It seems hard to believe but 50 years ago the first rendezvous in space took place in December 1965 when Gemini VI and Gemini VII met in orbit. Those were heady times; the U.S. was on the way to the Moon and Project Gemini was created to help learn the skills necessary to be successful in that effort.
One of those skills, a really important one, was the ability to rendezvous in space. We take it for granted that this is a routine activity, but it has not always been so, and the Gemini VI and VII missions pioneered the process now ubiquitous to human space missions around the world. On December 4-18, 1965, American astronauts Frank Borman and James A. Lovell set a duration record of 14 days in Earth orbit during the flight of Gemini VII.
In a daring demonstration of orbital rendezvous techniques, on December 15-16, Gemini VI with U.S. astronauts Wally Schirra and Thomas P. Stafford completed the first true space rendezvous by flying within a few feet of Lovell and Borman on Gemini VII. It was a dramatic demonstration of a critical process, and it was critical to landing on the Moon.
Despite problems great and small encountered on virtually all of the Gemini missions, the program achieved stunning goals. As a technological learning program, Gemini was a great success, with successful spacewalks, rendezvous and docking in orbit, and long duration missions its hallmark. This bank of experience helped bridge the gap between Mercury and what would be required to complete Apollo within the time constraints directed by President John F. Kennedy in 1961.
The Gemini program is the Jan Brady of the early space programs, the middle child that is so often lost in the shuffle, but it was a fundamentally significant effort. That first rendezvous in December 1965 deserves recognition.