Whither Gemini?

On June 6 and 7, 1963, Brainerd Holmes, Gilruth, Walter Williams, and Kleinknecht met with Administrator Webb, Hugh L. Dryden, and Seamans in Washington to make a final decision on whether to fly an MA-10 mission. President Kennedy had clearly left the decision up to NASA. Webb listened thoughtfully to the presentations of each NASA official, and although both he and President Kennedy had heard the Mercury astronauts' plea for one more Mercury mission, Administrator Webb announced before the Senate space committee on June 12, 1963, that "we will not have another Mercury flight."61 It was to be 22 months before another American manned space flight.

Project Gemini, designed in 1961 to double the volume while retaining the basic shape and systems of the McDonnell-Mercury spacecraft, now was well into the development and redesign phase of construction. And the Martin Company's mighty Titan II rocket, in spite of a recent explosion on launch, had a record of nine cleancut successes out of 16 launches. Another Mercury-Atlas flight would have been a relatively economical way to extend space technology and fill the time (then estimated at a year) before Gemini-Titan could be flight-tested. But now that Project Apollo, employing a concept called lunar orbital rendezvous (LOR) to land a man on the Moon and recover him, was the ultimate goal of the decade, space rendezvous and docking had to be perfected. Mercury had served far more than its original purpose, but it could hardly be maneuverable. And so Project Gemini was designed to fill these gaps. As people were asking whither and whether Gemini was taking them, Mercury died a natural death, while Apollo and Saturn were aborning.

61 Webb, interview, Washington, Sept. 3, 1965; Seamans, interview, Washington, Sept. 1, 1965; Senate Committee on Aeronautical and Space Sciences, 88 Cong., 1 sess. (1963), NASA Authorization for Fiscal Year 1964, Hearings, Part 2, 772. See also Scientists' Testimony on Space Goals; and "Mercury Flights Off, Gemini Comes Next: Astronauts Overruled by NASA," Houston Chronicle, June 12, 1963.

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