L. Gordon Cooper
Charles “Pete” Conrad



Gemini 5

Several months before the mission, I mentioned to Pete that I’d never been in a military organization that didn’t have its own patch. Pete hadn’t either. We decided right then and there that we were at least going to have a patch for our flight.

Pete’s father-in-law had whittled a model of a Conestoga wagon, the preferred mode of transportation for pioneers of an earlier era. We thought a covered wagon might be a good way to symbolize the pioneering nature of our flight. Since our mission was designed to last eight days, the longest ever attempted by the United States or the Soviet Union, we came up with the slogan ‘8 Days or Bust,’ which we overlaid on a Conestoga wagon. We gave the design to a local patch company, and they produced hundreds of them. Pete and I had ours sewn on the right breast of our space suits.

Two days before launch, Jim Webb, in from Washington, beckoned us to Houston for what was to become a prelaunch tradition: dinner and a social evening for the prime crew at the home of Bob Gilruth. ... That night during dinner, I decided we had to tell Webb about our ‘8 Days or Bust’ patch because it wasn’t fair for him to find out by surprise or through the media.

‘Jim, you’ve taken our spacecraft names away from us, and as you know, none of us particularly like it,’ I said. ‘Pete and I want to personalize our flight, and we’ve designed a really neat mission patch.’

Webb about went into hysterics. The patch was in direct violation of his efforts to depersonalize the space program. The argument got so heated that at one point Bob Gilruth and I had to pull Webb and Pete apart — The overall head of NASA and one of his astronauts were stopped just short of fisticuffs.

When Webb cooled down, I explained how Pete and I had never been in a military organization that didn’t have a patch. ‘It’s not just for the guys flying,’ I went on, ‘but for the hundreds of people working on the launch equipment and operating the worldwide tracking range and all the other things that go into a successful mission. Wearing that patch tells the world that they worked on Gemini 5.’

Webb asked me if I had the patch with me.

Unfortunately we hadn’t thought to bring one.

He asked that one be flown to Washington the next day. ‘I’ll look at it and make a decision,’ he said.

‘Fair enough, Jim.’

The next day, after reviewing the patch, Webb called me at the Cape. ‘All right, I’ll approve this patch on one condition.’

‘What’s that?’

‘That you cover the “8 Days or Bust” until you make the eight days. If you don’t make eight days, I don’t want the press having a field day about the mission being a bust.’

So we had little pieces of canvas lightly sewn over the offending slogan.

We had completed 120 revolutions of Earth — a total of 3,312,993 space miles in an elapsed time of 190 hours and 56 minutes. We were 104 minutes short of eight days, but uncovered the ‘8 Days or Bust’ slogan on our patches anyway.

—Gordon Cooper, from Leap of Faith

This story is a bit embellished over that told elsewhere: it seems unlikely that Webb reacted as strongly as described here. Also, Cooper elsewhere claims it was his own father-in-law who had whittled the wagon. I suspect that the story related here, excerpted from Cooper’s book, is largely fabricated by Cooper’s “co-author.” This is supported by other rather egregious errors and fantastic tale-spinning in other parts of the book.

Deke Slayton recalls, “Gordo and Pete were still trying to find a way to individualize their spacecraft. Gus and John had managed to name GT-3; Jim and Ed had worn the American flag on GT-4. Pete hit on the idea of a patch, the kind of thing every Navy air squadron has. It showed a Conestoga wagon with the slogan, “Eight Days or Bust.” When [NASA administrator] Jim Webb saw that, however, he had a fit. He didn’t want the motto, for one thing, and decided upon a whole set of guidelines for what he called “Cooper patches” that each crew commander could design and wear.” (See the memo Webb sent to Deke Slayton.)

This is the original artwork for the Gemini 5 patch, produced by artists at Gemini spacecraft builder McDonnell Corporation. My thanks to Anthony Tharenos, who worked in the McDonnell art department, for this image.

This embroidered patch was procured by the McDonnell Corporation for the Gemini 5 crew. Examination of the details of this patch shows that it is from the same batch as the one in NASA photo S66-59530, but not in the distressed state of that patch, and without the motto covered. Again, thanks to Anthony Tharenos for this image.

NASA photo S66-59530
This appears to be from the same batch as the patch worn by Cooper during the flight.
Taken: 2 Nov 1966

This patch, which is one that is claimed to have been flown on the Gemini 5 mission, is markedly different from the patches worn by the crew. The wording is much larger, and “GEMINI 5” interrupts the inner circular line. There are also differences in color, notably in the wagon wheels (see the detail of Conrad’s patch, below).

A reproduction embroidered Gemini 5 patch, showing the “8 Days or Bust” slogan that caused such an uproar. Except for the canopy on the wagon (and the slogan, of course), this reproduction is much more like the patch Conrad wore than the purportedly flown patch [ge05-em-v3] pictured above.
100mm dia

A 2006 remake by Randy Hunt. The lettering is too large, there is an erroneous “tuck” in the rght side of the canopy, the inner black ring touches the canopy, and there is too much space between the black rings. This reproduces the appearence of the patch as flown — that is, without the slogan. The canopy is embroidered.
102mm dia

The AB Emblem 2010 remake of the Gemini 5 patch. Perhaps the most amazing feature of this recreation is that AB Emblem actually embroidered the “8 Days or Bust” motto on the wagon canopy, and then covered it over with a bit of cloth — just like the actual flown patches. This design was modeled on the patch that Pete Conrad wore.
108mm dia

NASA photo 65AC-633
Suit technician Clyde Teague showing the patch sewn onto Cooper’s pressure suit. Since the motto is covered, this is presumably just a day or so before launch.

Detail from NASA photo 65AC-633, showing the patch.

NASA photo S65-51442
Astronauts Conrad and Cooper on board the recovery ship after their flight.

Detail from NASA photo S65-51442, showing the Gemini 5 patch. Conrad’s patch looks neatly embroidered, and flat; Cooper’s patch looks as if it is perhaps not so carefully embroidered, and appears puckered in spots — very much like the official NASA photo of the patch. However, the “R” in “CONRAD” shows this is not, in fact, the same patch — the “R” in S66-59530 shows an oddly elongated tail. There are enough obvious differences between Cooper’s and Conrad’s patches that it’s clear they are from two different batches.

NASA photo S65-46622.
Pete Conrad in the recovery helicopter.

Detail from NASA photo S65-46622, showing Conrad’s Gemini 5 patch, in color.