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En Route to the First Moon Landing — Gemini 5, Fifty Years Ago


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Josh Gelernter

August 29, 2015


Gemini is the forgotten leg of the space race. Mercury got us started; Apollo put us on the moon; Gemini was sandwiched between.


If Mercury was D-Day and Apollo was VE-Day, Gemini was Patton and the Third Army cutting through France, Germany, and 2 million Nazis. Or if Apollo was Hiroshima and VJ day, Gemini was Los Alamos and Trinity.


In 1961, when President John Kennedy set December 31, 1969, as the deadline for a moon landing, Alan Shepard’s 15 minutes in space was the grand total of America’s experience with manned space flight. A lot had to be done before a moon landing could be attempted, or even planned. In fact, a lot had to be done to find out if a moon landing was even possible.


Flying 250,000 miles from the earth to the moon requires extreme precision — could a spacecraft put itself in the right orbit to make the trip? There’s no air on the moon’s surface — could men work in a vacuum? After a spacecraft landed on the moon’s surface, it would have to take off again and rendezvous with a module in lunar orbit — could one spacecraft’s orbit be matched to another’s? Could two spacecraft rendezvous in orbit? Could they dock? It takes a week to get to the moon and back — could a spaceship function for a week in space? Could men survive a week without gravity?


These were the questions that the Gemini missions were designed to answer.





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