It's 1969 and the world is enthralled with Apollo 11 landing on the moon.
Masterton accountant and newly elected Lions club president Tony Wright, 27, needs to raise money to finish upgrading the town's Lido pool. The project had been going for some time and fundraising enthusiasm was waning.
Now retired in Taupō, Wright recalls how impressed he had been with the number of people who had been to see Elvis Presley's Gold Cadillac tour of New Zealand in 1968. He wanted to bring a NASA spacecraft to New Zealand.
"I thought to myself, 'If we could do something like that, we could get this project off our back.'"
He considered phoning US President Richard Nixon but wrote to him instead.
"Because putting through an international phone call in those days was a big deal and very expensive."
Three months went by. A new approach was needed. Wright met with US Ambassador John F Henning who said he would make inquiries. Not long after, Wright was advised to get in touch with the Smithsonian Institute, and negotiations began.
The international phone call was made.
"I booked a phone call and the first phone call took a day and a half to get through."
Many cables and phone calls later and the deal was done. In six months time Wright could have the Gemini XII. He had to give a personal guarantee to the Smithsonian Institute, and insured the spacecraft for $40,000 and the spacesuit for $25,000.
Wright had been working on the project for 12 months and hadn't yet mentioned it to the Lions Club Masterton.
"I told the club, they said 'Okay'. But then I had to get the thing out here, I knew it would fit in a Hercules C-130."
Prime Minister Sir Keith Holyoake gave approval for the RNZAF to transport the spacecraft from Washington.
"One day the air force commander rang to say they had a Hercules coming from Europe and they could pick up the Gemini XII."
Meanwhile, the Masterton Lions Club had worked out a deal where the Gemini XII would tour New Zealand for six months, with the Masterton Lions Club collecting 60 per cent of the revenue for the Lido, and the host Lions Club keeping the balance. In another first, Wright arranged a collaboration between the various Lions Clubs around New Zealand.
"I approached the Lions Club New Zealand governor and he gave his support and then I could approach the other Lions Clubs around NZ."
Wright said 95 per cent of the clubs agreed, enabling 200 clubs from Cape Reinga to Bluff to host 110 displays of the Gemini XII.
Gipsy Caravans Ltd in Levin made a 24-foot long four wheeler so the spacecraft could stay in the trailer for display purposes. This was towed by a Toyota Land Cruiser subsidised by Toyota and Jones Timber. Other costs were wages and accommodation for two drivers. Jones Timber supplied one of their drivers.
It took 18 months from concept to reality, and in April 1971 the Gemini XII began a six-month tour of New Zealand. NASA included a spacesuit, rations in a toothpaste tube and instrument panels.
The Gemini XII came to Turangi on September 7 and Taupo on September 8 and 9. To see the display, adults paid 40 cents and school children 20 cents.
Wright estimates 250,000 people came to see the display.
"Roughly 10 per cent of the population at the time."
The spacecraft and spacesuit came with strict instructions from the Smithsonian. The plastic wrap was to remain on the spacecraft and the spacesuit could only be handled with fine nylon gloves supplied by NASA. The Lions club was pitching the display at children and Wright said initially they were disappointed.
"But with plastic on, we realised children could really interact with the Gemini and get up close. We had to put the spacesuit in a glass box."
Just under $250,000 was raised and the money was used to construct a hydroslide and upgrade the pool. Fifty years on, the Lido Pool in Masterton had its first major upgrade in March this year, ironically costing $250,000.
The last few months of 1971 proved busy for Wright and his family. He had taken on a new role with an international firm and was due to depart for Zambia. The six-month tour of Gemini XII was coming to an end and he had to hand it back to the Smithsonian Institute.
"I had given this personal guarantee, but the Lions club in Australia was trying to bulldoze me. They wanted to take it around Australia."
In the end the Smithsonian relieved Wright of the Gemini XII and it was sent to the Museum of Transport and Technology (Motat) in Auckland where it stayed for two years before returning to the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.
Three years into his role in Zambia, Wright was given the opportunity to get Turoa Skifield up and running. He stayed on there for 20 or so years as CEO.
"I came to it with the same energy I hit the Gemini with."
Wright and wife Mary have lived in Taupō since 1990, and these days he is mainly retired although he does some business mentoring and enjoys skiing with his grandchildren.
Of his antics over the years, Wright laughs and says "I think we beat Elvis Presley's car tour."
Around the world, 59 times
In November 1966, Gemini XII spent 94 hours 34 minutes and 31 seconds in space.
Orbiting earth 59 times, Gemini XII was manned by NASA command pilot Captain James A Lovell Jnr and United States Air Force pilot Lieutenant Colonel Edwin E Aldrin Jnr (Buzz).
Gemini XII launched on November 11, 1966 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, and landed November 15. It was the 26th space flight of all time and the last Gemini flight.
Aldrin and Lovell achieved the mission goal of demonstrating astronauts can effectively work outside of spacecraft.
On three occasions then-rookie astronaut Buzz Aldrin left the Gemini XII and floated in space beside the capsule and also achieved a docking with an Agena target vehicle.
In the first ever computer-led re-entry, the capsule splashed down just 4.5km off target and the crew and spacecraft were picked up by aircraft carrier USS Wasp. The mission was a critical step for the Apollo programme to achieve its goal of landing man on the moon.
Lovell is known for being the commander of the ill-fated Apollo 13 mission which suffered a critical failure en route to the Moon but was brought back safely to Earth through the efforts of the crew and mission control. Aldrin was the other astronaut to land on the moon with Neil Armstrong in Apollo 11.