NASA Gemini: 1965-1966 (All Missions, All Models) Owners’ Workshop Manual by David Woods and David M. Harland (book review).

July 24, 2015 | By | Reply More

NASA’s Gemini programme was needed if they were to fulfil President John F. Kennedy’s order to get American astronauts on the Moon by the end of the 1960s and establish themselves as the winner in the Space Race currently led by the USSR. Oddly, Russia never saw getting a man on the Moon as their own objective and I can’t help by wonder if they threw away the attempt to let the USA use up its resources. If that was the case, it failed when you consider how many spin-offs we use today. Something that I didn’t know until reading this book was that paragliding wing was once considered as a means to bring the Gemini module back to Earth. Although it wasn’t used, it was also the source of the hobby some people indulge in today.


David Woods and David M. Harland’s book, ‘NASA Gemini: 1965-1966 (All Missions, All Models) Owners’ Workshop Manual’, looks at the entire project. Interestingly, the entire Apollo three module plan was formulated in the early 60s with some trepidation because the one area where things could go seriously wrong was docking the space and lunar modules to get home. Much of the Gemini programme was therefore to practice this in Earth orbit. When you see comparisons of the sizes of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo modules and their rockets, the size differences are geometrically an up-scaling of something that worked and not really to create something new each time. Well, until they got to the lunar module itself.

Just in case you didn’t know, the reason the project was called Gemini was purely for the number of crew it carried. Certainly increasing the size of the capsule, apart from making it a bit more roomy, allowed access to the equipment and changed the astronauts from being passengers to pilots, especially as they now had altitude jets and could control their orbit. You also get insights into the fact that there were three different proposal groups as to how to build it. We all know that Wernher von Braun’s group ultimately won out. Pay particular attention to the photos and diagrams because the actual engine of the rocket is actually right at the bottom, with everything else to keeping the fuel safe. With Mercury, the rocket itself was pressurised to ensure the shape was upheld indicating just how fragile it really was.

If you ever wondered how the Gemini module returning to Earth could maintain the correct altitude to take the maximum impact on the heat shield, this book shows a simple trick of off-setting the centre of mass which cost nothing to do but a few sums of weight management. Even more spectacular is the explanation of the inertia guidance system of gyroscopes to keep everything in the right orientation in orbit. If you’ve ever played around with a gyroscope, you’ll appreciate how much pull they have.

Of particular interest to those of you who want to know about the early computers, Gemini had one that could run six programs but not all at the same time, so the other five were stored on computer tape. Even so, it could calculate over a 1000 calculations a second. Not as fast as the Apollo computer but certainly the multiple great-relative to the computer you’re using today.

The detail of the Gemini power batteries explaining how hydrolysis was used is equally fascinating because they needed to get more kinetic energy from potential energy. Although they were only ever tried in trail, the Gemini capsules were equipped with ejector seats, something that was not used in the Apollo capsules.

Seeing the two spacesuits used was something a little new to me. The EVA version was always the one in the news but for the longer flights a softer comfortable version was provided for inside the capsule. A note also to those writing space stories, although Gemini quickly beat the Russian records for sustained time in space, they still had to get around the boredom and so were probably grateful when experiments were introduced. More remarkably was putting to rest the idea that the astronauts wouldn’t be able to walk when they returned to Earth although the calcium loss was quickly recognised.

The back of the book covers the three main aspects of the Gemini programme. Chief of those was how to dock in orbit, space walking and landing back on Earth. I wish there was a chapter showing what other experiments they carried out inside the capsule, as it was only hinted at.

Checking the back of the book for the various crews, I paid particular attention to the three would become the stars of Apollo 11 to see what made them stand out. Mike Collins was clearly the docking king and for resolving problems at short notice, which probably explained why he stayed in lunar orbit. Neil Armstrong was also a fast-thinker when things looked like they were going wrong, he resolved them. Buzz Aldrin on his space walks, showed no more stress than his co-pilot, Jim Lovell, who stayed in the capsule. This takes nothing away from the other Gemini astronauts as they went on later missions but it does demonstrate their rather more rare qualities.

To top it all there are superb photographs throughout making this book is a must for your real space book collection. So much of the Gemini programme was achieved by test and error and it really was a step into the unknown that proved a complete success. I found it an engaging read and full of detail, much of it I didn’t know at the time.

GF Willmetts

July 2015

(pub: Haynes. 172 page illustrated large hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-85733-421-3)

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About UncleGeoff

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 21 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’
If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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