America’s Gemini program consisted of two unmanned and ten manned missions flown during 1965 and 1966. The highly successful Gemini program helped bridge the gap between the Mercury and Apollo programs.
The Gemini spacecraft was composed of five major components, including a rendezvous and recovery section, re-entry control system, cabin section, retrograde section, and an equipment section. The base of the equipment section interfaced with the Titan II rocket. The Titan II, originally developed as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), was modified as a launcher for Gemini spacecraft.
Gemini-Titan missions were launched from Pad-19 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.
The astronauts sat side by side in the capsule. The commander, known as the command pilot, sat in the left seat, while the pilot sat in the right seat. The crew sat in ejection seats. Lacking an escape tower similar to Mercury or the later Apollo spacecraft, the ejection seats provided a way for the astronauts to escape from the vehicle, at least at low altitudes.
Gemini program objectives included long-duration missions, lasting as long as two weeks, as well as orbital maneuvering, rendezvous and docking. Several docking targets, including the GATV (Gemini Agena Target Vehicle) and the ATDA (Augmented Target Docking Adapter), were developed. The docking targets were launched separately on Atlas rockets.
Gemini spacecraft were investigated for use by the United States Air Force. Sometimes referred to as Gemini-B or Blue Gemini, these proposed missions would conduct military operations as part of the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) project. The Gemini 2 spacecraft was re-flown on an Air Force Titan-IIIC in 1966.
Land recovery, using landing skids and an inflatable wing, were investigated early in the program. However, time constraints required switching to a more traditional parachute and ocean landing. Several developmental spacecraft, including Gemini TTV-1, TTV-2, and El Kabong, were constructed to test techniques for landing spacecraft on existing runways.
The first two Gemini craft were unmanned satellites. The first manned space mission under the Gemini program was the Gemini 3. The Gemini 3 carried two astronauts: Virgil I. Grissom and John W. Young. It was launched from Cape Canaveral on March 23, 1965, and was the first to ever change the direction of its orbit.
The Gemini 4 space craft was launched three months after Gemini 3 on June 3, 1965. It was manned by Edward H. White and James A. McDivitt. While in orbit Edward H. White became the first American to ever perform a space walk.
Gemini 5 was launched on August 21, 1965. It was manned by Gordon Cooper and Charles Conrad. The mission of the Gemini 5 was long-term, manned space flight. It was able to stay in orbit for 190 hours and 55 minutes, despite a malfunction in the spacecraft’s fuel cell system.
Gemini 6, launched on December 15, 1965, was manned by Walter Schirra and Thomas Stafford. Gemini 7, manned by Frank Borman and James A. Lovell, was actually launched before Gemini 6 by 12 days. 6 hours after being launched, Gemini 6 spacecraft overtook the previously launched Gemini 7. The two crafts flew in formation, rotating slowly around each other, and stayed this way for 3 orbits around the Earth. At one point the two crafts got as close as 30 cm to each other. Gemini 7 stayed aloft for 330 hours and 35 minutes, and orbited the Earth 206 times. This set a new record for the duration of a space flight.
Gemini 8, launched on March 16, 1966, was manned by Neil A. Armstrong and David R. Scott. It completed the first ever successful docking with the Agena 8 satellite. After docking, the two vehicles began to spin unexpectedly while still joined. Even after undocking, Gemini 8 continued spinning because one of the thrusters on the Gemini 8 wouldn’t stop jetting. The Gemini 8 was forced to make an emergency landing in the Pacific Ocean.
Gemini 9, launched on June 3, 1966, was manned by Thomas P. Stafford and Eugene A. Cernan. It was in flight for 72 hours and 21 minutes. While in orbit, Eugene Cernan became the second U.S. astronaut to perform a space walk. It was planned for Cernan to use an AMU (Astronaut Maneuvering Unit) while on his space walk, but due to problems with the equipment Cernan was able to use AMU for only a short time.
Gemini 10 was launched on July 18, 1966. It was manned by astronauts John Young and Michael Collins. Gemini 10 performed the first “double-rendezvous” ever done in space. John Young successfully docked with the upper stages of two Atlas-Agena rockets which were in orbit around the earth. Michael Collins performed a space walk during this flight, and had the same problems with the equipment that Eugene Cernan had during the Gemini 9 mission.
Gemini 11, launched on September 12, 1966, was manned by Charles Conrad and Richard Gordon. They were aloft for 71 hours and 17 minutes. As with the Gemini 10 mission, the Gemini 11 mission entailed rendezvous and docking with an Agena target vehicle, and extra-vehicular activity in order to confirm spacecraft and equipment performance in preparation for the Apollo lunar program already in progress.
The two final astronauts launched with the Gemini program were James A. Lovell and Edwin A. Aldrin on Gemini 12, which was able to finish with almost all of the mission’s objectives accomplished.
Experience gained during project Gemini proved critical to the success of the Apollo lunar missions later in the decade
5 May, 2014
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