Into the Black: USAF's Blue Gemini
Updated: May 16
Blue Gemini was a US Air Force (USAF) crewed space project first proposed in August of 1962. It consisted of a series of seven flights of NASA's Gemini spacecraft to allow the Air Force to gain manned spaceflight experience in preparation for the launch of its Manned Orbital Development System (MODS), a military space station that would have used Gemini spacecraft as ferry vehicles. It was the shortest-lived Air Force space project.
Gemini 6A as seen from Gemini 7 (NASA)
The program would have kicked off with two NASA missions including a NASA command pilot (commander) and a USAF pilot. These flights would accomplish NASA objectives and allow the rookie USAF astronaut to gain the skills needed to command future military flights. They would have been followed by two more NASA missions with entire USAF crews, again to carry out NASA goals. The last three Blue Gemini flights would consist of three dedicated Air Force missions with the specific objective of rendezvousing with the Agena Target Vehicle, which was used by NASA during its later Gemini missions. It is possible these flights would have carried only one astronaut with experimental equipment occupying the pilot's seat. Potential payloads for the more advanced missions include an Astronaut Maneuvering Unit (AMU), an early version of the Manned Maneuvering Unit used by astronauts on the Space Shuttle, an advanced navigation system, and a large ground mapping radar. Blue Gemini was planned to end approximately four months before the launch of the MODS space station.
The AMU, which was to be tested on Gemini 9 in 1966 but was never used (NASA)
Blue Gemini was cancelled in January 1963 by Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara after he decided the military experiments originally conducted by the program could still be carried out by NASA Gemini. He cancelled MODS along with it but approved the Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program, which was essentially a revised version of MODS. Blue Gemini should not be confused with the Gemini B spacecraft developed for MOL, which included a tunnel through its heat shield to allow astronauts entrance to and exit from the spacecraft.
Blue Gemini would have used off-the-shelf Gemini spacecraft produced by McDonnell Aircraft, so no hardware had been constructed by the time the program was cancelled. Not nearly as well-known as its successor MOL nor its predecessor the X-20 Dyna-Soar, Blue Gemini remains one of the most obscure military space projects. However, its name has been popularized by the Blue Gemini trilogy of novels by Mike Jenne, which describe a fictional space program using modified Gemini spacecraft to intercept, inspect, and destroy Soviet satellites.
Gemini B with the distinguishable "U.S. AIR FORCE" on the side. Though this was designed for MOL, Blue Gemini spacecraft would have looked similar (McDonnell Douglas)
Author's Note: This post was shorter than usual because there's so little information surrounding the program. Feel free to suggest topics in the chat and remember to like and share this post. Thanks for reading!
Hacker, Barton C, and James M Grimwood. “On The Shoulders of Titans - Ch6-2.” NASA, NASA, 1977, history.nasa.gov/SP-4203/ch6-2.htm.