L. Gordon Cooper
Charles “Pete” Conrad
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.’
‘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.)