Blue Gemini

"Blue Gemini" was the tag name for an Air Force manned space flight program to develop rendezvous, docking, and transfer for military purposes, [118] using Gemini-type spacecraft. The germ of the idea first surfaced in February 1962, during congressional hearings on the defense budget, as part of a far-ranging Air Force Space Plan for the development of military space technology over the next 10 years. The concept became firmer in June, when the Air Force Space Systems Division (SSD) began working on plans to use Gemini hardware as the first step in a new Air Force man-in-space program called Mods (Manned Orbital Development System), a kind of military space station with Gemini spacecraft as ferry vehicles. The term Blue Gemini first showed up in August as part of a more specific proposal to fly six Gemini missions with Air Force pilots in a preliminary orientation and training phase of Mods.2

Blue Gemini was neither clearly defined nor officially sanctioned. Air Force opinion was divided on the best approach to the goal of military manned space flight. Some, like Air Force Chief of Staff Curtis E. LeMay, wanted nothing to do with Gemini, fearing that entanglement in the NASA program might jeopardize Dyna-Soar. Others, like Major General Osmond J. Ritland, deputy for manned space flight in Air Force Systems Command, urged a more active Air Force role in Gemini, since Dyna-Soar would not fly for at least two years. Civilian officials in the Pentagon remained skeptical of any military man-in-space proposals, for much the same reason that had tended to block such efforts all along: the absence of any clear-cut military need for manned operations in space.3

By the fall of 1962, the situation was in flux. The Saint program suffered a sharp cutback in December, following cost overruns and schedule slippages. This made Gemini look even more attractive to those Air Force planners still convinced of the military importance of orbital rendezvous but now lacking a program to test their ideas. Techniques for rendezvous between remote-controlled machines, as in Saint, would differ from those suited for manned rendezvous, but manned work in space looked more exciting anyway. Dyna-Soar, a winged glider boosted into space by a Titan III to orbit Earth and fly back to an airfield landing, had lost much of its promise as a result of changes and delays. The exciting potential of such a program, when it took shape in the late 1950s, looked much less impressive by the end of 1962, especially in contrast to Gemini. No decision had yet been made in the Department of Defense, but the entire military manned space role was under review and forecasts of Dyna-Soar's extinction were rife.4

Meanwhile, the Air Force role in Project Gemini was limited to the one set out in the "NASA/DOD Operational and Management Plan" of December 1961, SSD acting as contractor to NASA for launch and target vehicles.5 The idea of Blue Gemini - a larger part for the Air Force in the program - had a good deal of support within NASA, [119] especially from MSC Director Gilruth. Gemini had been designed as an operational spacecraft, and the Air Force was the most likely customer. The Air Force could also be expected to pay for what it wanted, and Gemini could use an infusion of Defense funds. At a meeting in November 1962, Chamberlin and some of his staff described salient aspects of Gemini to a group of SSD representatives.* This meeting was intended to lay the groundwork for coordinating Air Force planning with MSC and to set up channels for future collaboration.6

NASA Administrator Webb and Associate Administrator Seamans visited the Pentagon for a talk with Roswell L. Gilpatric, Deputy Secretary of Defense, in an effort to convince Pentagon planners that an augmented role for the Air Force in Project Gemini was a good idea. Chance brought Secretary of Defense Robert S. McNamara to the meeting. His response to their offer was more than the two NASA spokesmen had bargained for; it took the Air Force by surprise as well. McNamara not only welcomed the idea of cooperation - he proposed merging the NASA Gemini program with the Air Force project and moving the combined effort to the Department of Defense.7

That was too much for NASA. W. Fred Boone, a retired admiral who had become NASA Deputy Associate Administrator for Defense Affairs on 1 December, took charge of building the case against Gemini's transfer to the Air Force. In NASA's view, not surprisingly, "the Gemini program should continue under the direction of NASA." The keystone of NASA's case was that Gemini was integral to the step-by-step climb from the first moves into space in Mercury to the final landing on the Moon in Apollo. Any delay in Gemini might delay the lunar landing. Increased Air Force participation "to further DOD objectives in space" was all right, but it must not hamper NASA in promptly carrying out the Gemini program.8

To support his position, Boone asked each of the NASA staff offices for a statement on the effects of an Air Force takeover of Gemini. The replies stressed the clear threat that such a move might disrupt NASA's manned space flight effort in general and the manned lunar landing program in particular. Beyond this most pressing danger, they feared nasty responses from outside NASA: increased criticism from a Congress already perturbed by signs of military influence in NASA programs; rising concern from a public disturbed by questions about the viability of a civilian space program; and growing disquiet in foreign nations about the United States being a peaceful explorer of space, [120] which carried the added threat that some countries might expel NASA tracking stations from their territories.9 After going over these arguments, Boone concluded:

It is in the national interest that the management of Project Gemini remain with NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center. A change in program management would seriously delay and substantially increase the cost of the manned lunar landing program. Any delay would reduce the chances that the United States will make a manned lunar landing before the Russians do.
A much better choice than giving Gemini to the Air Force would be to enhance the role of the Air Force within the framework that already existed.10

Just as surprised by the McNamara proposal as NASA was the Air Force, which shared NASA's distaste for a Gemini takeover, partly because it might jeopardize Dyna-Soar, partly because the costs of a few fully "blue" Gemini flights would far outweigh any foreseeable gains.11

NASA's arguments for keeping Gemini seemed convincing enough when presented to top Pentagon officials on 9 January 1963, bolstered as they were by the Air Force's unwillingness to take the program. McNamara and Gilpatric readily agreed not to press for transfer of Gemini. However doubtful the future role of military man-in-space, they thought the Air Force remiss in failing to accept NASA's offer of a larger part in Gemini. That was what McNamara now wanted as a formal pact between the two agencies; and he wanted it soon, before he began to present his case for the coming year's Defense budget to Congress on 21 January. Perhaps as much as $100 million in Defense funds could go to Gemini. McNamara's key idea was a joint management board to run the project and he promised to forward a draft agreement soon.

A jointly managed Project Gemini had no more appeal for NASA than an outright transfer. Boone dismissed the proposed board as "a completely unnecessary organizational appendage"12 even before he saw the promised draft. It arrived on Saturday, 12 January, and did nothing to soften Boone's judgment. Claiming that "both parties [DOD and NASA] consider that the national interest requires the program to be jointly managed," McNamara proposed an eight-man Gemini Program Steering Board to approve program and funding plans, to safeguard both Defense and NASA experimental objectives, and to resolve schedule and resource conflicts. Although GPO would report to the new board, project management would remain unchanged. Defense intended to pay for its enlarged role with money for current Gemini needs, as well as future board-approved changes.13

NASA's top management discussed the plan on Monday afternoon, [121] 14 January, and Boone drafted a reply. McNamara's "joint management," in Boone's view, equaled "rule by committee," which "in this case would be ineffective, uneconomical, and in fact unworkable." Changing Gemini also threatened Apollo and might cost the United States its chance to win the space race. The proposed joint board also violated the Space Act of 1958, certainly in spirit and probably in letter. There seemed to be room enough for the Air Force in the current Gemini setup. If not, a joint planning and review (as opposed to management) board to advise the NASA Administrator ought to serve the purpose. Boone concluded by stating "NASA's strong interest in the Dyna-Soar program," hinting that NASA would endorse the Air Force project if Defense relaxed its demands on Gemini.14

NASA's revised version of the Defense draft altered enough words and accents to transform its meaning. Gone was any hint of "joint management." The steering board had become the Gemini Program Planning Board, limited to watching over a program of Gemini experiments. There was no mention of approving program plans or allocating resources. At most, the board could inform the NASA Administrator and the Secretary of Defense of such problems as planning defects or schedule conflicts. NASA repeated, and stressed, its claim to sole control of Gemini. GPO would not report to the board. The Air Force would be restricted to joining "in the development, pilot training, preflight check-out, launch operations and flight operations of the Gemini program to assist NASA and to meet the DOD objectives," just as it had been doing.15

The Defense Department accepted NASA's terms in a series of meetings between spokesmen for the two agencies over the weekend of 19-20 January. Willis H. Shapley, Deputy Chief of the Military Division of the Bureau of the Budget, arranged the meetings and prepared a series of notes designed to clarify the intent of the agreement proper and to distinguish it from some rumored proposals that had surfaced in the press. Aviation Week and Space Technology, for example, had reported in its issue of 10 December 1962 that NASA and the Air Force had agreed on a cooperative Gemini/Blue Gemini program: NASA would fund Gemini development and fly the first missions; the Air Force would fly copilots on one or two of the early missions and buy the last four or five Gemini spacecraft for its own flights plus a few extra beyond the twelve NASA had ordered.16

Shapley's notes mostly covered management relations between NASA, Defense, and the proposed Gemini Program Planning Board; but they also touched on funding and the domestic and foreign impact of the new arrangements. Gemini was not to be thought of as a joint program, but rather as a program serving common needs, with the Department of Defense paying for the military features, NASA in full [122] charge of the program, and the role of the board strictly advisory. Defense funds were to be used for nothing but the changes geared to military needs; the money was specifically not to be used to speed up the current NASA program nor to make up slippages and overruns. No major change in policy toward the Air Force role in space was intended, and the new agreement was to be presented to the public as the latest in a series of efforts to enhance cooperation and to avoid duplication between NASA and the Pentagon.

Webb signed the revised agreement and sent it, along with a slightly edited version of Shapley's notes, to McNamara on 21 January. The notes were not part of the formal document, but they helped fill out the record of understanding between the two agencies.17 The new pact was made public the next day. Webb and McNamara "joined in stressing the national character and importance of the Gemini project" and in their determination to see it "utilized in the national interest, and to avoid unnecessary duplication of effort in this area as in all others" - citing the agreements on the management of Cape Canaveral (also announced on 22 January) and on such earlier undertakings as Dyna-Soar and the national launch vehicle program as examples of similar cooperation.18

How a seemingly larger Defense role in Gemini might affect international opinion was the subject of still further concern. NASA assured the State Department that Gemini's goals remained unchanged, its peaceful scientific character unaltered. NASA still ran Gemini and planned to make Gemini's scientific data as widely available as Mercury's. The new agreement simply augmented military support of the same kind already known to the manned space flight program. Gemini was still open, NASA still managed it, and its foreign network stations would have no military personnel except medical.19

Although the NASA/Defense agreement of 21 January left NASA clearly in charge of Gemini, rumors of an Air Force takeover persisted.20 Real changes were small. The major innovation was the Gemini Program Planning Board, a strictly advisory body whose planning was to be confined to military experiments for Gemini flights. Its co-chairmen were Seamans for NASA and Brockway McMillan for Defense. McMillan was Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Research and Development. Holmes and Boone were the other NASA members; and the Department of Defense named General Bernard A. Schriever, Commander of Air Force Systems Command, and Lawrence L. Kavanau, Special Assistant for Space to the Director of Defense Research and Engineering. The group held its first meeting on 28 February 1963 at NASA Headquarters in Washington.21 The board in this as in later meetings did attend to the place of military experiments in Gemini. But experiments did not remain its only concern, nor did they turn out to be the board's signal contribution to Gemini.


* MSC speakers were Paul Purser, Chamberlin James Rose, Homer W. Dotts, and George MacDougall. Non–NASA visitors were Major Ben J. Loret, Major Earl A. Hoag, and Captain George R. Honold (Air Force), and Bill Nordyke, Donald P. Armstrong, and Mike Weeks (Aerospace Corporation).


2 U.S. Congress, House, Committee on Science and Astronautics, Astronautical and Aeronautical Events of 1962: Report, 88th Cong., 1st sess., 12 June 1963, pp. 17-18; letter, Max Rosenberg to NASA Historian, "Comments on Draft Chapter I-V and XIII-XV, Gemini History," 26 June 1970, with enclosure, "NASA Draft Gemini History, Comments on Chapters I-V; XIII-XV," pp. 5-7.

3 "NASA Draft Gemini History, Comments," p. 5; letter, Brockway McMillan to Eugene M. Emme, 1 May 1970.

4 Astronautical and Aeronautical Events of 1962, p. 259; Phillip J. Klass, "USAF Halts Saint Work; Shifts to Gemini," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 10 Dec. 1962, p. 36; [Henry T. Simmons], "U.S. Space Program: Streamlined and Stretched Out," Newsweek, 17 Dec. 1962, pp. 72, 74.

5 Chap. IV, "The Prime Contracts."

6 Memo, Donald H. Heaton to Daniel D. McKee and John H. Disher, "SSD/Aerospace Visit to Houston," 26 Oct. 1962; "Conference on Project Gemini: Agenda; SSD-Aerospace-NASA, November 8, 1962," MSC; "Attendance List, SSD/Aerospace/NASA-Gemini Meeting, Nov. 8, 1962"; letter, Paul E. Purser to James M. Grimwood, 12 May 1970; Robert C. Seamans, Jr., interview, Washington, 26 May 1966.

7 Seamans interview; McMillan letter, 1 May 1970.

8 W. Fred Boone, "Project Gemini Talking Paper," 9 Jan. 1963; memo, Boone to Emme, "Review of the Draft Chapter 5 (Expansion and Crisis), Gemini Narrative History," 17 April 1970.

9 Memo, George L. Simpson, Jr., to Boone, no subject, 8 Jan. 1963; memo, Paul G. Dembling to Dep. Assoc. Adm. for Defense Affairs, "Gemini Program - Transfer to Air Force," 8 Jan. 1963; memo, Arnold W. Frutkin to Dep. Assoc. Adm. for Defense Affairs, "International considerations re transfer of Project Gemini to USAF," 8 Jan. 1963; memo, Edmond C. Buckley to Dep. Assoc. Adm. for Defense Affairs, "Ramifications of DOD Absorption of the GEMINI Program," 8 Jan. 1963.

10 Boone, "Project Gemini Talking Paper," p. 3.

11 McMillan letter, 1 May 1970; "NASA Draft Gemini History, Comments," p. 5.

12 Boone untitled commentary on the planning meeting of 9 January 1963, on joint DOD/NASA management of Gemini, 10 Jan. 1963.

13 Letter, Robert S. McNamara to James E. Webb, 12 Jan. 1963, with enclosure, "Agreement between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense Concerning the Gemini Program," signed by McNamara on 12 Jan.

14 Boone, draft reply (for Webb) to McNamara letter, 14 Jan. 1963; memo, William A. Fleming to Dep. Assoc. Adm. for Defense Affairs, "Comments on the Proposal by DOD for Joint Management of Gemini," 15 Jan. 1963.

15 "Agreement between the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Department of Defense Concerning the Gemini Program," signed by Webb and McNamara, 21 Jan. 1963; cf. memo, Seamans and John H. Rubel to Sec. of Defense and NASA Adm., "NASA/DOD Operational and Management Plan for Accomplishing the GEMINI (formerly MERCURY MARK II) Program," 29 Jan. 1962.

16 Willis H. Shapley, "Gemini Notes," [19 Jan. 1963]; Edward H. Kolcum, "Administration to Ask $6 Billion for NASA," Aviation Week and Space Technology, 10 Dec. 1962, pp. 27-28.

17 Memo, Shapley for Webb, no subject, 21 Jan. 1963, with enclosure, memo, Shapley to Dir., Bureau of the Budget, "Proposed new DOD-NASA arrangements on GEMINI program," 21 Jan. 1963; "Agreement concerning the Gemini Program," 21 Jan. 1963.

18 NASA News Release 63-12 (released simultaneously by DOD as 84-63), "NASA-DOD Gemini Agreement," 22 Jan. 1963; NASA News Release 63-11 (released simultaneously by DOD), "NASA-DOD Atlantic Missile Range Agreement," 22 Jan.1963; "Agreement between The Department of Defense and The National Aeronautics & Space Administration Regarding Management of The Atlantic Missile Range of DoD and The Merritt Island Launch Area of NASA," signed by McNamara and Webb, 17 Jan. 1963.

19 Memo, Frutkin to Seamans, "Guidelines for Project Gemini as confirmed to Department of State," 8 Feb. 1963; letter, Seamans to McMillan, 13 March 1963.

20 Frank G. McGuire, "McNamara Spells Out AF Gemini Role," Missiles and Rockets, 1 April 1963, p. 15; Seamans, "DOD Participation in the Gemini Program," NASA Position Paper, 30 April 1963.

21 "Minutes of the First Meeting, Gemini Program Planning Board [GPPB], Friday, February 8, 1963," with enclosures.


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