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.
The view from Gemini XI from 241 miles up.
The view from 264 miles on Gemini XI, not much higher than the International Space Station.
The view from 300 miles from Gemini XI.
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.
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.