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Meeting in Space

December 15, 2015

AUDIO: This is Gemini Control. We are now 10 hours and 41 minutes into the rendezvous mission of Gemini 6. At the present time, the spacecraft are flying approximately 10 to 20 feet apart.

Gemini 6 (left) and Gemini 7Gemini 6 (left) and Gemini 750 years ago today, the Gemini 6 and Gemini 7 spacecraft went nose to nose, as they staged the first rendezvous in space.

Gemini was designed to develop the techniques needed to get Apollo astronauts to the Moon. Since the mother ship and a lander would have to link up after the lunar landing, one of those techniques was rendezvous and docking. It’s an operation that requires precise timing and maneuvering.

Gemini 6 was originally planned to rendezvous and dock with an unmanned spacecraft. But that craft exploded during launch. Gemini 7 was already scheduled to be in orbit for 14 days in December of 1965 — the maximum length of a round trip to the Moon. So project managers decided to launch Gemini 6 to catch up with it.

The first attempt to launch Gemini 6 almost ended in disaster — the engines shut down just a second after ignition. But technicians fixed the problems and launched the craft just three days later, on December 15th. Just a few hours later, Gemini 6 caught its sister craft. They spent several hours flying together, at one point closing to within a foot of each other. They showed that it was possible to catch a spacecraft in orbit — something that’s been done hundreds of times since then — a technique pioneered a half century ago.

Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

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