11 Space Capsule
astronauts Dick Gordon and Pete Conrad into space, setting
an altitude record of 1,400 kilometers (850 miles). This
Gemini mission gave us the first view of Earth as a sphere,
and was also the first American flight to have a computer-controlled
Gemini capsule, shown with service module.
Photo courtesy of NASA.
Launch. Photo credit: NASA/KSC.
September 12, 1966
Crew: Commander Charles
"Pete" Conrad, Jr. and Pilot Richard "Dick"
Duration: 2 days, 23
hours, 17 minutes
Maximum altitude: 1,400
kilometers (850 miles)
Maximum speed: 28,164
kilometers per hour (17,500 miles per hour)
Capsule weight: 3,800
kilograms (8,000 pounds)
Launch vehicle: Titan
Materials: Capsule hull
is titanium coated in fiberglass insulation, covered with
shingles of nickel-steel alloy. The rounded heat shield
on the base is made of fiberglass and a strong plastic called
Aircraft Corporation, the same company that designed the
compare the Mercury capsule (on left) to the Gemini
capsule (on right). Photo courtesy of NASA.
Project Gemini bridged the gap between Mercury program,
the first project to put an astronaut in space, and the
Apollo program, which landed humans on the moon. After
two unmanned test flights in 1964, ten manned Gemini missions
took place in 1965-66. Each of the manned missions had
a two-man crew, which inspired the name of the project.
Gemini is the name of the constellation containing twin
stars, Castor and Pollux.
main goals of the Gemini project were developed to match
the tasks that might come up on a trip to the moon. The
official objectives of the program were as follows:
subject man and equipment to space flight up to two
weeks in duration;
rendezvous and dock with orbiting vehicles and to maneuver
the docked combination by using the target vehicle's
perfect methods of entering the atmosphere and landing
at a predetermined point on land;
gain additional information concerning the effects of
weightlessness on crew members and to record the physiological
reactions of crew members during long duration flights."
design for the Gemini capsule grew out of the basic tried
and tested design of the Mercury capsules. However, the
complexity of the new project called for two astronauts
and many technological advances. The Gemini capsule had
to hold two astronauts for flights lasting as long as
two weeks, compared to the longest Mercury flight of 34
hours and 20 minutes. In addition, the capsule had to
offer accessible storage for food and scientific equipment,
and had to be maneuverable both in space and during reentry
so the capsule could dock with another spacecraft in orbit
and land in a specific place. As a result, the Gemini
capsule was launched with a service module that carried
supplies and some life support. The Gemini capsule also
featured thrusters around the nose of the capsule that
made it possible for the astronauts to fly around a target.
returning to the capsule after an EVA. Photo courtesy
the Gemini 11 mission, astronauts Dick Gordon and Pete
Conrad spent three days in space, practicing the skills
needed for the Apollo moon missions and carrying out the
twelve experiments on board. (Click for a detailed mission
timeline.) In the first orbit of Gemini 11, the astronauts
docked the capsule with the Agena, another orbiting craft.
The astronauts used the Agena's propulsion system and
fuel to boost the Gemini capsule into a higher orbit.
Later in the flight, the astronauts undocked Gemini from
Agena, and then tried to spin the two crafts which were
then only connected by a tether line. The spinning experiment
was designed to see if the rotation of the crafts could
simulate a gravitational force.
also had two EVAs (Extravehicular Activities, also known
as trips outside the capsule) during the mission, once
on a 33-minute spacewalk and once standing in an open
capsule hatch for about two hours. He used the time outside
the capsule to take photos
of Earth and the stars.
with all Gemini flights, the health of the astronauts
was continuously monitored and relayed back to Earth during
the mission. Underneath their flight suits, the astronauts
wore a biosensor suit that measured blood pressure, body
temperature, respiration and heart rate. Film recorded
during the flight was used for study of astronaut behavior
in microgravity. However, only one of the twelve Gemini
experiments addressed human life in space. The experiment
examined the effects of radiation and microgravity on
isolated human blood cells.
view inside the capsule, taken before launch. The
technician's sign says, "This is ABSOLUTELY
your last chance!" Photo courtesy of NASA.
inside of the Gemini capsule is very smallso small
that the astronauts had to put on their space suits and
open the capsule hatch if they wanted to stand up. While
in space, they ate three freeze-dried meals a day, went
to the bathroom using hoses and bags, and cleaned house
just by opening the hatcheverything that wasn't
attached was sucked out into space!
Science Center's Gemini 11 Capsule
McDonnell staff person examining the heat shield after
the Gemini mission. Photo courtesy of McDonnell Douglas
Gemini 11 on display in the Air and Space Gallery is the
actual capsule that went out into space in September 1966,
on loan to us from the National Air and Space Museum,
the bottom of the craft, you can see the pattern that
was burned into the heat shield when the capsule reentered
the Earth's atmosphere. During reentry, friction with
the atmosphere heated the shield, made of fiberglass and
resin, up to 1,900° Celsius (3,500° F). The outer
surface vaporized from a solid to a gas. As it boiled
away, it carried away heat. The black pattern on the heat
shield is made of the carbon residue left behind. The
pattern isn't centered on the heat shield because the
capsule came into the atmosphere at an angle. Entering
at an angle gave the capsule some lift, like a wing. The
commander could adjust the reentry flight path if needed.
Kennedy Space Center
For a detailed overview of the Gemini program, including
images, program goals, and a short film clip of a Gemini
launch, visit this great NASA site. The site also features
a book, On the Shoulders of Titans: A History of Project
Gemini, that you can read online.
crew bios and a timeline of Gemini 11 events, including
pre-launch planning and activities, on this page which
also includes a reference list.
brief page from NASA's Life Sciences Data Archive highlights
some of the experiments and physiological measurements
from the flight. You can also find an image of the Gemini