Project Mercury had shown that manned space flights were possible but more experience in space travel was needed before American astronauts could embark on a journey to the moon.
Among other things it remained to be seen whether spacemen could step out of their spacecraft, in space. The Americans set out to find out the answer to this question and others through the Gemini series of flights.
The Gemini spacecraft looked like an enlarged version of Mercury but it was far more sophisticated. It could hold two astronauts who sat in ejector seats in a conical capsule, 2.3 m wide at its base. In case of an emergency during the launch, the crew could eject to safety. Behind the conical crew compartment was an equipment section that contained supplies of air, and fuel cells for generating electricity. It also housed the retro-rockets. This equipment section was discarded before re-entry to expose the heat shield at the base of the conical crew compartment. In all, the spacecraft weighed 3.6 tonnes and had a length of 5.6 metres.
It was launched by the powerful two-stage Titan rocket.
The goal of the Gemini program included developing techniques of docking with other spacecraft, and subjecting men and machines to space flights lasting up to two weeks.
The first manned Gemini launch was scheduled for March 1965 but the Soviet Union appeared to be determined to show that it was ahead in the space race. In October 1964 it launched its new spacecraft Voshkod.
Voshkod 1 carried three cosmonauts.