Gemini was one of the early pioneering efforts in the developing space capability of this nation. The initiation of this program was timed to take advantage of the knowledge gained in our first series of manned space flights - Project Mercury. The Mercury program successfully demonstrated manned orbital flight. Perhaps more important it provided extensive information on how to build and fly spacecraft for the more complex missions yet to come. Drawing on this experience, the Gemini program was able to produce for its time a highly flexible space vehicle of considerable operational capability. These characteristics enabled a rapid expansion of American flight horizons.
The most significant achievments of Gemini involved precision maneuvering in orbit and a major extension of the duration of manned space flights. These included the first rendezvous in orbit of one spacecraft with another and the docking of two spacecraft together. The docking operation allowed the use of a large propulsion system to carry men to greater heights above Earth than had been previously possible, thereby enabling the astronauts to view and photograph Earth over extensive areas. Precision maneuvering was also employed during the very high speed reentry back to the surface of Earth, enabling accurate landings to be made. The length of our manned space flights was extended to as long as 14 days, a duration that has yet to be exceeded as of this writing, although this was accomplished about three years ago.
Of great general interest were the investigationsof the operations of an astronaut outside the confines of his spacecraft, protected from the hard vacuum of space by his pressurized space suit. These extravehicular activities did in fact produce some difficulties, but, in the end, highly successful operations were conducted.
All of these activities have greatly contributed to expanding activities in space that we now have underway or will be forthcoming. In Apollo, the program involved with landing men on the lunar surface, the crews must be transported roughly 240,000 miles to the Moon and then back to Earth. This trip will take a week or more. The Apollo spacecraft must perform a rendezvous not near Earth but out at lunar distances in order for this mission to be successful. Once again, the astronauts must leavetheir spacecraft and, in their pressure suits, step out onto the lunar surface so that scientific exploration can be conducted. The fact that all of these things were initially demonstrated and then investigated further in a number of the Gemini missions greatly aids the development of the more difficult missions that we are about to undertake.
Perhaps the most significant aspect of the Gemini program was the manner in which the astronauts contributed to the success of each mission. In the flying of the spacecraft, in the management of the systems, in the overcomingof problems, and in the aid to attainment of important scientific and technological information, their presence enhanced greatly the success of the program. They were backed up by a large and dedicated team of people here on the ground who designed, developed, and checked out the vehicles and controlled the flights. The Chronology presented herein as a factual presentation of events taken primarily from official documentation of the program. It, therefore, cannot reflect many of the "behind the scenes" activities so important to the conduct of a successful program involving exploratory endeavours. The high motivation to make the Gemini program work, the rapid reaction in overcoming difficulties, large and small, and the attention to detail are all factors contributing to the ten successful manned flights which provided nearly two thousand man hours of direct space flight experience.
Charles W. Mathews
Deputy Associate Administrator
Office of Manned Space Flight
September 16, 1968