In 1966, the Gemini XI crew set an as-of-yet unbroken altitude record within low Earth orbital flights. Using the Agena’s engine, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon reached an apogee (peak distance from the Earth) of 850 miles; most Gemini missions, and missions since, have operated under the 200 mile altitude. So why did Gemini XI get to fly higher than any other mission? In short, because Conrad wanted to. Two old archives on Vintage Space give the long answer, one digging into the high-flying Gemini XI flight and the other the lunar Gemini mission proposal that spawned it.

Standard Orbit

The view from Gemini XI from 241 miles up.

Still Familiar

The view from 264 miles on Gemini XI, not much higher than the International Space Station.

Getting Higher…

The view from 300 miles from Gemini XI.

And Higher…

At 322 miles up still isn’t looking too dramatic.


From 345 miles things are still looking round.

Gemini Flying Higher

At 368 miles the Earth is getting curvier, as seen from Gemini XI.

Reaching Higher

Three hundred and 91 miles up, this was the view from Gemini XI.

Getting Ever Higher

At 425 miles, the Earth’s curvature is looking quite distinct.

Curving Earth and Ocean

From 529 miles up, the curving Earth is starting to be very obvious.

The Earth Getting Rounder

At 535 miles, the curvature of the Earth is becoming increasingly pronounced.

Getting Even Rounder

Five hundred and 75 miles up, the Gemini XI crew’s view was spectacular.

High Above the Clouds

Gemini XI orbits 644 miles above the clouds swirling around the Earth.

Getting Even Higher

At 759 miles, Pete Conrad and Dick Gordon had an unprecedented view.

A Hint of Spacecraft…

Gemini XI sneaks into this image from 776 miles above the planet.

Near Peak Altitude

The view from 817 miles above the Earth, as seen by Gemini XI.

Almost to the Top

Eight hundred and 22 miles above the planet, the view from Gemini XI.

The View from the Top

The view from Gemini XI at 840 miles above the planet, which curves out below the orbiting spacecraft.