Ed White - Walking in Space

Ed White - Walking in Space Famous Historical Events Aviation & Space Exploration STEM American History

U.S. astronaut Ed White was the first American to walk in space. He lifted the handle of his hatch cover, and left the relative safety of his spacecraft, on June 3, 1965.

Ed's colleague, Jim McDivitt, took pictures of White's spacewalking activity (which lasted twenty minutes).

NASA tells us more about this significant “Extravehicular Activity,” known in “government-speak”—the acronym-loaded language of the U.S. federal government—as an “EVA.”

During Gemini IV, White would become the first American to venture outside his spacecraft for what is officially known as an extravehicular activity, or EVA. The world has come to know it as a spacewalk. In the following years, it [spacewalking] was a skill that allowed Apollo explorers to walk on the moon and American astronauts and their partners from around the world to build the International Space Station.

EVA is an example of NASA's sustained investments to mature capabilities required to reach challenging destinations such as an asteroid, Mars and other planets. Agency administrator Charlie Bolden spoke of the 50th anniversary of Gemini IV and how its legacy remains a crucial part of spaceflight today.

"This year we celebrate 50 years since Edward White left his Gemini capsule to become America’s first spacewalker," said Bolden speaking in his "State of NASA" address at the Kennedy Space Center on Feb. 2 [2015]. "It was only a few years later that we landed humans on the moon."

Four days of Gemini IV would not only come close to the Russian record, but almost double NASA astronauts' previous time in space.

Before June 1965, the longest American spaceflight was Gordon Cooper's 34 hours in space during May 1963 aboard Mercury 9. Soviet cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky spent five days in orbit a month later aboard Vostok 5.

Ed White’s spacewalk wasn’t the only “first” scored by the mission known as Gemini IV. It also marked the first time that the Manned Spacecraft Center, in Houston, became “mission control” for NASA’s manned space flights.

We learn more details from “Gemini IV: Learning to Walk in Space” (an article written by Bob Granath and released, by NASA, on 1 June 2015):

Lifting off from Launch Pad 19 at Cape Kennedy (now Cape Canaveral) Air Force Station on June 3, 1965, Gemini 4 was the first flight to be followed by the mission control at the new Manned Spacecraft Center (MSC) in Houston. MSC grew out of the Space Task Group formed soon after the creation of NASA and originally located at the Langley Research Center in Virginia. Beginning with Project Mercury, that complex was the center of U.S. human spaceflight training and management through Gemini III.

The 1,620-acre MSC complex became the primary flight control center for all subsequent U.S. manned space missions from Project Gemini forward. On Feb. 19, 1973, the center was renamed in honor of the late U.S. president and Texas native, Lyndon B. Johnson.

Granath’s article also tells us where Ed White was when he left his spacecraft (and what he did during his twenty-minute “walk”):

While flying over the tracking station in Hawaii, White pulled the handle to open his hatch.

"Okay, I'm out," said White. He floated outside the capsule attached by an umbilical cord tether providing oxygen and communications from the spacecraft.

"You look beautiful, Ed," said McDivitt as he began taking pictures of White tumbling around outside his window.

"I feel like a million dollars," White said.

As White floated outside Gemini IV, he used a Hand-Held Maneuvering Unit, informally called a "zip gun." The device expelled pressurized oxygen to provide thrust for controlling his movements outside the capsule.

"The gun works great, Jim," White said to his command pilot. "It's very easy to maneuver with the gun. The only problem I have is that I haven't got enough fuel. I was able to maneuver myself around the front of the spacecraft and maneuver right up to the top of the adapter, and came back into Jim's view."

McDivitt and White also had time for some sightseeing, reporting back to capsule communicator Gus Grissom in mission control.

"Hey, Gus, we're right over Houston," said White. "We're looking right down on Galveston Bay."

At the end of the 20-minute spacewalk, White was exuberant.

"This is the greatest experience," he said. "It's just tremendous."

NASA has several photos of Ed White—all taken by McDivitt—during his famous spacewalk. This one gives us a good view of his handheld self-maneuvering device:

Gemini IV Spacewalk

Astronaut Ed White floats in the microgravity of space outside the Gemini IV spacecraft. Behind him is the brilliant blue Earth and its white cloud cover.

White is wearing a specially-designed space suit. The visor of the helmet is gold plated to protect him against the unfiltered rays of the sun. In his left hand is a Hand-Held Self-Maneuvering Unit with which he controls his movements in space. (Image description also from the Granath article.)

Before he died in the tragic Apollo 1 fire of 27 January 1967, Edward Higgins White described (in this NASA video) what he had accomplished during America's first spacewalk:

Click on the top image for a better view.

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Author: Carole D. Bos, J.D. 5189stories and lessons created

Original Release: Oct 07, 2013

Updated Last Revision: Dec 11, 2019

Media Credits

Image online, courtesy NASA.


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