Gemini: Bridge to the Moon
Just as Orion and the International Space Station are helping NASA learn how to go to Mars, the Gemini program defined and tested the skills NASA would need to go to the moon in the 1960s and 1970s. Gemini had four main goals: to test an astronaut's ability to fly long-duration missions (up to two weeks in space); to understand how spacecraft could rendezvous and dock in orbit around the Earth and the moon; to perfect re-entry and landing methods; and to further understand the effects of longer space flights on astronauts.
On May 25, 1961, three weeks after Mercury astronaut Alan Shepard became the first American in space, President John F. Kennedy announced the goal of sending astronauts to the moon before the end of the decade.
To facilitate this goal, NASA expanded the existing manned space flight program in December 1961 to include the development of a two-man spacecraft. The program was officially designated Gemini on January 3, 1962.
The Gemini Program was a necessary intermediate step between Project Mercury and the Apollo Program, and had four objectives: 1) To subject astronauts to long duration flights- a requirement for projected later trips to the moon or deeper space; 2) to develop effective methods of rendezvous and docking with other orbiting vehicles, and to maneuver the docked vehicles in space; 3) to perfect methods of reentry and landing the spacecraft at a pre-selected land-landing point; 4) to gain additional information concerning the effects of weightlessness on crew members and to record the physiological reactions of crew members during long duration flights.
Image: Atlas Agena target vehicle lifts off for Gemini 11 from Pad 14. Once the Agena was in orbit, Gemini 11 rendezvoused and docked with it. Image Credit: NASA