Today, November 15, marks the 50th anniversary of the Gemini XII landing. Gemini XII was the final mission of the Gemini Project, which began in 1961 after the conclusion of the Mercury program. Flights took place between 1965 and 1966 to ultimately prepare man for the first walk on the moon in the Apollo program. Jim Lovell and Buzz Aldrin, co-pilots of the Gemini XII mission, are shown in the image above after splashdown only three miles from Cape Kennedy, where Gemini XII took off four days prior.
The Gemini capsule was named after the ‘twins’ constellation because it housed two astronauts, rather than just one in the Mercury capsule, which was used to confirm that man could indeed be equipped to survive conditions in space. Over the course of 12 Gemini missions, NASA tested technologies and strategies that would enable spacecraft to change orbits and perform rendezvous—where two spacecraft fly past one another within visual distance. Astronauts practiced docking, or connecting one spacecraft to another, and worked to perfect spacewalks, also known as extra-vehicular activity (EVA) because they require the astronauts to leave their spacecraft. NASA also used the mission to observe astronauts' biological reactions to prolonged space time.
The main purpose of the Gemini XII mission was to solve problems that occurred during spacewalks in the preceding Gemini missions. To prepare for the first standing spacewalk, Buzz Aldrin practiced tethering two objects together in an underwater simulation. Unlike the Gemini XI, the exterior of the Gemini XII spacecraft included strategically-placed handles to facilitate travel from one spacecraft to another. These were integral for the success of the standing spacewalks, since other attempts were too tiring.
Two days into the mission, Aldrin performed the first standing spacewalk, where he emerged from the hatch of the capsule. Attached to a 100-ft. long rope, he made his way toward the Gemini Agena Target Vehicle (GATV), which was launched an hour prior to the Gemini capsule so that they could meet in orbit. After successfully tethering the GATV to a docking bar on the Gemini XII capsule, Aldrin returned to his ship. Over the next two days, he practiced two more standing spacewalks while snapping pictures of constellations and a solar eclipse (right).
Aldrin went on to be the lunar module pilot on Apollo 11 in 1969 and joined Neil Armstrong as the first humans to walk on the moon. Lovell went on to be commander of Apollo 13 in 1970. To learn more about all 12 of the Gemini missions, visit the article series from NASA.