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?
“We have been plunged into a race for the conquest of outer space. As a reason for this undertaking some look to the new and exciting scientific discoveries which are certain to be made. Others feel the challenge to transport man beyond frontiers he scarcely dared dream about until now. But at present the most impelling reason for our effort has been the international political situation which demands that we demonstrate our technological capabilities if we are to maintain our position of leadership. For all of these reasons we have embarked on a complex and costly adventure. It is the purpose of this report to clarify the goals, the missions and the costs of this effort in the foreseeable future, particularly with regard to the man-in-space program.” From 1960 Ad Hoc Panel on Man-In-Space.
Over 52 years ago, in the early hours of May 5th, 1961 the US prepared to launch its first man into space. Three weeks earlier, the Soviet Union had sent Yuri Gagarin on an orbital mission. This was a suborbital mission planed to last only 15 minutes. For the moment that did not matter, the entire nation held its breath while Alan Shepard became America’s first man in space.
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.
At approximately 12:48 a.m. EST, the first listening stations began reporting that they had received radio signals from the “Explorer” satellite. The first station to confirm the signals was the San Gabriel Valley Amateur Radio Club near Pasadena, California. However, ABMA officials were waiting for confirmation from the Goldstone radio tracking station in Earthquake Valley, California. Finally, 1 hour and 57 minutes after launch the confirmation was finally relayed to ABMA officials in the form of the simple phrase, “Goldstone has the bird!”
“It seemed as if the gates of hell had opened up. Brilliant stiletto flames shot out from the side of the rocket near the engine. The vehicle agonizingly hesitated for a moment, quivered again, and in front of our unbelieving eyes, began to topple. It sank like a great flaming sword down into the blast tube it toppled slowly breaking apart, hitting part of the test guard and ground with a tremendous roar that could be felt and heard even behind the 2 food concrete wall of the blockhouse. For a moment or two there was complete disbelief. I could see it in the faces. I could feel it myself.”
On October 4th 1957, the Soviet Union demonstrated that it had to be taken seriously. Only a few years prior they had lagged the US badly in both bombers and Nuclear weapons. Now, there was deep concern that the Soviet’s could launch a nuclear attack on the US with their new R-7 ICBM. To add fuel to the fire, Just 4 days after Sputnik launched the Soviet Union detonated a 20 megaton Hydrogen bomb.
“The success of the Russian Sputnik was convincing and dramatic proof to people around the world of the real prospects of space travel in the not too distant future. The fact that a 23-in. sphere weighing 184 lb has been placed in an almost precise circular orbit indicates that a number of important technological problems such as high thrust rocket engines, lightweight missile structures, accurate guidance, stable autopilot control, and large scale launching methods have been solved, at least to the degree required for a satellite project.” Astronautics, Nov 1957.
“We had absolute confidence in Comrade Korolev. We believed him when he told us that his rocket would not only fly, but that is would travel 7000 kilometers. When he expounded or defended his ideas, you could see passion burning in his eyes, and his reports were always models of clarity. He had unlimited energy and determination, and he was a brilliant organizer.” Nikita Khruschev