A Twist of Fate

A Twist of Fate

To achieve a soft lunar landing that would permit man to walk on the moon, scientists and engineers realized that two space vehicles would have to be involved. The main vehicle would be taken into space and put into orbit around the moon. It would be carrying the smaller vehicle, which would later descend to the moon's surface.

Designing a small module to soft—land was much easier than landing an entire spacecraft. To return from the moon the crew of the lunar module would have to find the command ship and dock with is. Orbital rendezvous and docking were practical on paper but it had to be proved in pace.

The first stop was orbital rendezvous, and the first attempt was a failure. Gemini 6 was successfully put into orbit around the earth, but the small Agena rocket scheduled to rendezvous never reached orbit. Gemini 6 remained in space encircling the earth, and eleven days later Gemini 7 was put into space orbit. It made a successful rendezvous with Gemini 6, proving the ability of spacecraft to meet and maneuver in space.

This maneuver completed, Gemini 6 pulled away and returned to earth. Gemini 7 remained in orbit for fourteen days, which was the amount of time the moon expedition was expected to take. Thus it was also proved that weightlessness was not a potential killer that would limit manned space programs but was well within the scope of human endurance.

The next major step was the actual docking of two craft in outer space. This was accomplished by Gemini 10. Project Gemini proved that man could live and work in space, certainly long enough to reach the moon and return.

Scientists and engineers now knew for certain that spacecraft could maneuver, rendezvous, and link up in space orbit. When Gemini 12 splashed down in November 1966, it was clear that the race to the moon would be would be won by the United States.

During the phase of actual docking in space a near tragedy that could have changed space history occurred. The first docking in space was attempted by Gemini 8 with its crew of Neil Armstrong and David Scott. Not name in the space program is more memorable than that of Neil Armstrong, who was destined to be the first human to walk on the moon.

As the spacecraft moved up on the Agena target vehicle, pilot Armstrong managed to dock with the Agena rather smoothly. However, within minutes the two interlocked spacecraft began to tumble wildly. Armstrong, thinking the problem was with the Agena, quickly undocked the two spacecraft. But the problem was with the Gemini, and the spinning became worse; one of the control jets was jammed and not functioning.

Armstrong fought desperately to stabilize his spacecraft using thruster jets that are normally used for reentry into the earth's atmosphere. On the verge of blacking out, he was finally successful, and the spacecraft stabilized. Gemini 8 returned immediately to earth with no further problems.

It seems ironic that the man who was destined to be the first man to walk on the moon almost became the first man to be lost in space!


From the book: 
Our Fascinating Earth