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Space and Science Fiction Reference Articles
Gemini Spacecraft Snapshots


Gemini Spacecraft Snapshots

Photos and Text by Scott Taylor


McDonnell's Gemini space capsule provided a bridge between the "spam in a can" Mercury capsule and the mighty Apollo/Saturn V combination that would eventually send twelve men to the surface of the Moon. Gemini's mission objectives were clear-cut: to catch up to the Soviets in the space race, and to perfect the technologies and procedures needed to send people to the Moon. The ten manned flights of the Gemini program achieved many notable firsts, including the first long-duration flights, the first manned docking in orbit, and the first American space walk. These photos, although of indifferent quality (the spacecraft featured are fully enclosed in plexiglas, and hence are not east to photograph), nevertheless show some useful details for anybody wishing to accurize the 1/24 or 1/48 scale Revell Gemini kits, or the 1/32 scale Collect-Aire kit.

The first spacecraft featured in these photos is a very unusual bird. Back in the mid-1960s, the United States Air Force was engaged in an ambitious military manned space program, the cornerstone of which was the Manned Observing Laboratory (MOL). MOL was, in fact, a manned spy satellite, and would have been the first space station. This is a mock-up of the Gemini MOL capsule, on display at the United States Air Force Museum, Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio. Most of its details are typical of the Gemini capsules, although a few significant differences will be pointed out. This overall view emphasizes the small size of the Gemini capsule.


The Gemini's instrument panel can be seen in this photograph. Most of the instruments are very similar to those seen in contemporary military aircraft, except for the cages around the toggles to prevent inadvertent tripping. Note the small fold-out mirror on the side of the central console, repeated on the opposite side.  The instrument panel of the MOL vehicle has some differences in configuration compared to the standard Gemini, notably with warning lights and gauges - the flight instruments are essentially similar, however.


This shot looks across the cockpit to the Command Pilot's station (the Pilot sat on the right side of the spacecraft).  In these spacecraft, the Command Pilot actually did most of the flying, while the Pilot acted in a copilot/mission specialist role.  The cockpit is laid out sos that there is a minimum of duplication, with many controls and instruments (including the sidestick attitude controller for the fly by wire system - Gemini 3 was the first spacecraft in history to change its orbit under human control).  The oxygen and air conditioning hoses are quite apparent.  The lack of legroom is also quite obvious: it is hard to imagine two people spending in excess of two weeks in the cramped environs of this cockpit, as did occur on several of the Gemini missions!


Unique among American spacecraft (except for the first six flights of the Space Shuttle Columbia), the Gemini capsules were fitted with ejection seats for their two occupants in case of emergency on the pad or in the atmosphere; this is the Command Pilot's seat.  The two seats were angled away from each other, both to ensure that the seats did not collide after leaving the capsule and to give the two astronauts room for their shoulders.  Nevertheless, a Gemini capsule had considerably less interior room than a Volkswagen Beetle, so the crews had to like each other, or at least be very tolerant!  The MOL capsule actually is quite roomy compared to the standard Gemini.  Typically, the area on the rear bulkhead between the seats was filled with stowage bins for food and equipment needed on long-duration flights.  With MOL, however, all of that equipment would be inside the space station, so the capsule was used only for launch and re-entry.  In place of the bins, a circular hatch which led to the space station was fitted; the locking mechanism for that is visible to the left of the seat in this photograph.  As can be seen, the ejection seats are exactly like those fitted to many contemporary US jet aircraft.  Tests of the seat were done at supersonic speeds from an F-106B. 


This photo gives some idead of the cramped quarters inside a Gemini, although there is only one astronaut here!  It really is hard to imagine spending two weeks in such a cramped space, being essentially unable to move your legs.  At the top left of the photo, the six-pointed locking latch for the MOL hatch can be seen.  SInce this was actually a hole in the spacecraft's heatshield, one can see the need for a secure lock.  The astronaut mannequin is wearing the standard G4C space suit.


This shot focuses on the left side circuit breaker panel, but also shows details of the instrumentation and controls on the center console.  Note the quilted padding on the sidewalls, very reminiscent of that in contemporary military aircraft cockpits, including the Douglas A-4 Skyhawk.  A rolled-up curtain can be seen above the circuit breaker; this could be unrolled to cover the window during sleep periods (when in low Earth orbit, the astronauts were cicling the Earth approximately every 90 minutes, with the attendant sunrises and sunsets).


We now move onto the most famous Gemini of all - Gemini 4, from which Ed White performed the first American spacewalk on June 8, 1965. This historic spacecraft is now on display in the Milestones of Flight gallery at the Smithsonian's National Air and Space Museum in Washington, DC.  Details of the G4C space suits worn by Jim McDivitt (the Command Pilot) and White can be seen in this picture.  Note that White's helmet had an extra tinted visor to protect his eyes from the harsh unfiltered light of the Sun.


Our final photo in this series looks at the area behind Jim McDivitt's head in Gemini 4.  Note the ever-present velcro all over the headrest on McDivitt's ejection seat, details of his helmet, and the ejection seat rails, rivets, and conduits on the rear bulkhead of the spacecraft's cockpit.

If you are traditionally an aircraft modeler but are looking for something a little different, try a spacecraft! It's much like building a giant jet cockpit, without the hassles of intakes, exhausts, and landing gear.  If you need to watch something to be inspired, then get a hold of From The Earth to the Moon (Episode 1 especially), or The Right Stuff (which will also have you pumped to do X-1s, F-104s, and all sorts of other great X-planes!).  There is a plethora of aftermarket available for the Revell and Monogram real space kits, and loads of reference material both in print and on the Internet (Apogee's NASA Mission Reports series is are excellent, inexpensive references, for instance, and include a CD with loads of documents, photos, and film).  Give a spacecraft a try, and build some real history!