NASA recently released a number of photographs from the Gemini space missions, which took place in 1965 and 1966. Both Wired magazine and an Australian news site have samples of those images, re-mastered to high resolution.
The images, that range from images of the two man Gemini space craft, Ed White space walking during Gemini 4, and various views of Earth from space, are breath taking. They also bring back memories of a program without which the Apollo astronauts could have landed on the moon.
What was the Gemini Program?
According to NASA, Gemini was a program designed to test operations that were deem necessary to accomplish the later Apollo moon landings. These included space walking, rendezvous and docking, and long duration (two weeks) space flight.
A total of ten manned Gemini flights were launched between March, 1965 with Gemini 3 and Gemini 12 in November, 1966. Some of the accomplishments of Gemini included:
Gemini 4: Astronaut Ed Wright undertook the first American space walk in June, 1965.
Gemini 5: First week long space flight and first use of fuel cells in an American manned space craft.
Gemini 8: First docking between a Gemini and the Agena target space craft.
Gemini 11: Docked with Agena target space craft and used its propulsion system to achieve a 739 mile orbit, a record.
What were the characteristics of a Gemini space craft?
According to How Stuff Works, the two man Gemini space craft has about 50 percent more interior space than the one man Mercury, making it a little cramped. It was 18.6 feet tall and 10 feet in diameter at its base. It weighed 8,490 pounds.
Gemini 3 and Gemini 4 were powered by batteries. However every Gemini starting with Gemini 5 was powered by fuel cells. In addition, because it had to rendezvous and dock, the Gemini had eight small rocket motors around its base to allow for greater maneuverability than its Mercury predecessor.
The Gemini was launched into low Earth orbit by a modified ICBM, the Titan II. NASA modified that Titan II extensively to "man rate it" adding malfunction detection systems, reinforcing the electronic and hydraulic systems and providing backups, and adding monitoring devices to allow NASA to track the launch vehicle in flight.
The astronauts of Gemini
Several Gemini astronauts would go on to fly on Apollo missions. They included John Young, Pete Conrad, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Walter Schirra, Tom Stafford, James McDivitt. Neil Armstrong, Dave Scott, Gene Cernan, Michael Collins, and Buzz Aldrin. John Young went on to fly the first space shuttle mission in 1981.
Mark R. Whittington is the author of Children of Apollo and The Last Moonwalker . He has written on space subjects for a variety of periodicals, including The Houston Chronicle, The Washington Post, USA Today, the L.A. Times, and The Weekly Standard.