargo Forum reporters. So instead, he flew in on a commercial flight.

Farm Forum sponsors engaged Schirra to speak at the event on the Gemini 6 and 7 space rendezvous - the first ever space rendezvous. Schirra was the command pilot on the mission, and flew the Gemini 6 craft to the already-orbiting Gemini 7. The two spacecraft were able to successfully hook up while orbiting the Earth. During his talk, Schirra also discussed the U. S. space program in general, and a color film was shown highlighting the Gemini mission. Sponsors hoped Schirra would be able to give another talk to area high schoolers during his visit, but NASA officials were adamant that his appearance be limited to the Farm Forum due to training commitments at the Houston Space Center. Schirra did, however, find plenty of time to sign autographs. When asked to play a tune on his harmonica, though, the astronaut politely declined, saying that playing on a spacecraft was one thing, but in front of a crowd would be "frightening."

A New Jersey native, Schirra began his career as a Navy test pilot. In 1959, he was selected by NASA to become an astronaut during the Mercury flights. After his history-making Gemini flight, he became the Command Pilot aboard Apollo VII. This flight tested the three-directional manned spacecraft that would later take Americans to the moon. He spent nearly three hundred hours in space, and is the only person to have flown all three Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo spacecraft. Upon his retirement in 1969, he became a household presence as a news commentator for CBS broadcasting, working alongside Walter Cronkite.

Dakota Datebook written by Jayme L. Job


Sunday Morning Fargo Forum. Sunday, January 30, 1966: p.B1.

The Fargo Forum. Thursday (Evening ed.), February 3, 1966: p.1.