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By Hector Gonzalez
Special to The Lookout

January 21, 2016-- Sputnik 1 woke America to space exploration when the USSR launched the satellite into orbit in 1957, but by the time the Gemini program began just seven years later, the nation was well on the way toward a moon shot.

Active from 1962 through 1966, the Gemini program provided the test runs for the moon landing that would come in 1969. It provided NASA valuable lessons on maneuvering a craft in space, docking two vehicles in space, spacewalks and pinpoint re-entry.

Although Russia's Sputnik 1 beat America to space, the Gemini program put the USA back on top, a top that will be covered in detail at “Gemini 6 and 7: When We Pulled Ahead In the Space Race-- 50-Year Retrospective,” the first of two special events coming up next month at the John Drescher Planetarium in Santa Monica.

A planetarium lecturer will delve into the historical significance of the twin Gemini missions, the first successful docking of two spaceships in Earth orbit.

Gemini 6A was launched after Gemini 7, with the goal of a space rendezvous. Gemini 6A succeeded the Gemini 6 mission, which was scrubbed on launch pad because of a technical problem. On December 15, 1965, the successful space docking took place, paving the way for the Apollo 11 spacecraft-lunar module that took Neil Armstrong, Michael Collins and “Buzz” Aldrin to the moon.

“Gemini 6 and 7: When We Pulled Ahead In the Space Race-- 50-Year Retrospective” will be presented on two consecutive Fridays, February 19 and February 20, at the Drescher Planetarium in Drescher Hall at Santa Monica College, 1900 Pico Boulevard.

First, however, on Friday, February 5, the planetarium will present an overview of the European Space Agency's Rosetta mission to Comet 67P.

The Rosetta spacecraft has already made history, becoming the first craft to conduct extensive observations of a comet, including landing a probe on the surface of Comet 67P.

This month, the space agency announced Rosetta has discovered water ice on the comet's surface, causing excitement among scientists and science enthusiasts worldwide.

Find out what's known about 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko to date at the”Rosetta and Comet 67P” presentation.

All special planetarium presentations begin at 8 p.m. They are preceded by a “Night Show,” a guided “tour” of the constellations, and presentations on the latest in space exploration by one of the planetarium's experts.

Combination tickets good for both the “Night Show” and that evening's special lecture presentation are $11 general admission and $6 for seniors 60 and older and students. Tickets for the “Night Show” only are $6 general admission and $5 for seniors and students.

For more information on these and other events at the John Drescher Planetarium, call 310-434-3005.

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