Friday, April 11, 2014

50 Years Ago: Gemini Program FIrst Unmanned Launch

NASA published image of Gemini Launching atop a modified Titan II rocket. The Launch tower more closely resembles the familiar tower design we would see later with the Apollo program.

Between the end of the Mercury program and the start of launches for Project Gemini, there were lots of rockets tested, satellites put into space, and experiments conducted in the upper atmosphere and Earth orbit. Then 50 years ago on April 8th, the look and feel of the new Gemini program came to life as the twin engines on the Titan II rocket roared into action. With the exhaust plume directed under the pad and to the side, cameras had a clear view of the rocket flames as the vehicle lifted off and cleared the tower. Perched on top of the rocket was a mockup of the Gemini capsule (called the boilerplate) that gave us the view of how missions would look in future launches. In the future, two astronauts would ride the rocket and no American would go into space alone again. 

Before the launch. The gantry tower, which was used to help stack the stages of the rocket together with the capsule, lowered into a horizontal position to avoid damage from the blast-off. 

Designated mission GT-1 (Gemini-Titan 1), this test mission was designed to evaluate the entire Titan II launch vehicle system, and the Gemini spacecraft integrity and compatibility with the rocket. After a perfect countdown and liftoff, the rocket staged and placed not only the capsule but also the second stage into orbit about 204 miles at its highest. OK, maybe not perfect. The vehicle faster than expected placing the craft in orbit going 14 miles faster than planned. The orbit path was not meant to last a long time, and the assembly was calculated to re-enter the atmosphere in 3 and a half days.

The next day, Titan II ICBM testing at Florida came to an end. The 33rd and final rocket launch for the USAF made a successful trip out over the Atlantic, and the ICBM portion of Titan II Research and development was completed.

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