Kuiper tilts his head curiously in a replica Gemini capsule at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

Gemini XI

Kuiper flies the replica Gemini capsule at the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry. Thanks again OMSI for allowing Kuiper to make a special visit.

On September 12, 1966, Pete Conrad and Richard Gordon launched into space aboard Gemini 11. They had a mere 2 second launch window in order to catch up to their Agena!! (Later on, they both flew to the Moon on Apollo 12, but that’s another story.) If you recall in our last space post, Gemini 10 set a new altitude record of 475 miles. Pete and Richard CRUSHED that. ??? Using their Agena as a booster, they soared to a jaw-dropping 851 mile (1369 km) orbit above the Earth. That record still stands today for non-lunar missions.

According to the mission transcript, Houston asked the astronauts “if they have any comments on the view…” Pete replied, “I tell you one thing, it really is blue. That water really stands out and everything looks blue. ?? Obviously the curvature of the earth stands out a lot.” He also noted, “Whoop-pee-do!” after a burn. ?

The high altitude maneuver was actually a kind of compromise. Both McDonnell and Martin had proposed flying a craft around the moon as a stretch goal for Project Gemini. Pete Conrad thought that this idea was REALLY. REALLY. COOL. ?

Unfortunately, he was unable to convince NASA and Congress that it would be a good use of resources (particularly since Apollo was already being developed in parallel.) However, with the help of Bill Anders (who would fly on Apollo 8), he was able to successfully lobby for the addition of a high altitude section on Gemini 11. FOR SCIENCE. ☢️

In addition to reaching new heights, Gemini 11 was also first to experiment with creating artificial gravity by spinning their spacecraft around. The effect wasn’t really strong enough for them to notice, but I thought it was worth noting.

Kudos to @amyshirateitel and her rad YouTube channel Vintage Space (which I discovered embarrassingly recently.) I first learned about the “Large Earth Orbit” proposal from her Gemini 11 video.

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