Ed White becomes the first American to walk in space on this day in history, June 3, 1965: ‘Extremely impressive.’
On this day in history, June 3, 1965, astronaut Ed White became the first American to walk in space.
White, an engineer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut, performed the spacewalk — technically known as “Extravehicular Activity” or “EVA” — while serving as the pilot on the Gemini 4 mission.
The other member of the team was command pilot James McDivitt, who photographed White outside the vehicle.
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White stayed outside the Gemini 4 capsule for roughly 20 minutes, nearly double the time allotted by NASA for the spacewalk.
“Initially, White propelled himself to the end of the 8-meter tether and back to the spacecraft three times using the hand-held gun,” according to NASA’s website.
In a spacewalk, White was the first to employ this sort of propulsion, a hand-held maneuvering unit.
Spacewalk by NASA
Ed White, the first American in space, was photographed during the Gemini 4 mission. James McDivitt, another astronaut, took this photo. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
However, three minutes into the spacewalk, the propulsion gun’s fuel ran out, requiring White to move about by “twisting his body and pulling on the tether,” according to NASA.
Aside from the fuel situation, White enjoyed the adventure.
“I feel like a million dollars,” White stated as his spacewalk began, according to NASA.
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White snapped images of Earth from 103 miles above its surface during the spacewalk and was allegedly reluctant to return to the spacecraft.
“This is the greatest experience,” White exclaimed. “It’s just tremendous.”
Back on Earth, mission control personnel were slightly more anxious about White’s safety, according to the NASA website.
NASA Gemini astronauts
Ed White, an astronaut, is pictured here examining procedures in the ship before to escape training. White was the first person from the United States to walk in space. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images))
“Gemini 4, get back in,” Virgil “Gus” Grissom is said to have screamed at White.
Grissom, another astronaut, was “CapCom” during Gemini 4.
White initially resisted the suggestion to halt the spacewalk, saying he was “doing great” and that the experience was “fun,” according to NASA.
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When White ultimately agreed to reenter the capsule, he added, “I’m coming back in… and it’s the saddest moment of my life.”
Gemini 4, in addition to being the first US EVA, was a watershed moment in NASA’s history. It was the United States’ first multi-day space journey, however it was shorter than a prior Soviet space flight.
St. Christopher Cross, David’s Star
On Gemini 4, White, a devout Methodist, carried a gold crucifix, a St. Christopher medal, and a Star of David with him. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
It was also the first American spaceflight in which astronauts conducted experiments.
White’s EVA was significantly smoother than the first-ever EVA.
According to the European Space Agency’s website, on March 18, 10 weeks before White’s spacewalk, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov performed the first spacewalk as part of the Voskhod 2 mission.
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He almost didn’t make it back in time.
After 12 minutes outside the ship, Leonov’s spacesuit swelled so much that he couldn’t get back into the capsule through the door.
NASA’s Gemini crew
The primary and backup astronaut teams for Gemini 4, the second manned Gemini mission, are shown above. Ed White, the first American in space, is pictured on the far left. James A. McDivitt, the mission’s command pilot, sits directly next to him. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images)
According to the European Space Agency, he “made a hair-raising decision to open a valve on the suit to let enough air escape for him to enter the airlock.”
Astronaut White’s life ended abruptly and tragically less than two years after his remarkable spacewalk.
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On January 27, 1967, White and colleagues astronauts Grissom and Roger B. Chaffee were killed when their cabin caught fire during a launch rehearsal exercise for the Apollo 1 mission.
According to the National Air and Space Museum’s website, White was put to rest with full military honors at West Point Cemetery in New York.
NASA astronaut portrait
Ed White, the first American astronaut to walk in space, is depicted in an official NASA portrait. (Photo courtesy of Getty Images))
White had an out-of-this-world experience during his spacewalk. According to Christian website Crosswalk.com, he later told his friend, Reverend Jackson Downey of First Methodist Church in Cocoa Beach, Florida, that out there alone in space, he felt “the presence of God.”
White was posthumously given NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration Award in 2015, on the 50th anniversary of his spacewalk.
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“In many ways, Ed’s spacewalk was the modern-day equivalent of Lewis and Clark’s portage across the Gates of the Mountains during their Westward exploration.” According to the National Air and Space Museum’s website, NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman noted in 2015 at the ceremony honoring White, “He had ventured into uncharted territory.”
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“That historical accomplishment is a big part of why Mars is now within our sights, and we will continue to push EVA technological advancements as we progress on our journey to Mars.”