How Gemini Paved the Way for the Apollo Space Program

A crucial step on the road to the Moon

Gemini 12
Buzz Aldrin on the Gemini 12 mission
NASA
By Tobias Carroll / July 21, 2019 12:35 pm

This weekend has abounded with celebrations of the Apollo space program — especially Apollo 11, which resulted in humanity first setting foot on the moon. But the Apollo space program didn’t emerge fully-formed in a vacuum: the work that sent astronauts towards a certain lunar object was built on the technology and knowledge from the missions that came before it.

At Literary Hub, James Donovan wrote about the program that bridged the space between the Mercury and Apollo programs — and which incubated the technology that took the American space program to the Moon. Donovan succinctly traces the connections between the programs:

Gemini’s crews would comprise three of the Mercury Seven, every remaining member of the New Nine, and five astronauts from the 1963 selection. Each flight would incrementally increase the knowledge and experience needed to reach the ultimate goal of a man on the moon.

Donovan’s account of the Gemini program abounds with drama: the scientists working on it were acutely aware of the progress being made by the Soviet space program, and were working frantically to close that gap. 

Certain information came in fits and starts. Regarding Gemini 4, for instance, Donovan writes that “[t]he mission had two main goals. One would end up being a perplexing failure, the other a smashing success.”

In a short space, Donovan evokes a number of the personalities involved with Gemini, from the astronauts who ventured into space to the scientists whose work got them there and kept them safe. It’s a welcome reminder that milestones like the Moon landing are built on an abundance of earlier work — both successes and failures.

For those who enjoyed Donovan’s take on space exploration, there’s more where that came from: he’s written an entire book on the subject.

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