This week’s pictures come to you from the National Museum of the U.S. Air Force in Dayton, Ohio — they’re of a “Gemini B” capsule. First, the front:
…then the heat shield in back:
Gemini B was an experimental effort on the part of the Air Force to modify NASA’s Gemini capsule design to serve as transport vehicles for their planned MOL (Manned Orbiting Laboratory) space station effort. The idea was to build a hatch into the heat shield of the capsule — if you look closely, you can see it as the spider-shaped gizmo between the seats in the first image, and (more obviously) as the concentric circles in the second.
The MOL was to have been a manned reconnaissance station, with the Gemini B serving as the crew’s reentry capsule. The program was started in 1963, but cancelled in 1969 when it was obvious that unmanned reconnaissance satellites were both cheaper and more effective than manned stations (astronauts have a habit of bumping around, disturbing the fine stability required for good images). Still, at least the Gemini B heat shield was tested — launched on a reflight of the Gemini 2 prototype capsule in 1966. The funny looking heat shield worked just fine.
Update: before this Gemini B was built, the heatshield materials used on it (or possibly predecessors of them) were first tested on a reflight of the unmanned Gemini 2 capsule — read the scientific tourist #48 for more on that.