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Children of Apollo: From the Earth, to the Heavens (An Alternate History Timeline and RP-1 playthrough)


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"For all our failings, despite our limitations and fallibilities, we humans are capable of greatness. What new wonders undreamt of in our time, will we have wrought in another generation, and another? How far will our nomadic species have wandered, by the end of the next century, and the next millennium?"


Chapter 1: An Accident, a Tragedy, a Triumph.


It seems NASA is ready to start this evenings press briefing, here is a statement from Associate Administrator of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, James Webb 


It is with deep sorrow that I address you here this afternoon. As many of you know, at 9:55 this morning the Gemini VI-A spacecraft suffered an anomaly, and the space program experienced a national tragedy with the loss of the Gemini VI-A spacecraft and her crew. Two dedicated, well trained and experienced pilots were on board that spacecraft, and sadly neither survived.


Approximately eight seconds into its flight, a dramatic loss of thrust was observed in the Titan booster-rocket. Following protocol, command pilot Walter Schirra pulled the ejection ring in an attempt to get himself, and his fellow crewmate Thomas Strafford safely out of the capsule. It is with a heavy heart that I say the protocol failed them both. We here at NASA have failed them both.


All data reported indicates the startup sequence was performed normally and without error, and we are still looking at the potential causes of failure in the booster’s first stage. However, if this were the only problem, the astronauts would still be with us today; Something prevented their parachutes from deploying fully upon ejection, leading them to impact the ground roughly a mile from the launchpad. Recovery teams were sent immediately to begin the recovery of the astronauts, however without a parachute, a fall from that altitude is nearly certain to be a fatal one.


I’m aware of the media broadcasting footage of the ejection, and I appreciate them cutting the cameras shortly after. We are not here to speculate, neither to the cause of the booster failure, nor the parachute failure. It will take all the data we have, extensive testing and investigation to draw any conclusion, and to provide a sense of closure to the families, and to the nation.


 A formal board looking into today's accident will be established this evening, and all subsequent reports as to the cause and our agency's findings will be published by this review board. Data collection has begun, as has the analysis of the conditions of the launch pad, ground support systems, and even the notes made by members of our pad staff and launch teams here at the cape. We will get to the bottom of this incident, so that nothing like it can ever happen again. We thank you for your patience, and we ask that you give the families the space and time needed for them to grieve. 


As Webb promised, the investigation into the causes of the Gemini 6A failure did begin that evening, however to the public it was known simply as The December 12th Committee. Their findings would shape NASA safety culture, launch schedules, and nearly all subsequent programs for decades to come. The weight of the entire space program, and by extension the space race, was resting on their shoulders.


Changes to the Gemini would be somewhat hard to see, but that didn’t make them any less important; The improved safety offered was considered by many to be well worth the wait caused by retrofitting the remaining five Gemini spacecraft. While not the largest change, easily the most impactful was that of the nitrogen purge. Prior to liftoff, when the cabin’s pressure was at its highest, the capsule would be filled with a mixture of gaseous oxygen and nitrogen to prevent another violent fire. This atmospheric mixture would bleed out of the capsule as it ascended, being replaced with pure oxygen, albeit at a much lower and safer pressure. This yielded an equally safe, and well proven environment of pure oxygen held at a low pressure.


Another hard to spot change would be the Astronaut Tethering Points (ATP) added to the base of the Gemini’s Docking Adapter. These points were mere metal hoops, meant to allow the astronaut to attach his carabiner to while wearing one of the two life support packs included in the Gemini Program. This would, if functional, allow the astronauts to separate themselves from the nose of the craft by up to 75 feet (23 meters) achieving unmatched distances and flexibility during EVA.


Lastly, the capsules would see a complete overhaul in their launch abort capabilities, with their ejection seats traded for a more traditional couch-style seat. NASA would instead opt for a more traditional, thus proven system, the launch abort tower. The tower weighed more than the seats, however due to staging off of the spacecraft 15 seconds after second-stage ignition, this actually resulted in a trivial, yet measurable payload increase. However, the trading of the bulky launch abort seats did have further benefits. First and foremost was astronaut comfort, as the astronauts had substantially more legroom without the ejection mechanism. This legroom could, and would be utilized in upcoming flights to stow tools, house sample containers, and carry additional life support as needed.


The final change would come to the Titan-II. The rocket would receive a small payload containment ring which the Gemini spacecraft would sit atop. This 10 inch tall ring would allow for small payloads to be mounted alongside the Gemini, for use in orbit. Umbilical cables connecting spacecraft to rocket would be routed through this ring, with stringers lining the insides. Ultimately, this modification would see minimal use, however it would be the first demonstration of a concept that had been around as long as man had dreamed of spaceflight. It would demonstrate the prospect of man riding alongside cargo into space.


This capsule, with all of her substantial safety improvements was dubbed Gemini Block IB, and was given a new coat of paint, distinguishing her from her sisters. The changes resulting from the December 12th Committee would ripple outwards into other programs. Of these, the most impacted was NASA’s upcoming Project Apollo. North American had suggested a nitrox cabin environment in their original bid, but was shot down by NASA management who claimed “It wasn’t a problem, and it hadn’t caused issues on Mercury” words which would later come back to bite them, hard.


Rather begrudgingly, NASA agreed to allow the redesign of the Apollo CSM and LM to allow for a mixed gas environment and a reduction in flammable materials, in both the spacecraft and the suits. The agency accepted that this meant yet another delay to Project Apollo, and that it likely meant the first manned flight couldn’t happen any sooner than the third quarter of 1967. Many at NASA’s manned spaceflight center objected to this decision; However ultimately it was considered less of a risk to schedules to wait for a redesign, than to push forward with a flawed one.


And with that, Apollo Block IIA and III were born, and the Gemini program was on track for a return-to-flight in June of ‘66. The Committee had closed its final meeting, after 5 long months.

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Chapter 2: Stationkeeping

Gemini VIII sat atop a cloud of smoke as the Titan’s signature screech brought the rocket to life. Command Pilot Neil Armstrong and Pilot David Scott shot into the air atop a column of flames. Today’s objective was to chase down the Agena, and attempt to do the never before attempted: dock two spacecraft in orbit.


(Gemini VIII lifting off the pad)

Cape: Gemini VIII has cleared the tower!

Armstrong: Clock’s running, we got a roll program!

Capcom: Roger roll, Gemini.

Scott: Roll is good, we have a nominal pitch program-

Capcom: Roger pitch program..

Scott:  Cabin pressure…5.74.

Capcom: Roger that 8, you are go for staging.

Scott: Roger, we have good light on the LR-91, and we are cruising once again!

Armstrong: Let’s get this thing to orbit!

Armstrong: We have guidance, zero pitch and one degree yaw coming in.

Capcom: We copy you loud and clear 8, guidance is looking good.

Scott: Oh, there’s the horizon!

Armstrong: We got about a quarter degree of yaw now.

Capcom: Roger yaw, guidance is good.

Armstrong: This second stage is a real good machine…  (to Scott off mic:) I was going to say Cadillac, but I guess I better not say that.

Scott: (Laughing) Cabin Pressure is at 5.5 and holding.

Capcom: What’s so funny up there, 8? But we copy you on the cabin press.

Scott: Wow! Look at that view!

Armstrong: That’s fantastic!

Scott: They were right, weren’t they?

Armstrong: Boy! Here we go!

Capcom: You’re looking very good here on the ground.

Armstrong: We’ve had SECO.

Capcom: Roger. SECO.

Scott: Next stop, Agena!

And just like that, Gemini VIII was in orbit. A few minutes were taken to rest, but then it was back to work. Rendezvous with the agena would occur short of 6 hours later, following some minor course corrections by the Gemini capsule.

Armstrong: Flight Hawaii, this is Gemini VIII, we’re stationkeeping with the Agena. About 150 feet out.

Capcom: Copy that, glad to hear.

Scott: I don’t believe it-

Capcom: Gemini VIII, can we get a readout on the OAMS tanks

Armstrong: Roger, we’re at 55 percent. We’d better get to work, we’ve got a lot to do before we can try and dock with this thing…

Capcom: Roger that, OAMS is good. We’re gonna go ahead and transmit an SPC load to reset the Agena’s clock. We need it to be executed swiftly, even if it cuts into the platform parallelism.

Scot: Roger, SPC has priority over Platform Parallelism

Capcom: That’s affirm

Armstrong: Man! That’s Great!

Scott: Man, that’s really slick!

Capcom: Alright 8, we’re expecting LOS soon, we’re gonna wait to hand you over to Houston and then we can get ready for docking.

Armstrong: Roger.

Gemini 8 was now on her own. Free-flying just beyond the reach of the California sunrise, they were stationkeeping with the Agena, just as their mission plan had intended. Traveling at an average velocity in excess of 17,000 mph, it would only be a matter of minutes before acquisition of signal over California.

Capcom: Gemini, Houston. Do you copy?

Scott: We copy you loud and clear, tell the Lockheed boys they built a hell of a beauty, we’re looking right at her.

Capcom : (chuckling) okay Dave, will do.

Armstrong: So how’re we looking, flight?

Capcom: Flight says you are good to go, proceed with the docking whenever ready 8.

Armstrong: Roger.

Scott: Okay, we’re docked.

Cheering could be heard as yet another critical objective of the Gemini program was completed successfully. This accomplishment brought NASA one step closer to proving the validity of the Lunar Orbit Rendezvous method they had chosen half a decade prior. All of mission control let out a collective sigh as Capcom managed to push out the words: Glad to hear it 8, welcome to the history books.

Shortly after they would experience the final loss of signal prior to acquisition on the other side of the Atlantic. However, it was break time for the astronauts.

Capcom: Alright 8, y’all can go ahead and open your food, we’ll be having LOS shortly.

Armstrong: Copy that.

Shortly after Scott and Armstrong opened their first meal, the problems started. The spacecraft entered a slow, end-over-end spin. Protocol dictated that the first thing to try was disengaging the Agena’s reaction control thrusters, however if that failed to solve the issue, they were flying blind.

Scott: Okay, I’m cycling it, but it’s clearly not the Agena…

Armstrong: No, that just made it worse!

Armstrong: Maybe it’s us?.. Try disengaging our thrusters.

Scott: Are you sure-

Armstrong: Yes… now Scott!

The locking latches on the Agena Target Vehicle creaked, as the centrifugal forces rose to nearly 10 times the force of gravity. Undocking was not an option, as doing so would almost definitely result in a collision with the Agena. Staying with the Agena, however, was the safe bet; The spacecraft’s thrusters began firing to slow the rate of rotation from nearly 40 revolutions per minute down to less than 1.

Capcom: Okay, acquisition of signal in 3…2…1… welcome back eight-

Armstrong: Houston we’ve had a major malfunction.

Capcom: Come again?

Scott: We’ve had a problem, canary!

Capcom: What’s the issue, Gemini?

Armstrong: We’ve entered quite a spin. I had Scott cycle the agena and disengage (unintelligible) and I think that has stabilized us, but we’re still tumbling a bit.

Capcom: Okay, the Agena malfunctioned? Did I copy that correctly?

Scott: Negative, we think we’re the issue. We need to figure it out before we undock because we think the spin might start up again if we re-engage the OAMS.

Capcom: Roger. Let me get you instructions on how to safely re-engage.

Armstrong: OAMS is down, I don’t think re-engaging it will do us any good. Let’s try RCS to slow this tumble then go ahead and undock. Do the engineers have any better ideas, Canary?

Capcom: Go ahead and proceed.

The Reentry Control System thrusters fired up, finally slowing the spin of the tumbling spacecraft pair. Agena had depleted it’s fuel, so undocking was going to be a challenge. It would require quickly engaging the OAMS to perform a brief separation and evasion maneuver, before switching back over to RCS and manual control. 

The spacecraft separated successfully, and the small spin caused during this maneuver was easily corrected. America, and by extension, humanity had finished her first rendezvous and docking in orbit and escaped the subsequent brush with death caused by it. Armstrong and Scott were told that it was unsafe to remain in orbit any longer, and that they needed to reenter at their next pass over the Pacific. Their spacecraft splashed down approximately 45 minutes later, safely returning to Earth after, as Scott would later call it, A hell of a mission.

Edited by ItsJustLuci
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Chapter 3: Complex Maneuvers

(Authors note: some chapters, such as this one, will have songs attached to them to help build the mood and provide vibes. Post-Script Authors Note (PSAN?): really excited for Chapter 4... something of  a Christmas special and a really interesting mission <3 )

(Arthur Conley, Sweet Soul Music)

Gemini 9 lifted off in much the same way as previous Gemini flights, riding atop a screaming rocket, being lofted up and beyond the sky. This mission, however, was distinct. Gemini 9 would be the first mission to take advantage of the Titan’s payload containment ring, carrying the TDT underneath the capsule. The TDT, or Transposition Demonstration Target was a small docking collar, derived from the Gemini Agena Target Vehicle (GATV). Unlike the GATV, the collar rode mounted directly to the upper stage. This would allow the Gemini spacecraft an opportunity to demonstrate a complex maneuver that would have to be perfected before mankind's odyssey to the moon: Transposition and Docking.

Once the capsule was in orbit, Command Pilot Eliott See and Pilot Charles Bassett successfully separated from the Titan II’s payload ring, flipped their spacecraft around and re-attached to the upper stage. Just like that, their primary mission objective had been accomplished, just in time for a quick lunch break. After this short break, Bassett suited up, and prepared to tackle the secondary mission objective: the AMU. 

Bassett departed the capsule, with his eyes focused towards the rear of the spacecraft, as See fed him his umbilical out the hatch. Fighting with the Snake, as previous astronauts had dubbed the stubborn umbilical, he made his way towards the AMU. As he grabbed the hand-rail at the rear of the spacecraft, he pulled himself around and saw it, the Astronaut Maneuvering Unit. With quite a struggle, Bassett successfully donned the jetpack, and used it to maneuver towards the front of the spacecraft and retrieve an ultraviolet camera from See. He then connected his tether to the ATP at the nose of the craft, and began a separation maneuver.

Bassett successfully took over 40 photographs from his new vantage point, floating over 45 feet above the spacecraft. He then handed off the camera to See, before tackling his next objective. He retrieved a spool of cable from inside the capsule, fastened it to the docking collar, then to the Gemini. He then returned to the rear of the capsule and stowed the AMU.

Bassett: We’re doing good up here Houston, You can go ahead and pull me up Elliot.

The next experiment would have to wait though, as the astronauts needed some rest. The next morning, See disengaged the docking port, and began a separation maneuver. The upper stage floated away in their windows, attached to them via a thin, metallic tether; It was slack at first, and finally became taught. The spacecraft began spinning gently, attempting to observe a small force from this rotation, perceived as the astronauts being pushed into their couches. Despite the tether remaining taught, the force was simply too small to measure, and a longer cable would be required in the future.

Bassett went on a final EVA, simply stretching outside the hatch to cut the cord that connected the two craft. Shortly after, they began reentry procedures. Just like that their short mission, totaling less than 24 hours, had concluded. Data collected, experiments performed, mission accomplished.|

Gemini 10 would see a similar success in its flight two months later. The spacecraft launched into a rendezvous with the Gemini-Agena Target Vehicle 5005. Once all pre-docking checks were cleared, they successfully docked to the craft, and performed an EVA.. Collins performed the first in-space inspection of another craft while on EVA, verifying that the Agena’s engines were Good to go.

After his first EVA, Collins would return to the capsule, and the Agena’s engines would be fired up once again, boosting the spacecraft to an apogee of 740 nautical miles (1,370km). It was from this new vantage point that a further EVA would be conducted using the AMU, this time deploying a small sensor package to measure the electron wake of the vehicle, and another to measure the South Atlantic Anomaly. Both experiments provided valued results, as did all other experiments performed across their 3 day mission.

Days later, the Gemini and Agena would perform their second maneuver, plotting a course to rendezvous with the ill-fated Agena of Gemini 8

Young: We see it, Houston. We’re gonna do a bit of a flyaround, and take a few pictures.




(Pilot Michael Collins captured these photographs during their flyaround)

Collins would go on EVA later that day to attempt and retrieve a micrometeorite sample meant to be retrieved by the crew of Gemini 8. He would be the 2nd person to don the Air Force’s AMU, this time with much less struggle. The device had been modified and reoriented slightly to make it easier to don and doff using insight from the previous flight, as NASA saw potential in its use on upcoming Gemini flights. However, He would have to give up on this endeavor as he found the docking port had broken slightly to reveal a razor sharp edge, easily capable of cutting his Tether.

Despite these difficulties, the spacecraft would perform many firsts. Gemini 10 would be the first to revisit a spacecraft, the first to perform a double rendezvous, and would break existing altitude records. This, putting herself and her crew in the history books as the highest humans had traveled prior to NASA’s upcoming Apollo. The mission was almost a complete success, demonstrating that EVA had become a tried and true method of performing basic work in a space environment, and that humans were up to the task of rendezvousing with orbital craft, and deploying scientific payloads in Earth orbit. But what about retrieving them? That would have to wait for a later mission…

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Chapter 4: An Intricate Dance, Part I


“Gemini 11 and 12 will be the most complex to date. It will demonstrate not only the ability to service a spacecraft in orbit, but to manage multiple vehicles in close proximity.”
-James Webb. 

December 19th, 1966

(Bing Crosby and The Andrew Sisters, Jingle Bells)

(Authors Note: I am finally done with finals! They didn't go terribly, and as the adage says: C's get Degrees. Regardless, I am excited to get back to storytelling, and I hope you all are having a good holiday season, whatever that might mean to you personally. Consider these next two as something of a two-part Christmas special, and a great sound off to Part I. I hope to be releasing Chapter 6, the first chapter of COA Part II: The Gift of Apollo no later than the end of January, anyways, hope you all enjoy, you don't know how happy it makes me to see you  all enjoying it <3 stay safe, and give kindness to the people around you. -L )

During the early days of the Apollo program, NASA had intended to launch the majority of early flights atop the Saturn I. Plans quickly changed, and the functional Apollo flights were moved to the more powerful Saturn IB; However these early Saturn I rockets remained, and NASA was determined to use them. This led to the Pegasus program, a series of three satellites launched atop the Saturn I to investigate thermal management, micrometeoroid damages, and the design constraints needed to operate in space long term..

The third of these satellites contained a unique set of samples, called coupons, intended to be recovered. When NASA was planning the Pegasus program, they anticipated 4 Apollo Block II LEO test flights, and it was expected one of these would be capable of retrieving a limited quantity of these coupons; However, due to schedule changes (predominantly caused by the December 12th accident) and time constraints, Apollo was now on the books for only 2 low earth orbit test missions, which deemed the plan invalid. Luckily, Gemini had accomplished all of her objectives with flying colors. And yet two capsules remained, so NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center had proposed a proof of concept mission: Prove that America had what it took to manage a space station, and do multi-man EVA’s while rendezvousing both capsules with the satellite concurrently, and retrieving all of the micrometeorite coupons.

While the MSC’s mission originally called for the rendezvousing of just the capsules with the Pegasus III, this was soon realized to be nearly impossible. The Gemini Block IB would surely have the fuel to get there, however taking stationkeeping into account meant they had almost no fuel left to spare. MSC calculated that the safety margins of this mission mode would leave crews with less than 150 ft/sec (45.7m/s) of Delta V to spare; This would push the capsule, and her OAMS to the breaking point.

NASA realized there was only one option if they wanted this unique 4 man flight attempt. The new mission schedule called for Gemini 11 to be launched, followed shortly by GATV-5004. Assuming all systems were go, the Gemini would continue to the satellite and await 12. GATV-5006 would then be launched, either as a replacement for 5004, or as a transfer vehicle for Gemini 12. If and only if all launches before it had proven to be successful, Gemini 12 would be cleared for liftoff.

It was a daring proposal indeed. However, NASA wasn’t the only one anticipating success with the Gemini 11/12 mission. The USAF was also interested in seeing the demonstration that work could be done on both a controlled and uncontrolled satellite. If this was feasible, there wouldn’t be any show-stoppers in repairing or refurbishing a spy satellite, and possibly investigating or disabling a hostile one. This mission was of great interest to all parties involved. For NASA it was a simulator for future station operations, for the Air Force it was a demonstration of constructive or destructive intervention of foreign and domestic space hardware, and for Congress it was a show of America’s capabilities; It showed to the world that we were, and would continue to be, on top in space.

NASA personnel, from pad technicians to mission control had a daring endeavour ahead. If all was successful, this mission would be the grand finale of NASA’s second manned low Earth orbit program. For all of this to work, new techniques would need to be utilized. The two Titans were rolled out to the pad simultaneously, for all pre-flight checks. 

GLV-12 was up first, it’s engines were inspected thoroughly, and all electronic and mechanical connections were tested and re-tested. After receiving a passing grade, the Gemini’s OAMS were static tested as the rocket was held down (a tradition started after the troublesome Gemini 8 flight) and those too received a passing grade. GLV-12 was rolled off the pad, and Gemini 11’s launcher was mated to the pad for launch.

GLV-11 went through much the same testing, however much more thoroughly. The vehicle was inspected, reinspected, connected and reconnected. The spacecraft had its systems tested, OAMS fired, and launch abort tower mated. Both Spacecraft were ready to go, and it was only a matter of days until they would both see flight.



(Early Draft of the mission from NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center)

As Gemini 11 lifted off the pad, her crew was unsure of exactly what their mission would entail. They was on a trajectory to rendezvous with the primary agena, GATV-5004, within a few hours. As the GLV-11 roared to life, Pete Conrad, Richard Gordon, and all of those involved in America’s space program held their breath. The liftoff was smooth, and Gemini 11 cleared the tower.

Capcom: Liftoff of Gemini 11! Liftoff of America’s daring rescue mission to the Pegasus Satellite!

As the rocket climbed into orbit, and the second stage ignited, the spacecraft was pushed into an elliptical orbit, rendezvousing with the Agena at apogee. The crew successfully got to orbit, successfully performed all pre-rendezvous checks, and successfully prepared to close the distance between them and their target.

Conrad: Gemini CSQ, we have her in our window. We are stationkeeping with the Agena, she looks to be fully operational.

CSQ: That’s great to hear, Pete.

Capcom: CSQ, Houston..

CSQ: Go ahead Houston.

Capcom: Can we go ahead and get data points, and pressure on the Agena?

CSQ: Roger, Houston. Gemini 11, can we get a readout of all data you have on the Agena at present?

The Agena was stable, propellant and RCS tanks were at nominal pressure and the Gemini was cleared to dock once AOS occurred over southern California. For now, the Gemini spacecraft was stationkeeping in front of the Agena, as the astronauts got their first break in this busy mission schedule.

Capcom: We are expecting AOS in 3… 2… 1… Gemini 11, Houston, how do you read?

Gordo: We read you loud and clear!

Capcom: Glad to hear Dick, are you and Pete still reading good figures off the Agena?

Conrad: Roger, we are Houston!

Capcom: In that case, y’all are good to proceed with docking.

Conrad: Roger, proceeding with docking.

Conrad: Gemini, Houston, we’re ready to depart for Anchorage.

Gemini 11 was now ready to plot a course for Pegasus Anchorage; Pete, in tradition with the Navy, had coined it Anchorage as “She wasn’t a station or a port, but she gave us somewhere to drop the anchors and stay a while” They plotted a maneuver for the anchorage. This maneuver would have been strenuous on the Gemini’s limited fuel supply, however now that they had the Agena, this was well within reach. They raised their apogee to 500km, and waited around 30 hours for their closest approach to arrive.

Conrad: Alright Houston, we’re all good to begin closing our velocity with Anchorage.

Capcom: Roger that 11, proceed as planned.

Gordo: We are rendezvoused with pegasus, flight. Tell the engineers over at Fairchild congrats from all of us-

Conrad: That’s right, they built a hell of a bird… This thing seems far bigger up close.

Capcom: Roger that, we’ll send em a big congratulations from all of us here at NASA. This is a hell of a mission if we can pull it off, 11.

Conrad: Agreed, let’s keep our fingers crossed for Thursday's launch.

Command Pilot Pete Conrad rang a bell in honor of naval tradition; The crew of Gemini 11 hereby establish a new anchorage at Pegasus, may it serve us well. He then brought the Gemini into a flyaround, as Richard Gordo took pictures. They thoroughly documented the state and condition of the Pegasus, finding that it would be easy enough to approach on EVA. Additionally, as engineers had hoped, it was found that the central truss was in good condition. This, potentially allowing the capsules to fasten to it, if closer-than-anticipated operations were required.

Gemini 11 was now stationkeeping with the Anchorage, at a distance of around 100 feet (30.5 meters) This gave the astronauts ample time to both relax and prepare for the mission to come. They were now awaiting news on whether the Atlas Agena launch would be a success, or if they would be performing this mission unaccompanied.

The atlas lifted off gracefully from the pad, rising atop its usual pillar of flames. It shot into the sky and began heading east from the cape.

Capcom: We have skirt separation!

The booster continued climbing, before finally expending the first stage which only years prior carried nuclear warheads. The Agena lit, seperating from the former-missile, and continuing its short voyage into orbit. The engine cut off as the Target Vehicle made it to orbit. The fairings had separated perfectly, and all eyes were turned to Gemini 12.

Gemini 12’s rocket, which had been given a full shakedown just days prior, was rolled out to the pad for its final prelaunch checkout. All systems were found to be performing nominally, and the rocket was approved for flight. The Gemini IB’s OAMS engines were given another short firing, validating that the spacecraft would have stable propulsion once in orbit. The rocket began fueling, and the primary and backup crews entered the white room. Gemini 12 was good to go for launch later that evening, and a rendezvous with their Agena within 24 hours.

Gemini 12’s crew boarded their spacecraft at T-115 minutes. This would be the final flight of the Gemini spacecraft. As such, the ambitions of the entire program were on their shoulders. Command Pilot James Lovell was of NASA’s best and brightest, being one of two astronauts to hold the duration record set on Gemini 7. Sitting to his left was Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, the man who literally wrote the guide on orbital rendezvous. If there ever were a crew to do this mission, and catch up with Gemini 11, this was them.

Their LR-87 main engines screeched to life as they were standing on the shoulders of the Titan. The cables draping the rocket in all manners of electrical support and propellant supply fell away, as intended, only to be engulfed in the rocket's fiery exhaust.

Capcom: We got a liftoff, Liftoff of Gemini 12!

Lovell: We got a roll program, clock is running.

Capcom: Roger roll, Gemini.

Lovell: Tank pressure is good, cabin at 5.4 and holding.

Capcom: Roger, good cabin pressure, you are go for staging in 10.

Aldrin: MECO, we have main engine cutoff

Lovell: Staging.

The second stage roared to life as the booster below it fell away, the crew were on their way to a parking orbit, 97.1nmi by 108 nmi (180x200km). As their second stage flamed out, expending the final fumes of fuel it had left, the crew was right where they needed to be; They were on course for a rendezvous with the Agena just shy of 24 hours later. For now all the astronauts could do is wait, get some rest, and prepare for the day ahead.

Capcom: Good morning Gemini 12! You’re looking good down here, and you should see the agena coming up on your left hand side shortly.

Lovell: That’s affirm, I can see her out Buzz’s window, if just barely.

Aldrin: Yep, that’s her.


Lovell: Okay Kauai, we are closing velocities with the target vehicle… and…  okay, we are stationkeeping with the Agena.

Capcom: Glad to hear it. We’ll have LOS shortly, expect to hear from Houston in just a few minutes!

The spacecraft was now stationkeeping in front of the target vehicle, gathering data from the Agena’s sensors. All signs pointed to the Agena performing as intended, and that docking would soon commence. Once they acquired signal over California, the spacecraft and her crew were sent codes to program into the Agena. These would be the final steps needed to take prior to docking.

Lovell: Okay Houston, we are docked.

Capcom: Glad to hear it Jim, we will get the maneuver to you shortly.

The pilot programmed in the codes necessary to perform the pre-rendezvous alignment maneuver. This time, the wait between the docking and the burn was short; this left the astronauts with little time to spare. The pilots readied their spacecraft, and the maneuver was performed shortly after LOS over the Atlantic. They were now on course for a rendezvous the next morning, Christmas eve.

Gordon: Okay, I think they ought to be within comms range soon.


Conrad: Alright, this is Pegasus Anchorage, how do you read us Houston?

Capcom: We copy you loud and clear, Pete.

Gordon: When can we expect to see James and Buzz, Houston?

Capcom: They should be coming into viewable range very soon Gordo-

Conrad: Hey, I can see 12 coming towards us. I see something approaching from the North as well!

Gordon: It seems to be in a polar orbit headed southbound!

Conrad: Houston, I’m trying to get a better look at this thing, I see him carrying something. And I can see a flashing red light leading his craft!

Gordon: Oh- Jingle bells! Conrad smells, Jingle all the way!

Conrad: Hey!!

Capcom: (Laughter can be heard in the background) Oh you two are just too much…

Gemini 12 was on final approach to the Anchorage, and with that, the MSC had proven themselves capable of managing multiple vessels in orbit, and converging them upon a common target. Gemini 12 performed their retro-fire maneuver, slowing their closing velocities down to a halt. All 4 astronauts were now stationkeeping with Anchorage. They had a small period of downtime, but their main task was front and center: retrieve the coupons. 

Conrad: So, Jim, how was the trip?

Lovell: Smooth as could be.

Conrad: Hope the Airforce doesn’t give Buzz too much slack for spending time at the anchorage with the Navy-boys-

Aldrin: We’re all in the same boat now-

Gordon: Boat, eh?

Aldrin: Dammit, Dick. You know what I meant-

Conrad, Gordon and Lovell could all be heard laughing over the comms link at this remark… 

Capcom: Quit y’alls little quarreling 11 and 12, we gotta get you ready for this EVA.

Edited by ItsJustLuci
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  • 3 weeks later...

Chapter 5: An Intricate Dance, Part 2

(The Rolling Stones, Satisfaction)

Both pilots departed their vessels, heading towards their service modules. After nearly two full orbits parked above the wings of the pegasus, the astronauts were now donning their Extravehicular Support Packages (ESPs) While the initial mission plan had used the Air Force’s AMU, this was deemed to pose too big a risk of contamination to the samples. The AMU exhausted hot steam and oxygen gas. These molecules were highly reactive, and could easily damage, contaminate or otherwise deem the samples unusable. This is why the choice was made early on to instead use the ESP.

The ESP, by contrast, connected directly to the handheld maneuvering unit (HHMU) which exhausted relatively non-reactive nitrogen gas. This would allow the astronauts to EVA up close to the samples, while allowing the spacecraft, with their toxic and reactive OAMS, to sit relatively far above them. This was through the use of metal tethers, attached to the spacecraft’s Astronaut Tethering Points, which allowed the astronauts to fly over 70 feet from their spacecraft.

Aldrin: Man! This thing’s a bit of a struggle to put on, but it’s nothing a little muscle can’t handle

Lovell: Just make sure not to hurt yourself there, Buzz.

Conrad: How’re you doing back there, Dick?

Gordon: 10 out of 10, Pete! Can you hear us alright, Houston?

Capcom: We roger the four of you loud and clear. Conrad, Lovell, what's y’alls distance above the target?

Conrad: We’re sitting about… 8 yards or so above em here-

Lovell: well we’re a bit closer, I’d say 7 yards or so Houston-

Conrad: It’s not a liquiding contest, Jim. (Lovell can be heard chuckling)

Capcom: You two are doing good, just try not to fire the thrusters while the pilots are retrieving the samples okay? We’d like these things to return in good condition, hopefully with the astronauts included

Conrad: I’ll do what I can, flight.

The astronauts were quick to work, as they were on something of a time-crunch. As they migrated to the front of the spacecraft, and fastened their tethers, they also retrieved the tools they needed to free the coupons: modified bolt cutters, and a pressure sealed container.

The first set of samples measured 11 by 16 inches, and were 8 or 16 mils thick. In total there were 40 of these specimens spread across the two wings, each attached to the primary structure by two wire fasteners. These samples ranged in material: from different types of paint and lacquer, to aluminum, titanium, plastics and ceramics. These were the micrometeoroid coupons, and they proved critical in the design of the Apollo Command and Lunar Modules. 

The second set of samples were the thermal control samples. These samples were the same width and height, measuring in at 32 mils thick. In total there were 8 of said samples, composed of thermal coatings for the Lunar Orbiters, Mariner, Ranger, ATS, and Apollo spacecraft. These too were attached with 2 wire fasteners which would have to be carefully cut and removed before the sample could be retrieved.

This was to be the first multi-man EVA, as well as the first to prove that having multiple astronauts might prove useful for performing certain tasks. As such, it was to be an incredibly intricate EVA, with both astronauts having to work their tails off to get this done. However, they were some of NASA’s best and brightest, and they had the right stuff.

Aldrin: This is brilliant, this is just absolutely brilliant!

Gordon: You’re telling me… This is a hell of a view.

Aldrin: … okay first sample free, you got it Dick?

Gordon: Got it! Let’s keep up this pace!

Keep up the pace they did. Like clockwork, Aldrin used the bolt cutters to free the samples, and Gordon retrieved them. By doing this, they were able to easily tear through the task in a single EVA; retrieving all 48 samples within an hour and a half, barely scraping by the hour and forty five minute time limit imposed by the MSC.

After performing their primary mission, The pilots stowed their EPS’ in the service module for later retrieval, and returned to their seats. The capsules separated, Gemini 11 pulling up and away from the satellite to a distance of 300 feet, while Gemini 12 moved in closer. James Lovell brought the capsule to the rear of the pegasus satellite to allow Aldrin to perform a second EVA.

Aldrin: Okay flight, these engines look pretty good, just a few minor scrapes on 'em.

Capcom: We’re glad to hear it Buzz, be sure to bring us back some nice photos, would ya?

Aldrin: Affirmative, Jim’s handing me the camera right now.

The camera flashed, as the engines were documented in excruciating detail. By photographing the engines, Aldrin extensively provided information on what damage, if any, the RL-10’s had sustained during flight. Aldrin's EVA would provide both Pratt & Whitney and Douglas with critical information on how the S-IV Stage had held up in it’s nearly 2 year journey in earth orbit. Later analysis of the photos, alongside testimony from Buzz Aldrin himself would find that almost no damage was present, and that the engines would likely be capable of relighting then-and-there, had their propellant not boiled off months prior.

Gordon: How’s the view down there Buzz?

Aldrin: Like lookin’ down the barrel of a gun!

Capcom: How do they look Buzz?

Aldrin: Perfect, they’ve got a few scratches but it’s nothing you couldn’t buff out.

Capcom: That’s great to hear, I bet the guys over at Pratt are jumping from joy right now just hearin’ that…

Once a sufficient number of pictures had been taken, Buzz climbed back into the capsule, and shut the door behind him. Now that the primary and secondary EVA’s were complete, the astronauts were ready for some recreation and relaxation time. Meanwhile, NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center was holding a go/no-go poll on a tertiary EVA. All systems appeared to be good to go to attempt the intricate dance, and the word was sent up to the twin Geminis later that evening.

Capcom: CSQ, 11, how do you read?

Conrad: We read you loud and clear flight.

Capcom: CSQ, 12, do you copy?

Lovell: Roger CSQ, what’s the message?

Capcom: I have good news from Houston, boys. Buzz and Dick are cleared for EVA-3. You can begin filling up the O2 supplies for tomorrow morning.

Aldrin: Good to hear CSQ, tell mission control thanks from the two of us!

It was realized early in mission planning that by refilling the suits’ Extravehicular Life Support System’s oxygen supply, the astronauts would be able to knock off another first with this mission. The astronauts went to sleep for the night, preparing themselves for their next physical challenge: Humanity’s first in-space crew-rotation.

The spacecraft were situated no more than 25 feet from each other, in a nose to nose orientation. This would allow the two pilots to EVA between the craft while always maintaining contact with one or the other. This ensured that, in the case of an emergency, the command pilot could reel the stricken pilot back to safety.

Aldrin was up first, stepping out of the spacecraft and making his way towards the ESP. After putting it one, he grabbed a tether from Command Pilot Lovell, and fastened it to the spacecraft’s ATP. He attached the other end of the tether to his ESP, before finally detaching his suit umbilical. He was on his own now, beginning the slow trip towards Gemini 11. He used his HHMU to provide the thrust needed, waving a final goodbye to Jim Lovell through the spacecraft’s window.

Aldrin: Okay Pete, I’m on my way over. Keep my seat warm okay, Dick?

Gordon: Roger that, I’d keep it extra warm but Pete might get mad-

Conrad: Hush up would ya…

The three astronauts sat in silence as they watched Aldrin gracefully maneuver the eight and a half yard stretch between the craft. This was to be the most dangerous EVA performed, however one still deemed safe by NASA management. Aldrin spun gently, as using the HHMU wasn’t an exact science by any means, but he had made it, and grabbed onto the Gemini’s nose.

Conrad: Okay Flight, be advised I have an Air Force pilot smeared across my windshield.

Capcom: Copy that, Pete. We take it Aldrin’s made it there safely?

Aldrin: I have, I’m fastening their tether to my ESP right now.

Aldrin fastened the ESP left attached to Gemini 11’s nosecone to his suit, then fastened the tether  attached to his former craft to the spacecraft’s second ATP. The Gemini capsules were now fastened together. If something were to go wrong it’d be up to Buzz Aldrin to free the spacecraft. Aldrin pushed himself off the nose, floating a short distance above it as the hatch opened. Gordon stepped out of the capsule, repeating much the same maneuvering Aldrin did on his way to the rear of the spacecraft. After donning the ESP, pilot Richard Gordon made his way to Buzz, giving him one last hug in orbit.

Gordon: It’s been good spending time with you buddy, drinks on me for all of us once we touch down okay?

Buzz: The feelings mutual man, see you after splashdown!

Gordon grabbed the tether from Gemini’s nosecone, detached it from the spacecraft and locked it to his suit. He gave one last salute to Pete Conrad as he pushed away from the spacecraft, headed towards Gemini 12.

Gordon: See ya later Pete!

Conrad: See you round bud.

Gordon drifted the distance between the capsules as Aldrin doffed his ESP and reattached it to the service module. Within 25 minutes of Aldrin stepping out of his spacecraft, both pilots were safely sitting back down in each other's couches.

Lovell: I’m not one for Ballette, but that was some brilliant dancing out there boys. Good job you two!

Capcom: Big congratulations from all of us down here at the MSC, you’ve done us proud once again. We’re comin’ up on LOS here shortly.

The astronauts’ main mission was finally over. Command-pilot Pete Conrad took the Gemini for one last flyaround of Anchorage, documenting the view in detail using the spacecraft’s cameras.



(View of Gemini 12 and Anchorage from Gemini 11)


Pre-entry checks would be performed the next morning, with the spacecraft both set to splash down in the Atlantic later that afternoon.

Conrad: We’re bringing you guys a Christmas gift, it’s a bit late but we had to go a hell of a long way to get it for you so I hope you’ll excuse us.

Capcom: We’ll see, it depends on how good they are. See ya once you get back 11!

The dual mission would set a final record as the first time two manned spacecraft were recovered the same day, both splashing down in the Atlantic on December 26th, 1966. With that, Gemini 11,12 and by extension the whole Gemini Program’s goals had successfully closed. Another flawless mission under NASA’s belt, Gemini Block IB had proven itself to be a reliable, high cadence and highly flexible crew vehicle; NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Center had also proven themselves to be an incredibly capable and competent group of engineers, scientists and technicians. They were all more than ready, and eager, to tackle what was sitting just beyond the horizon, Apollo.

A banner on the door into MSC’s mission control read Welcome Home James and Buzz, Welcome Home Pete and Dick, thanks for doing us proud!

(Authors Note: I've had a real fun time doing this over the past few months, and I'm excited to get more out there soon. Here's hoping we all have a good, and more boring, 2022! <3)
- L

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[REDACTED] From Yours Truly in Moscow, An Interlude.

(Tchaikovsky No. 1 Scene. Moderato)

(Authors Note: This is a soviet focused interlude, anticipate the next major section this weekend )

1966 was an extremely eventful year for the Soviet design bureaus. As Sergei Korolev rested following his routine surgery that January, OKB-52 was in a state of disarray. A nearly 6 month long investigation, the cause of the 3 consecutive failures of the UR-500 rocket to reach orbit could not be identified. This was an unsettling conclusion, as if Chelomei’s design bureau couldn’t identify the problem soon, UR-500 would face cancellation. Despite another 2 launch attempts in February and April of 1966, the rocket simply couldn’t seem to fulfill its goal due to a combination of factors; The soviet government saw the funding of proper test stands as a somewhat worthless endeavor. This left Chelomei’s hands tied as he had neither the funding, nor the time to solve his issue. He was quickly running out of time, and facing a forced retirement, or worse, he wrote Korolev in late April of that year. Korolev, I feel it of the utmost importance that we meet discussing the N-1, UR-500, and LK programs as soon as is feasible. Chelomei, Isaev, and Korolev met in an undisclosed building in Moscow that May, and discussions began on the future of the soviet lunar program.


(Monument to the Conquerors of Space. Moscow, USSR 1966)

Korolev and Isaev were both pursuing development of the N1-L3 rocket. Progress on the launch vehicle was beginning to pick up, the 3rd stage had been successfully fired that January and the first NK-15 engines had begun production. Isaev was in the process of securing funding for future N-1 variants, including some with advanced, hydrogen powered upper stages. It was here in which Chelomei was given an ultimatum; Abandon Glushko and the UR-500 program and begin work on the N11 rocket, or go down with the sinking ship, no matter the cost. It was decided, that with the UR-500’s days numbered due to stubborn soviet leadership, Chelomei would move his design bureaus focus to aiding in Korolev’s efforts, shifting the Soyuz-L1 spacecraft to the N11 rocket.

(N1 Block B, the stage that would serve as the N11’s first stage)

The N11 would serve as an all-up testing platform for all but the first stage of the N1 rocket. The launcher would use the Block-B second stage of the N1, modified to run sea level NK-15 engines, with an unmodified N1 3rd stage, the Block-V. The rocket was to be capable of launching 20 tons into Low Earth Orbit and with the help of the N1’s Block-D 5th stage, it could send a small manned craft to fly past the moon. With this design decided upon, Chelomei and Isaev were to work together to pursue the N11, and funding for the liquid hydrogen facilities that would be needed for the program's future; Korolev would shift his focus to developing the N1 Block-A, and securing funding for testing apparatuses.

The N11 was anticipated to start flying no later than January of 1968. This timeframe was ambitious, but if the 3 men could meet this deadline, they felt they could send a man to the moon by the end of that year. While this mission would only be a flyby, it would open up the gates for the N1 to launch a more ambitious mission: the first manned landing. The landing was planned for the summer of 1969, and Korolev stressed to soviet leadership that the only way to make this achievable was through more funding. Begrudgingly, the Soviet leadership obliged. Funding was allocated to the development of test stand equipment for the N1 rocket. These test stands wouldn’t be ready until the end of 1968 or the beginning of 1969. This meant the N1 would have to make at least its maiden launch without a test stand, something Chelomei was deeply uncomfortable with.

However, this was the government's final offer, take it or leave it they would have to make due. The three men set to work in the summer of `66 designing the launch vehicle family that would carry the Soviet Union to the moon, and everything seemed to be going as planned.

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