Gemini XII pilot Buzz Aldrin, left, and command pilot Jim Lovell stand in a Gemini mockup during training at NASA's Manned Spacecraft Center (now Johnson Space Center) in Houston.
In the 20 months following the first piloted Gemini mission, NASA astronauts demonstrated the ability to change orbits, perform rendezvous and docking, along with spending up to two weeks in space. Spacewalking, on the other hand, remained an enigma. With only one more Gemini flight on the schedule, solving the problems of working outside a spacecraft would be the primary goal for Gemini XII.
As was the case on the previous four missions, the Gemini XII flight plan called for rendezvous and docking with a target vehicle. But, according to Dr. George Mueller, NASA’s associate administrator for Manned Spaceflight, mastering what NASA called an extravehicular activity (EVA) or spacewalk would be crucial in proving the agency was ready to move ahead with Apollo and achieving the goal of landing a man on the moon before the end of the decade.
“I feel that we must devote the last EVA period in the Gemini Program to a basic investigation of EVA fundamentals,” he said. To take on the challenges of this crucial flight, NASA assigned a veteran of the longest spaceflight to date and the astronaut who helped “write the book” on orbital rendezvous. The command pilot was Jim Lovell who served on the 14-day Gemini VII mission in December 1965. A Naval aviator, he went on to be a member of the Apollo 8 crew, the first mission to orbit astronauts around the moon in 1968. As commander of Apollo 13 in 1970, Lovell became the first person to travel in space four times.