Image: Astronaut Ed White became the first American to conduct a “spacewalk” in the vast emptiness of space on June 3, 1965 during Gemini IV. Commander James McDivitt, his mission counterpart, captured this photo of him outside the space craft over the Pacific Ocean. In White’s right hand, an oxygen-powered “jet gun” is visible, which propelled him about in the vacuum of space. Photo: NASA.
Fifty years ago on June 3, 1965, NASA astronaut Ed White made history by becoming the first American to conduct a “spacewalk” (or EVA – Extravehicular Activity) outside of a spacecraft in the vast emptiness of space.
The historic feat occurred during NASA’s Gemini IV mission, which was the second manned spaceflight in the Gemini missions. Gemini IV also marked the longest duration of a manned mission in space for America at the time, spanning four days and 66 orbits around Earth.
After lifting off from Cape Kennedy Air Force Station in Florida, White and Commander James McDivitt maneuvered into orbit. Due to a problem with the exit and reentry hatch on the space craft, the spacewalk was almost aborted. Fortunately, Commander McDivitt was able to resolve the problem owing to a previous hatch malfunction where he learned the inner workings of the mechanism.
During their third orbit, White opened the space craft’s hatch and used a hand-held oxygen “jet gun” to propel himself into the vast reaches of space. His exit occurred over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii. White was tethered to the space craft with a 25 foot cord, and spent 23 minutes floating about, propelling himself using the handheld jet.
Commander McDivitt snapped photos of White from within the spacecraft, and relayed communications with Mission Control due to a transmission problem in White’s suit. The EVA ended somewhere over the Gulf of Mexico, which White called a “sad moment.” Apparently, he had wanted to stay out longer.
Gemini IV also marked the first operation to be controlled by the Mission Control Center in Houston, Texas, which ran in three-shift operations due to the flight’s long duration.