APL Colloquium

June 25, 2019

Colloquium Topic: Project Gemini: Unsung Hero of Neil Armstrong’s One Small Step

Think of Project Mercury and what comes to mind?  Alan Shepard, the first American in space, and John Glenn, the first to orbit the earth.  Probably The Right Stuff.  How about the Apollo program?  Apollo 11, of course.  Neil Armstrong. “One small step for a man…”  Apollo 13.  “Houston, we’ve had a problem.”  But how about Project Gemini, the U.S. space program between Mercury and Apollo?  When did it take place?  Who flew on Gemini and what did it accomplish?

Neil Armstrong flew on it and demonstrated the first docking of two spacecraft in orbit during Gemini 8.  In fact ten of the twelve men that eventually walked on the moon during Apollo flew Gemini first, and the other two were Gemini backup crew.  Even though its first launch was only three years after John Glenn's five hour orbital flight in Friendship 7, Project Gemini demonstrated technologies and techniques critical to the Apollo program and was key to President Kennedy's pledge, “…before this decade is out, of landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to the earth.”  Mercury made it to space and back.  Gemini operated there.

Colloquium Speaker: Walter Gordon

Walter Gordon is defense market manager for the Advanced Programs directorate of the Moog Space and Defense Group, responsible for hypersonics and Minuteman III sustainment.  His true love is aerospace history, however, in which he engages by bingeing on topics such as Gemini, the Curtiss-Wright P-40 and C-46, Eastman Kodak film return spy satellites, Western New York contributions to Apollo, and most recently the Avro Arrow.  He currently serves as president of the Niagara Aerospace Museum, chairman of the Niagara Frontier Aviation and Space Hall of Fame, and chairman of the Niagara Frontier section of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

While working as an engineer in Western New York since 1981, he had a concurrent thirty year career in the Air Force Reserve, retiring as the commander of the 914th Airlift Wing, Niagara Falls, New York, in 2014.  He is a veteran of Operation Desert Storm and was the deployed commander of the 914th during the invasion of Iraq in 2003.  Walter has B.S. and M.S. degrees in Aerospace Engineering from the University at Buffalo and an M.S. in Strategic Studies from the U.S. Air Force Air War College.