It’s been relatively common knowledge that the Gemini capsules were considered for Lunar Landings in the event the Apollo programme got delayed, and has been one of the great “what if’s” of the space race. However, a much more ambitious but little known idea was hatched in 1963 to send a manned Gemini capsule to Mars, perform a landing, and not even a week later return to Earth.
This was a 1963 GE proposal for a 2-man expedition to Mars. A single NERVA engine with jettisonable fuel tanks provided propulsion for the round trip. Crew quarters and a “storm cellar” were provided just aft of the Gemini lander.
Attaining Mars obit, the crew transferred into the “Winged Gemini”. The lander’s engine was used to de-orbit followed by winged atmospheric braking. At a low altitude (good luck guys…), the ship manuevers to a “tail-first” attitude and lands vertically using the rocket engine.
After a stay of only a few days, the upper section of the lander returns to rendezvous with the main ship. The nuclear engine is again used to return to an Earth parking orbit. No mention of how the crew returns to terra firma.
The craft would first be launched into Terrestrial orbit. Then, the 22 fuel tanks would be launched and attached. At the various stages of the trip, the empty tanks would be discarded. After achieving Martian orbit, the landing vehicle would descend, land, and explore for a few days before returning to the orbiting mothership. The vehicle would then return to Earth and (presumably) land much the same way a standard Gemini would.
It’s unknown how feasible this plan would be. The fact that there would be little room for the crew to move around during their interplanetary journey, as well as an apparent lack of fuel space, consumables, and other vital items, makes us question whether or not such a voyage could actually be undertaken. At some point, I’d like to get a copy of the book that the above quote/description was taken from.
Also, a fitting 3,000th post!
Now, by “not even a week later return to Earth”, you mean that it would spend less than a week on the surface of Mars before heading back to Earth, not that the return trip would take only a week, right?