Racing for the Moon

Despite initial popularity, Kennedy's honeymoon with the American electorate ended within just a few months, amid a number of political setbacks including Yuri Gagarin's historic flight. Although Alan Shepard's forthcoming suborbital hop would help to restore American pride, it was clearly a poor retaliation to the Soviet achievement. Something had to be done that would focus the country's gaze on a more distant goal, allowing them to see past the immediate impression of Soviet space superiority. Just two days after Gagarin's flight, on 14 April, Kennedy summoned senior members of his administration and NASA to a policy meeting. At what point, Kennedy asked, might America finally manage to overtake its rivals? The power of Russian launchers meant that the Soviets would almost certainly be the first to put a multi-cosmonaut spacecraft into orbit. The same might go for any plans to launch





In 1937, members of the British Interplanetary Society made a detailed study of how a manned lunar mission might be carried out. Their spacecraft designs bore a striking resemblance to Apollo.


In 1937, members of the British Interplanetary Society made a detailed study of how a manned lunar mission might be carried out. Their spacecraft designs bore a striking resemblance to Apollo.

Donald K. (Deke) Slayton (1924-93) was the only one of NASA's original seven astronauts not to fly on a Mercury mission. Invalided out of the programme (and the Air Force) after the discovery of a heart irregularity, Slayton was soon in charge of NASA's Astronaut Office, where he was responsible for crew selection throughout the Gemini and Apollo programmes, demonstrating a deft ability to choose astronauts that worked , well together. After a long I period of treatment, he was passed fit for flight in 1973, and was able to select ^^^^ ^^^^^ himself for the Apollo-^^ ^^^^^^ Soyuz mission a large, semi-permanent space station. When it came to the Moon, though, the competition seemed more balanced. While it was likely that a Soviet crew would be first to circle the Moon, the task of landing astronauts and returning them safely to Earth required so much new technology that the US would have a chance to catch up. If an all-out effort was made, the chances of an American being the first to set foot on the Moon were probably about fifty-fifty.

This was good enough for Kennedy, though details of the mission itself still had to be worked out. In early May, Johnson, Webb, and others met to draft a political justification of why America should race the Soviet Union to the Moon. This formed the basis for the President's historic announcement to Congress on 25 May, when he proclaimed: "I believe that this nation should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to the Earth. No single space project in this period will be more impressive to mankind or more important for the long-range exploration of space; and none will be so difficult or expensive to accomplish."


Kennedy's commitment to space travel was more political than personal - he understood what it could mean to the Americon people in the midst of the Cold War. After his historic address to Congress, he soon found that the politicians on Capitol Hill agreed with him.

"We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard ..

US President John F. Kennedy, Houston, Texas, 12 September 1962

With such an ambitious goal ahead, NASA had to change priorities. Until now, the unspoken assumption had been that the exploration of space would roughly follow the template laid out by von Braun's Colliers articles of the mid-1950s, with colonization of Earth orbit as a prelude to the lunar voyage. Now there would be an all-out race for the Moon, and that would require new spacecraft and new skills. With the Mercury capsule relatively limited, an intermediate trainer spacecraft would


Wernhcr von Braun's rocket team would play a key role in the US Moon programme. Here von Broun explains his Saturn launch system to Kennedy in November 1963.

be necessary - a vehicle that could be used for practising orbital manoeuvres, rendezvous and docking in space, and other techniques. This spacecraft would be called Gemini.


orbit attitude control thrust er rear shielding and insulation propellant tanks drinking water tank launch-vehicle mating cable


Equipment module equipment manoeuvre thrust er

Retrograde module orbit attitude-control thruster


Hatches dotted all around the Gemini equipment module allowed components and consumables to be removed and replaced with ease.




Equipment module equipment manoeuvre thrust er

Retrograde module


Although the Gemini reentry module wos the appropriate size for a twoman version of Mercury, it was only one element of a larger spacecraft, with a retrograde section and equipment module attached behind it.


Gemini had three major sections: the re-entry module, the retrograde section, and the equipment module. While the crew were confined to the reentry module, vital supplies of power and oxygen came from the equipment module. The retrograde module contained thrusters for changing orbit and retrorockets that were used to trigger re-entry.




5.6m (18ft 4in)

maximum diameter in orbit

3.05m (10ft)

mass at launch

3,763kg (8,2971b)

mass at landing

1,983kg (4,3711b)


4 x solid fuel retrorockets


McDonnell Aircraft Corporation

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\ m rear shielding and insulation launch-vehicle mating cable propellant tanks drinking water tank

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