Even with the last few scheduled Mercury missions not yet completed, NASA began its new Gemini program – after all, they needed to catch up to the Soviets! Far from being just an extension of Mercury, Gemini, with its huge changes, became a completely different beast. One of the biggest – and visible – improvements in the Gemini project was the use of the powerful Titan II rocket. Boasting 430,000 pounds of thrust, this booster would allow Gemini’s astronauts to achieve orbital spaceflight. The Mercury missions had initially used von Braun’s Redstone rocket and then switched to a modified version of the US Air Force’s more powerful Atlas boosters. The Titan II rocket used on Gemini missions continued this trend, being adapted from an Air Force intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). Meanwhile, von Braun and his team were busy elsewhere: they were working on the even more powerful Saturn family of rockets, which would take humans to the moon. The Gemini spacecraft was another big change. Designed by NASA and built by US aircraft manufacturer McDonnell Aircraft, this 18-foot-long, 10-foot-wide capsule weighed between 7,100 and 8,350 pounds and had space for two astronauts. Compared to the Mercury spacecraft, almost every aspect of Gemini’s capsule had been improved. New features were added, too – rocket thrusters allowed an astronaut to maneuver the spacecraft, and a modular design meant that all components could be individually tested and repaired. The Gemini spacecraft also introduced a basic onboard computer, the Gemini Guidance Computer. Designed by IBM and weighing in at 58 pounds, the machine could store just 4,096 words and was used primarily for guidance and navigation. Project Gemini also welcomed 22 new astronaut trainees. They arrived in two groups. The first, known as the New Nine, was announced on September 17, 1962 and contained Neil Armstrong, Tom Stafford and Ed White. The next year, on October 18, NASA announced a second group of fourteen trainees. Among them were Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin, Roger Chaffee and Michael Collins. And Gemini’s training regime was far more intense than Mercury’s. Each trainee spent endless hours in Gemini simulators with operators throwing every possible malfunction at them. They were lectured by industry experts in computer science, navigation systems, rocket flight, reentry physics and more. They were sent for survival training in jungles and deserts in case reentry veered off course. Sometimes their workdays would stretch to 12 hours, and after that they’d head home to study a two-inch-thick flight manual.