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1965: Gemini V returns to Earth

Two American astronauts have splashed down safely in the Atlantic after setting a space endurance record.

Charles Conrad, 35, and Gordon Cooper, 38, spent just short of eight days orbiting the earth in their space ship Gemini V - three days longer than any previous missions to space.

The capsule dropped into the Atlantic south-west of Bermuda at 1256 GMT, 80 miles (130 km) away from their recovery vessel, aircraft carrier Lake Champlain.

Gemini V returned to Earth slightly earlier than expected because the Nasa control centre at Houston feared a storm was developing in the landing area.

"It is as though they had taken a short airplane flight"

Astronauts' medical report

The two men - who travelled 3,312,993 miles (5,331,745 km) and orbited the Earth 120 times - are reported to be in "excellent condition".

Colonel Cooper radioed Lake Champlain shortly after their capsule hit the sea with the message: "We are on the water and in good shape".

The two men were taken by helicopter to the carrier where doctors gave them a preliminary examination.

A medical report said they were "perfectly happy with no need to sit down and rest."

It added: "There is absolutely nothing wrong with them - it is as though they had taken a short airplane flight."

Chief Doctor Charles Berry said the astronauts' heart rates had gone up to 180 beats a minute during the stressful re-entry stage, but that they had dropped back to normal levels by the time they splashed down.

Colonel Cooper and Commander Conrad now face another 11 days of tests before they are allowed home.

The voyage of Gemini V has not gone completely to plan.

Soon after launch the astronauts reported a serious fall in oxygen pressure in their fuel cells and Nasa controllers considered ending the mission early.

The reduced power meant the pair had to suffer low temperatures and their capsule tumbling and rolling in its orbit when steering rockets failed.

In Context
Nasa's Gemini project was announced in December 1961.

The 10 missions in the programme were flown over 20 months in 1965 and 1966.

Their main objective was to train astronauts in manoeuvring spacecraft in orbit before the Apollo project attempted to land a man on the Moon.

The three men involved in the first lunar landing - Michael Collins, Neil Armstrong and Edwin "Buzz" Aldrin - all took part in Gemini missions.

Charles Conrad aged 69 died from injuries sustained in a motorcycle accident in July 1999. Gordon Cooper died in October 2004, aged 77.

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