In a strange kind of way, Neil Armstrong’s work during his first couple of years as an astronaut had helped pave the way for the selection of Dave Scott, his 33-year-old colleague aboard Gemini VIII. Deke Slayton had given Armstrong responsibility for mission operations and training and entrusted him to devise a system which would identify how many astronauts would be needed at any given time. It was this schematic, wrote James Hansen in his biography of Armstrong, that ‘‘allowed Slayton to determine when additional astronauts needed to be brought in. . . culminating in Houston’s announcement in June 1963 that NASA was looking for a new class of astronauts’’.

Slayton’s decision, he recounted, ‘‘was based on planning documents that were starting to arrive from [NASA] Headquarters’’. The 1962 astronaut intake, together with the remaining members of the Mercury Seven who were still on flight status, barely provided enough seats for Project Gemini. Early predictions for Apollo envisaged at least 12 missions in Earth and lunar orbit before a landing on the Moon could be attempted. That required Slayton to accept ‘‘a minimum of ten new astronauts in 1963 and… as many as twenty”. Fourteen newbies duly arrived in Houston in October of that year.

Although the selection criteria changed slightly – a more rigid upper age limit of 34 and the elimination of the need for the new astronauts to be test pilots being the main differences – David Randolph Scott still fitted perfectly into the classic mould of a spacefarer. Tall, athletic and with a middle name honouring the Air Force base on which he was born, it has often been said that it was no accident that Scott was the first of the 1963 group of astronauts to fly into space… and eventually would become the first of his class to command a mission. “In some circles,” noted Andy Chaikin in his book about Project Apollo, “there was a joke that if NASA ever came out with an astronaut recruiting poster, Dave Scott should be on it.” Further, Chaikin added, even astronauts who did not get on with Scott placed him at the top.

Despite the near-disaster which befell it, Gemini VIII marked the only mission in which the entire crew would one day set foot on the Moon; Armstrong as the first man to tread its dusty surface at the Sea of Tranquility and Scott in command of Apollo 15 in July 1971.

Scott was born on Randolph Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas, on 6 June 1932, the son of an Air Force officer and progeny of a strict, frugal military family who instilled in him the virtues of personal discipline and devotion to setting and achieving ambitious life goals. In his autobiography, jointly co-authored with cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, Scott recalled watching Jenny biplanes soaring over Randolph as a three-year-old boy and was fascinated that aboard one of them was his father, Army Air Corps flier Tom Scott. From that tender age, the young Scott set his sights on someday becoming a pilot.

With a military father, the family moved many times during his childhood, from Texas to Indiana, abroad to the Philippines and, in 1939, back to the United States. Scott’s father was posted overseas after Pearl Harbour to support the war effort and the young boy developed an interest in model aircraft. Then, when his father returned at the end of the conflict, Scott received his first flying lesson.

Despite a desire to study at West Point, Scott won a swimming scholarship to read mechanical engineering at the University of Michigan in 1949. After a year in Michigan, he was summoned for a physical at West Point, passed and headed to upstate New York to begin preparations for a military career. In his autobiography, Scott would credit his four years at West Point – plus his own upbringing – as “the most valuable and formative… of my life’’.

Ultimately, in 1954, he graduated fifth in his class and opted to join the Air Force, receiving initial flight training at Marana Air Force Base in Tucson, Arizona. He subsequently moved to Texas to begin working on high-performance jets, followed by gunnery preparation and assignment to a fighter squadron in Utrecht, Holland. Whilst in Europe, Scott flew F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre jets under a variety of weather conditions and, in October 1956, when Soviet tanks rolled into Budapest, his squadron was placed on high alert for the first time.

Three years later, as the Mercury Seven were introduced to the world’s media, Scott watched from afar with scepticism; why, he wondered, were they abandoning

such promising military careers? His own focus was upon gaining an advanced degree in aeronautics from Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and achieving admission to test pilot school. His work at MIT, he later wrote, “was like trying to drink water from a high-pressure fire hydrant… Compared to the hard grind of MIT, the five or six years I had spent flying fighter jets felt like playing.” He and his wife, Lurton, also had a newborn daughter, Tracy.

As part of his master’s degree, Scott was introduced to the new field of ‘astronautics’ – “my first exposure to space’’ – and his dissertation focused upon the mathematical application of guidance techniques and celestial navigation. This undoubtedly proved of benefit during Projects Gemini and Apollo, both of which depended heavily upon rendezvous and docking. Scott passed his final exams shortly after John Glenn’s Friendship 7 mission, hoping for reassignment to test pilot school… only to be detailed instead as a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at the Air Force Academy. Fortunately, a conversation with a sympathetic superior officer led to a change of orders and Scott reported to the Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base in California.

Graduation was followed, in mid-1963, by the lengthy application process to join NASA’s astronaut corps. In his autobiography, Scott recalled undergoing cardiograms, running on treadmills and enduring hypoxia evaluations, in which he was starved of oxygen to assess his physical response. The psychologists were especially difficult to please. When asked about his MIT days and how he had liked Boston, Scott replied that he found New Englanders cold, aloof and ‘‘a little hard to get to know’’ … only to discover that the stone-faced psychologist was a born-and – raised Bostoner!

It obviously had little adverse impact on his application, however, and in October 1963 Scott and 13 other candidates – Edwin ‘Buzz’ Aldrin, Bill Anders, Charlie Bassett, Al Bean, Gene Cernan, Roger Chaffee, Mike Collins, Walt Cunningham, Donn Eisele, Ted Freeman, Dick Gordon, Rusty Schweickart and Clifton ‘C. C.’ Williams – were notified of their assignment to NASA. Of these, eight were test pilots, whom Slayton intended to use ‘‘for the more immediately difficult work’’ as solo command module pilots for the Apollo missions, while the others represented a mixture of operational military fliers, engineers or researchers. The latter, added Slayton, ‘‘would get their chance, too, but on the development end of things’’. The excitement of the accelerating lunar effort, Scott wrote, was palpable, even in the wake of President John Kennedy’s assassination a few weeks later.

The new astronauts worked together surprisingly well, with the Air Force pilots kidding their Navy counterparts that they couldn’t bring their jets down without a thump. In return, the naval aviators retorted that the Air Force fliers needed far too much runway on which to land. Despite the steadily burgeoning number of astronauts, they were still offered deals on cars, small Life magazine contracts and ‘‘the banks all wanted to have our accounts’’. Unlike the Mercury Seven, however, their privacy was better respected and their wives and children were pestered less by journalists from other publications.

After initial training, Scott was assigned guidance and navigation as his area of responsibility and in June 1965 served as one of the backup capcoms for Gemini IV and America’s first spacewalk. Less than three months later, at the end of August, Deke Slayton caught up with him for “a word’’. Now that Gemini V was over, Slayton said, Neil Armstrong was free from his backup duties and would be teamed with Scott for Gemini VIII, scheduled for March 1966. The mission, Slayton added, would involve a lengthy, two-hour EVA for Scott. The boy from Randolph Air Force Base could not have been more delighted.