In the heat of the Space Race in the early 1960s engineers thought up a wild barnstorming scheme for getting Americans to moon before the Soviets. Rather than wait for the development of the full-scale Apollo vehicle, they considered hot-rodding a two-man Gemini capsule intended for Earth orbit to sprint across 240,000 miles to do reconnaissance of the moon. A seat-of-pants lunar landing was even imagined.
Under the shadow of a string of Soviet space triumphs, in 1961 president John F. Kennedy set NASA's daunting goal to land astronauts on the moon before 1970. A methodical manned spaceflight program was laid out to culminate in a lunar touchdown by a three-person Apollo capsule. (This scheme was later modified to use a spidery ferry vehicle, the Lunar Module, to transport two astronauts down to the surface from the orbiting Apollo mothership.)
With the seating room smaller than inside a Volkswagen Beetle, the Gemini capsule was intended to allow Earth-orbiting astronauts to demonstrate proof-of concept for space docking, and also practicing spacewalks. With 12 missions planned to follow the last one-man Mercury capsule flight in May 15, 1963, the Gemini program was strictly Act II in the moon conquest game plan.