Gemini: Stepping Stone to the Moon
November 11, 2006 marked the 40th anniversary of the launch of Gemini XII, the final mission in the groundbreaking program that bridged the gap between Mercury and Apollo. When Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin landed 4 days later, NASA had learned valuable lessons about living and working in space that paved the way for the first trips to the moon.
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 at left: 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