On Hand for Space History, as Superpowers Spar

John Noble Wilford in The New York Times:

Moon The first time I came to Cape Kennedy (as Cape Canaveral had been renamed) was in December 1965. Momentum was then building in the space race between the cold war superpowers, the Soviet Union and the United States. It all started with the Sputnik alarm in 1957 and then President John F. Kennedy’s challenge to the nation in 1961 to put astronauts on the Moon by the end of the decade. The first Americans flew in the Mercury capsules, with room for only one pilot and limited maneuverability. The Gemini was a two-seater built for longer flights and outfitted with navigation systems for practicing rendezvous maneuvers essential for lunar missions. I was at the Cape for the tandem mission of Geminis 6 and 7. After some delay and improvisation, astronauts successfully steered the two craft to a rendezvous in Earth orbit.

Gemini 8, a few months later, was a disaster narrowly averted. Neil A. Armstrong was at the controls of the spacecraft, with David Scott as co-pilot. There had been no hitches at liftoff, and the astronauts docked with an orbiting Agena target vehicle, the mission’s principal objective. Then trouble struck. The Gemini began bucking and spinning because of a misfiring thruster rocket. Armstrong feared that he and Scott might lose consciousness from the high spin rate. They disengaged from the Agena, but still could not bring their spacecraft under full control. Armstrong managed to steer the Gemini to an emergency splashdown before the end of its only day in space. Four more Gemini missions followed, mainly trouble-free, concluding the project in November 1966. The way was cleared for the first flights of the three-person Apollo craft, the first of which was already at the Cape.

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