President Kennedy proposed the manned lunar landing as the focus of the US space program but, at the time of his address, only one American, Alan B. Shepard, Jr. had been into space, on a suborbital lob shot lasting 15 minutes. No rocket launch vehicle was available for a lunar voyage and there was no agreed upon method for placing any kind of spacecraft safely on the lunar surface and getting it back to the earth. Nor was there agreement within NASA itself on how it should be done.
“The main trouble with the Mercury capsule was that most system components were in the pilot’s cabin; and often, to pack them in this very confined space, they had to be stacked like a layer cake and components of one system had to be scattered about the craft to use all available space. This arrangement generated a maze of interconnecting wires, tubing, and mechanical linkages. To replace one malfunctioning system, other systems had to be disturbed; and then, after the trouble had been corrected, the systems that had been disturbed as well as the malfunctioning system had to be checked out again.” James Chamberlin
This brings us to Project Gemini. Gemini started after Apollo had begun, in part to answer a crucial question for Apollo. Was rendezvous and docking in orbit a feasible basis for a manned lunar landing mission?
In late March, 1958, President Eisenhower publicly announced the United States’ intention to launch a spacecraft to the Moon. He assured the nation that this was not science fiction. It was an achievable goal presented by leading scientists. The announcement came less than 2 months after the first US satellite had reached orbit. The President was committing the nation to a space race to the moon with the Soviets. If all went well the country would have a spacecraft in orbit around the moon before the summer was over.