GEMINI XI - (September 12-15 1966)
RICHARD GORDON AND PETE CONRAD
With Apollo looming on the horizon, Gemini project managers wanted to accomplish a rendezvous immediately after reaching orbit, just as it would have to be done around the Moon. Only 85 minutes after launch, Conrad and Gordon matched orbits with their Agena target stage and docked several times.
Conrad had originally hoped for a Gemini flight around the Moon, but had to settle for the highest Earth orbit ever reached by an American manned spacecraft (1374 kilometer altitude). Gordon's first space-walk once again proved more difficult than ground simulations, and had to be cut short when he became overtired.
A second, two-hour "stand-up" space walk went more smoothly: Gordon even fell asleep while floating halfway out the hatch.
An experiment to link the Agena and Gemini vehicles with a 30 meter tether (which Gordon had attached during his space-walk) and rotate the joined pair was troublesome. Conrad had problems keeping the tether taut, but was able to generate a modicum of "artificial gravity."
THE AGENA TETHERED TO GEMINI XI
The mission ended with the first totally automatic, computer-controlled reentry by the U.S., which brought Gemini XI down only 4.5 kilometers from its recovery ship. The spacecraft is now on display at the California Science Center in Los Angeles, California.