A sign next to the Gemini 2 spacecraft. It reads
Gemini 2 Story
The Gemini 2 capsule, here displayed and on loan from the Smithsonian's
National Air and Space Museum, is unique in the annuals[sic] of spaceflight
history. It is the only capsule ever used twice in unmanned, suborbital space
launch tests. Its first flight was with the NASA Gemini-Titan program, and its
second flight was with the USAF MOL program.
Its first use was as the last unmanned, developmental test flight of NASA's
Gemini program before the beginning of manned operations. The flight was
officially named Gemini-Titan 2, as the second launch of the Gemini
capsule/Titan II launch vehicle combination. Thus the capsule has come down to
us known as Gemini 2. It was launched on 19 January 1965, and the suborbital
flight lasted 18 minutes. Its prime objective was to demonstrate reentry heat
protection during maximum heating reentry, structural integrity of the
spacecraft, satisfactory performance of major spacecraft subsystems, and verify
checkout and launch procedures. By all accounts, the flight was a complete
success, and led to the first manned Gemini orbital flight, Gemini-Titan 3,
several months later.
Its second use was as a heatshield qualification test for the USAF's Manned
Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) program. The MOL was to be a manned military station
in polar orbit, using Gemini capsules attached to a cylindrical laboratory.
One of the prime design considerations was how were the astronauts to get from
the Gemini capsule into the laboratory once in orbit. They could perform an
Extra-Vehicular Activity, or EVA, and enter the laboratory from the outside, or
they [could] go internally through the back of the capsule. The final design
had a hatch cut into the
heatshield of the Gemini capsule attached to a tunnel, and the
astronauts would gain access into the laboratory. A test would prove the
design. The Titan IIIC/MOL/Gemini 2 combination was launched on 3 November
1966 and the heatshield sustained no damage.