First docking between two spacecraft
Neil Armstrong, David Scott
first first
Not Applicable ()

The first docking between two spacecraft occurred at 22:14 (UTC) on 16 March 1966, when the Gemini VIII capsule, piloted by Neil Armstrong and David Scott (both USA) docked with an unmanned spacecraft called the Agena Target Vehicle. The two spacecraft had been launched less than two hours apart earlier the same day from NASA’s Cape Canaveral launch facility in Florida, USA. This successful docking was the culmination of a series of missions, beginning with Gemini IV, designed to test techniques of orbital rendezvous, station keeping (maintaining formation) and docking – all of which would be necessary for the planned Apollo Moon missions.

The original mission plan was for Armstrong and Scott to carry out a series of spacewalks and docking tests over the next three days. Soon after docking, however, the combined Agena-Gemini spacecraft started to tumble and attempts to correct this motion with Gemini’s manoeuvring thrusters proved fruitless. Unsure of the cause of the yaw, and concerned that the two ships might break apart, Armstrong took the decision to undock the two craft. Almost as soon as the ships parted, it became apparent that the problem was with the Gemini capsule’s thrusters. The spacecraft began to flip end over end, accelerating until it was completing a rotation every second. Armstrong managed to disable the malfunctioning thrusters and bring the spin under control using the re-entry thrusters, but used up most of the capsule’s fuel in the process, forcing a mission abort and an emergency re-entry.

The Soviet space program’s first docking operation took place on 30 October 1967, and involved two unmanned craft. The Soviet Union’s first successful manned docking operation took place on 16 January 1969, when Soyuz 4 and Soyuz 5 docked in orbit and exchanged crew members.