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Publisher's Summary

Today, the Space Race is widely viewed poignantly and fondly as a race to the Moon that culminated with Apollo 11 “winning” the race for the United States. In fact, it encompassed a much broader range of competition between the Soviet Union and the United States that affected everything from military technology to successfully launching satellites that could land on Mars or orbit other planets in the Solar System. Moreover, the notion that America “won” the Space Race at the end of the 1960s overlooks just how competitive the Space Race actually was in launching people into orbit, as well as the major contributions the Space Race influenced in leading to today’s International Space Station and continued space exploration.

In some ways, Project Gemini is a neglected part of the US space program. Sandwiched between the excitement of Project Mercury and the sending of the first American astronauts to space and the euphoria of the Apollo Moon landings, Gemini was a step forward rather than a dramatic leap. However, this project achieved many important firsts, including the first spacewalk, the first rendezvous and docking between two spacecraft, the first flights of more than one week’s duration, and many more. And all this was achieved in a staggeringly short space of time - in just 20 months, Project Gemini made 10 manned flights - a record that has yet to be broken by any other space program.

Gemini also marked another important milestone as America finally surpassed the Soviet Union in space technology. Before Gemini, the US was playing a desperate game of catch-up as it attempted to match Soviet accomplishments. The last Project Mercury flight launched in May 1963, and before then, Russia had put the first satellite in Earth’s orbit and the first man in space and had followed these with longer flights than the tiny Mercury spacecraft. 

In terms of military significance, it was recognized that the ability to dominate space was very important, and to many people in America, it seemed that Russia was well on the way to doing this. No one could have guessed that it would be almost three years before the next American manned space flight occurred when Gemini 3 left the launch pad in March 1965. It seemed to many people that the Russian lead in space exploration had become unassailable and, in order to reestablish the credibility of the US space program, the Gemini flights simply had to succeed. 

For these reasons alone, Project Gemini is worth looking at in detail, but it is also a story about human endeavor and triumph against the hazards of space. Astronauts learned not only how to control and monitor flights, but how to deal with fatigue, stress, and equipment malfunction. And unlike their Russian counterparts, the men and women of Project Mercury did all these things in the full glare of intense press and media interest. This meant that their achievements were lauded, but it also meant that their mistakes and setbacks were endlessly discussed and criticized. It also meant that every cent they spent had to be justified and explained.

Project Gemini: The History and Legacy of NASA’s Human Spaceflight Missions Before the Apollo Program examines the origins behind the missions, the people and spacecraft involved, and the historic results.

©2020 Charles River Editors (P)2021 Charles River Editors

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