An American Story: Discovering a NASA station in Kano, Nigeria

This summer, we celebrate 50 years since Apollo 11’s moon landing. When we imagine astronauts and scientists working away on our quest to understand the universe, we picture familiar places: the Johnson Space Center in Houston and the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral.

Through An American Story, we’ve come to know another. In the mid-1960s, NASA used a network of communication bases around the world to track spacecraft during various missions of the Gemini program. One of these stations was located in Kano, Nigeria.

Thanks to a diligent slide photographer, we can now bring you a glimpse of a day in the life on this base.
 

Discovering a historical piece

One afternoon, we were sorting slides for An American Story. Suddenly, we realized we were looking at something different from the thousands of family moments and vacations we had been seeing.

We recognized that we were looking at some place in Africa. Soon, we learned from a note on the border of a slide that the place was Kano, Nigeria.

It took a little more time and some research to realize that we had stumbled onto a fascinating piece of history.

Most of the slides showed snapshots of street life of Kano in the mid-1960s, but others drew our attention because they seemed to feature some sort of military base or communication station. The photographer’s notes provided the most important clue. On many slides, he had written: “GT-3” and “GT-4.”

A bit of research told us that GT-3 and GT-4 were shorthand for two NASA missions in Project Gemini, which aimed to develop space travel techniques that would enable the Apollo mission to land astronauts on the moon. In 1964 and 1965 two Gemini missions were flown without crews to test out systems and the heat shield. These were followed by ten flights with crews in 1965 and 1966.

GT-3, or “Gemini Titan 3,” was the third Gemini mission and the first crewed mission. It was launched in March 1965. GT-4, “Gemini Titan 4,” followed three months later in June 1965. It was the fourth Gemini mission and the first American spacewalk.

GT-3 and GT-4 were supported by the communications station we can now see thanks to the diligent record-keeping of a slide photographer.
 

The Slides

The photographer really was diligent. On nearly every photo, in light script, he wrote the city, country, month, and year. Most of the slides included additional—often very detailed—notes.

We used the photographer’s labels to organize the slides and then began to scan them. Because the borders contained so much valuable information, we scanned each slide twice: once with just the image and once with the border as well.

What makes the series unique is their quality and the thoroughness of the documentation. Various subjects are covered—from street scenes and portraits to people at work on the base.

Below are a few samples of the slides from this collection. As you’ll see, thanks to the photographer’s notes, each tells a story. All commentary is exactly as written on the slides.

Lizards waiting for daily feeding
at Wolf auto rentals.
Kano, Nigeria

March 65
African Locust
Kano, Nigeria

June 65
Meat market (fly’s are free!)
Old Market Place
Kano, Nigeria

December 65
Sleeping room for SSB radio personnel.
Kano, Nigeria
SSB Room GT-4
Kano, Nigeria

June 65
SSB HF Radio set why operator
during NASA’s GT-3 two man orbit
Kano, Nigeria

March 65
Sergeant Kiser at desk of sub RCC, old terminal building
Kano, Nigeria, June 65

Note the container from the U.S. Air Forces.

Pilgrims boarding a DC-8 Jet bound for Mecca
Kano Airport, Nigeria
SSB Room GT-4
Kano, Nigeria, June 65
SSB HF Radio set why operator during NASA’s GT-3 two man orbit
Kano, Nigeria, March 65
UH-1B and C-130 used for rescue standby at Kano, Nigeria during GT-5
Kano, Nigeria, August 65
Native village in Nigeria not far from Kano
April 65
Inside hut of village near kano, Nigeria
June 65

Note the poster on the wall about the Gemini Project.

Kano Children being taught the Coran
May 65
Dye Works, Kano, Nigeria
May 65
Native girl + baby in village near Kano, Nigeria
June 65
Two little girls
Kano, Nigeria

May 65
Meat Market, Old Market Place, Kano, Nigeria
December 65
Snake Charmer, Old market place, Kano Nigeria
December 65
City of Kano taken from Mosque
March 65
“Kids”
Kano, Nigeria, March 65

 

Keeping the Story Alive

We’d love to hear what you think about this collection! Please leave your comments below.

If you have any information about this photographer or his story, please contact us directly.

26 Comments. Leave new

  • The DC8 jet is actually a Boeing 707.

    Reply
  • Remarkable find of remarkable times! Superb clear photos bring back memories of Northern Nigeria in the 1960s before the upheavals and civil strife. I remember some of the sights pictured, including snake charmer, markets, dye pits etc.
    BTW the aircraft in the Haj flight photo is a variant of the 707 called the Boeing 720B (slightly smaller with lighter structure); SAUDAIR (Saudi Arabian Airlines) was later renamed SAUDIA and had several, including HZ-ACA and ACB.
    Kano Airport was quite a busy transit stop for international airlines then such as KLM, SABENA, BOAC etc, as well as the annual pilgrimage flights.

    Reply
  • When I was 9 years old, my family was living in Ilorin, Nigeria. At one point we took a short vacation to Northern Nigeria. We visited Kano and my parents took my younger brother and I to the NASA facility. My memory of the place is foggy and we weren’t invited into the building, but the staff at the facility were extremely happy be able to talk to other people from the States. I guess they were feeling pretty isolated up there. The pictures above are definitely not what I imagined the interior of the building to be like. We also visited the dye works, took pictures of the Kano wall and visited the airport. Every flight that landed there was greeted by a group of Tuaregs on camel back. They had long straight horns and they would blow them to welcome the aircraft to the city. This was all taking place around the time of Nigeria’s first civil war.

    Reply
  • OMG I never knew Kano, Nigeria was involved in the NASA/Gemini mission.

    Reply
  • Great photos.

    Reply
  • mujitaba Naabba
    December 29, 2020 11:56 am

    So kano contributed to the NASA Gemini mission.
    Proudly from kano

    Reply
  • Suwaiba Suleiman Abdullahi
    December 31, 2020 5:59 am

    It’s interesting to learn how NASA/Gemini mission operated from Kano in 1965. The photographer is wonderful and really an expert by giving details of each photos he snapped. We from Nigeria are proud of the NASA Gemini mission. We hope copies of the pictures would be provided to Nigerian Government for our meseums and galleries. IAM really proud of the archives of NASA/Gemini mission .

    Reply
  • Abubakar Muhammad
    February 4, 2021 2:51 am

    But what happens to the NASA station in Kano?
    Though I have never heard of it but would be amazed to learn about said station.

    Reply
  • My dad was there in the early 60’s and I have some pictures of it.

    Reply
    • Jessica Aidley
      May 17, 2021 10:30 am

      Do you know exactly where the base was? Was it on Goron Dutse?

      Reply
      • Damien Derouene
        May 17, 2021 11:11 am

        I’m not sure where was the exact location of the base in Kano. From some of the photos, you can see the airport from the base. So, I will expect that it was located next to the city airport. (unless it was another airport used only for the NASA / US Air Force)

        Reply
      • Can it be the Kofar Naisa aviation communication area?

        Reply
    • Damien Derouene
      May 17, 2021 11:13 am

      Would you like to share some photos? I could add these to this article.

      Reply
  • Wow! So wonderful indeed. I would love to get a collections of such pictures and more, being a native of kano, that could help in giving me and many others like me a sharper glimpse of our history. Knowing where the station was then could be helpful in imagining the nature of the Kano landscape before the modern times and if course whether it still exists and functions or not.
    Many thanks

    Reply
  • Mallam Ibrahim Gumel
    August 21, 2021 9:50 am

    This is fantastic! I really enjoyed looking at this pictures of Kano in 1965. I never knew Kano played a role in NASA’s Gemini program until now. And photos are really high quality considering they were snapped in 1965.

    Reply
  • Nazifi Abdullahi Darma
    August 21, 2021 12:20 pm

    I am joining the call for the pictures to be provided to our Museums for historical documentation. Where is this station originally located in Kano???

    Reply
  • ALQAWAS ABUBAKAR auwal
    August 21, 2021 2:53 pm

    Very interesting, as a Northern Nigerian, this piece gives me leaves me with joy. And the pictures are so clear as if it was taken in this android days. Thanks to the photographer and the memory of history

    Reply
  • Sunusi Shehu Daneji
    August 22, 2021 3:02 am

    Remarkable images, how back then?

    Reply
  • Hassan Ismail Kankarofi
    August 22, 2021 4:15 am

    A wonderful piece of information par excellence thanks to Go street archives

    Reply
  • Najeeb Yunusa Hassan
    August 22, 2021 12:21 pm

    This is interesting to know. Please can someone share the location of this station.

    Reply
  • Ansaary Yahya
    August 22, 2021 5:32 pm

    If he can share the photos we can work with you to identify the location and find the local story of what happened to the structure. I live in Kano.

    Reply
  • Abdulkadir Sani
    August 22, 2021 7:46 pm

    I wish to Geotag the outdoor pictures.

    Reply
  • Abdulkadir Sani
    August 22, 2021 7:47 pm

    What an amazing discovery. As someone who works in GIS laboratory of Bayero University Kano, I am interested in the pictures and would like to have a copy of them and see if I can find the geographical locations of the outdoor areas depicted in the Images. I must commend the record keepers for their job.

    Reply
  • UBAIDU MUHAMMAD ABDULKADIR
    August 23, 2021 2:09 am

    Wow! Very education and fascinating story. Proud of Kano, Nigeria. I am so happy for being one of its indigenes.

    Reply
  • Muhd Usman Usman
    August 23, 2021 3:36 am

    Very interested but nobody talk about it and the location.

    Reply
  • Aliyu Uba Daneji
    August 24, 2021 7:22 am

    I really love to know the location of the base here in Kano. What a wonderful memory

    Reply

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