Mercury, Gemini and Apollo–what do these three names have in common?
Well if you answered they are all part of Greek mythology, you’d be right, but for purposes of this post, they all refer to Nasa named space craft that utilized the Splashdown method of landing back here on Earth.
It doesn’t really seem that long ago that we were watching the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space capsules on television re-entering our atmosphere and plopping down in the ocean. But in actuality it’s been over 35 years since the last manned Apollo space craft did this.
The early rockets carried the manned space capsules on the leading end of the space craft. Referring to the photograph on the left, the space capsule is the black portion at the upper end of the rocket. The capsule separates from the rocket after a pre-determined time and place in space, this puts the capsule under its own power for orbiting. Back in the ’50s, ’60s & ’70s when a space capsule was on its way back to Earth, it re-enters the Earth’s atmosphere, looking like a fiery ball, this from the high compression of the air molecules in front of the descending capsule. At a specified elevation, the parachute(s) are deployed to slow the crafts descent, till it finally makes a splashdown in the ocean.
The capsule floats in the water using floatation devices while it waits for the retrieval team to arrive. Both the astronaut(s) and the capsule are plucked from the ocean and taken to a retrieval ship.
So how does Nasa choose the names for their space craft? Here’s a few examples of how these were chosen: Some are chosen from classical mythology that relates to some feature of the mission. Mercury was the messenger of the gods. Gemini, Latin for twins, was appropriate because each Gemini mission carried two astronauts. Apollo was the god of the Sun, who spread knowledge.
We have come a long way from landing in the ocean to landing on a runway like a jet plane. Click on the link below to see the first Space Shuttle flight in 1981.