THE EARLY YEARS OF HUMAN SPACEFLIGHT
MERCURY AND GEMINI
During the early years of the American and Soviet race in space, their
competition was measured by headline-making "firsts": the first satellite,
first robotic spacecraft to the Moon, first man in space, first woman
in space, first spacewalk. To the dismay of the United States, the Soviet
Union achieved each of these feats first. These events triggered a drive
to catch up with--and surpass--the Soviets, especially in the high-profile
endeavor of human space exploration.
The Mercury and Gemini programs were the early U.S. efforts in human spaceflight
and they were spectacular successes:
May 1961--American astronaut Alan Shepard went briefly into space, but
not into orbit, on the Mercury 3 mission.
February 1962--John Glenn spent five hours in orbit on Mercury 6.
June 1965--Gemini IV astronaut Edward White made the first U.S. spacewalk.
Although the United States seemed to lag behind the U.S.S.R. in space,
it pursued a methodical step-by-step program, in which each mission built
upon and extended the previous ones. The Mercury and Gemini missions carefully
prepared the way for the Apollo lunar missions.
The one-man Mercury missions developed hardware for safe spaceflight and
return to Earth, and began to show how human beings would fare in space.
From 1961 through 1963, the United States flew many test flights and six
manned Mercury missions.
After Mercury NASA introduced Gemini, an enlarged, redesigned spacecraft
for two astronauts. Ten manned Gemini missions were flown from 1964 through
1966 to improve techniques of spacecraft control, rendezvous and docking,
and extravehicular activity (spacewalking). One Gemini mission spent a
record-breaking two weeks in space, time enough for a future crew to go
to the Moon, explore, and return.
Spacecraft "Freedom 7"