Space Race

Published: 1966
Play Audio Archive Story - UPI
Gordon Cooper Jr., one of America's first seven astronauts, died on October 4, 2004 at his home in Ventura, Calif. He was 77 years old. Cooper piloted the sixth and last flight of the Mercury program and later commanded Gemini 5. The file image shows the "Original Seven" Mercury astronauts. From left: Scott Carpenter, Cooper, John Glenn, Gus Grissom, Wally Schirra, Alan Shepard, and Deke Slayton. (UPI Photo/NASA)

In 1966, the Russians became the first nation to land a spacecraft intact on the surface of the moon. The Soviets also accomplished a crash landing onto Venus. But the biggest space records were scored by the United States.

Unknown Speaker: "Ten, nine, eight, seven, six, five, four, three, two, one, zero; we have ignition."

Unknown Speaker: "There's ignition; billowing, glowing, colored clouds boiling up from -- and there's liftoff!"

Announcer: Lunar Orbiters I and II returned spectacular pictures of the moon surface. Surveyor I functioned beautifully, managed a soft landing on the moon and also returned sharp, detailed photographs of the lunar surface.

The manned Gemini Program was concluded after accomplishing almost everything it set out to do. There were five two-man space shots during the year beginning with Gemini VIII in March. Astronauts Neil Armstrong and David Scott performed the first rendezvous and docking with another vehicle in space.

Of all the missions in 1966, Gemini IX had the most problems getting off the ground. The first attempt to orbit a target vehicle failed. A second attempt to get the mission going failed when computer trouble necessitated postponing the flight for two days. On the third try, all launch operations went without a hitch, and astronauts Tom Stafford and Eugene Cernan were off on their three-day mission. They set an accuracy record on splashdown, landing just 300 yards off target after 44 orbits.

Not all went so well in space, as rendezvous was achieved, but docking became impossible; as the astronauts told Mission Control.

Unknown Speaker 1: "The people at the Cape and Houston do not believe we can get the shroud separated."

Unknown Speaker 2: "Okay."

Announcer: Astronauts John Young and Michael Collins in Gemini X hit a high altitude mark of 475 miles. That record was broken on Gemini XI by astronauts Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon, who guided their spacecraft to an altitude of 850 miles. Gordon ran into problems during his spacewalk.

Unknown Speaker 1: "How are you doing?"

Unknown Speaker 2: "All right here."

Unknown Speaker 1: "What?"

Unknown Speaker 2: "I'm here, I guess."

Unknown Speaker 1: "Sure are. Ride 'em, cowboy!"

Unknown Speaker 3: "How you doing?"

Unknown Speaker 2: "Tired, Pete."

Unknown Speaker 3: "All right. Just rest. You've got plenty of time."

Announcer: Command pilot Pete Conrad called Gordon back into the spacecraft early. In the final mission of the program, Gemini XII spacewalker Buzz Aldrin proved that spacewalking and working could be done.

With Gemini completed, the next steps for American scientists became Apollo and the moon. Director of the Manned Space Flight Center in Houston, Robert Gilruth, took aim at a lunar landing …

Robert Gilruth: "With our time schedule and with the -- the present state of Apollo, it’s in the best interests of -- of getting on with the program to close out Gemini now and put our full efforts into the Apollo program."