Space Walk: Fifty-Five Years since Gemini 4
Updated: Mar 24
Fifty-five years ago today, astronauts Jim McDivitt and Ed White took to the skies on the second manned Gemini flight, Gemini 4. It was the eighth manned US spaceflight and the sixteenth crewed spaceflight overall. It was also the first manned flight controlled from the new Manned Spaceflight Center in Houston, Texas.
Ed White performing his historic spacewalk (NASA)
The unofficial callsign of the Gemini 4 capsule was American Eagle. NASA stopped permitting their astronauts to name their spacecraft after Gus Grissom named his Gemini 3 craft Molly Brown. The crew of Apollo 9 was the first to have this ban lifted since it was the first mission with two separate manned spacecraft, the command/service module and the lunar module. Their picks? Gumdrop and Spider.
The crew-designed patch for Gemini 4, which was not worn their spacesuits (NASA)
The primary purpose of Gemini 4 was to perform the first American extravehicular activity, or EVA. It was given this objective after cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first to do so on March 18 (see "Fifty-Five Years since Voskhod 2").
The mission was commanded by Jim McDivitt, the first rookie to command a NASA mission. The pilot was Ed White, McDivitt's classmate and best friend. McDivitt would later command Apollo 9 in 1969 and then become the manager of Lunar Landing Operations and the Apollo Spacecraft Program manager. White would serve as the senior pilot of Apollo 1 and perished in the 1967 fire. This was the only crew to remain together after Alan Shepard was diagnosed with Meniere's disease in 1964. The backup crew consisted of command pilot Frank Borman and pilot Jim Lovell. They would fly Gemini 7 at the end of the year.
Ed White and Jim McDivitt before their historic mission (NASA)
Gemini 4 launched from Cape Kennedy's Launch Complex 19 on June 3, 1965 at 10:15 a.m. EDT. The crew's first order of business was to rendezvous with their Titan II rocket's second stage. However, there was no radar on board to give a precise range to the target and the act of rendezvousing in space proved more difficult than originally thought. Attempts would be made on later missions so the crew shifted their attention to the EVA.
White first opened the spacecraft's hatch and floated outside as he and McDivitt were flying over Hawaii. Like Leonov, he was attached to the inside of the capsule by an umbilical cord that also provided oxygen and communications. He used a Hand-Held Maneuvering Unit, which let out pressurized oxygen to provide thrust for controlling his movements. McDivitt took photographs of White while White took pictures of the Earth beneath him. The entire EVA lasted 20 minutes, 8 minutes longer than Leonov's, and at one point a glove floated out of the cockpit and into the darkness of space. White was having such a terrific time that he nearly refused to reenter the capsule before it reached the dark side of the Earth in which Mission Control would no longer be able to communicate with it. Flight Director Chris Kraft ordered White back in and that was the only time in which a Flight Director spoke directly to an astronaut during a mission.
White performing his now-iconic spacewalk (NASA)
During the remainder of the four-day mission, the crew conducted a total of eleven science experiments. One in particular involved using a sextant onboard to measure the spacecraft's position using the stars. This was to test the feasibility of this technique on later Apollo flights. Another task was Earth photography.
Gemini 4 re-entered on June 7 during the 62nd orbit of the missions and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. It became the longest manned American spaceflight to date and would hold that record until Gemini 5 in August. Beforehand, the longest American spaceflight was Gordon Cooper's 34-hour long Mercury-Atlas 9 flight in May 1963. That same year, cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky spent 5 days aboard Vostok 5. Gemini 5 would beat that record as well.
White and McDivitt receiving a call from President Lyndon B. Johnson onboard the USS Wasp (NASA)
Gemini 4 proved that it was possible for man to survive outside the spacecraft and maneuver in the space environment. A lot needed to be improved upon before Apollo but Ed White showed the world it could be done. Five more missions would attempt working outside the spacecraft in 1966. The first of those missions was aborted before the EVA could take place and the following four showed just how difficult the task was. The first untethered spacewalk was performed by Bruce McCandless during STS-41-B in 1984.
The Gemini 4 capsule is on display at the National Air & Space Museum in Washington, D.C. A song depicting White's historic spacewalk entitled "The Walk of Ed White" was released in 1969 by the group Up With People. The song “Eve of Destruction” by Barry McGuire refers to the mission as “four days in space”. It is also featured in the episode "Can We Do This?" from the HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.
Command Pilot: James A. McDivitt
Pilot: Edward H. White II
Backup Command Pilot: Frank F. Borman II
Backup Pilot: James A. Lovell Jr
Callsign: (unofficial) American Eagle
Launch Vehicle: Gemini-Titan II
Launch Date: 3 June 1965
Launch Site: LC-19, CCAFS
Landing Date: 8 June 1965
Recovery Carrier: USS Wasp
American to perform an EVA
Mission controlled from the Manned Spaceflight Center
Use of a sextant for celestial navigation
Author's Note: Thanks for reading and be sure to like and share this post!
“Gemini 4.” NASA Space Science Data Coordinated Archive, nssdc.gsfc.nasa.gov/nmc/spacecraft/display.action?id=1965-043A.
Granath, Bob. “Gemini IV: Learning to Walk in Space.” NASA, NASA, 29 May 2015, www.nasa.gov/feature/gemini-iv-learning-to-walk-in-space.