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first American to walk in space
Edward Higgins White II was born in San Antonio, Texas, on November 14, 1930. His father was a career Air Force man, and young Ed knew he would follow in his father's footsteps. At the age of 12, his father took him up in an old T-6 trainer, and was even allowed to take the controls of the plane for a time.
In 1952, White received his Bachelor of Science degree from the United States Military Academy at West Point. While at West Point, he had been a star half-back on the soccer team, as well as a star on the track and field team; in fact, he set a West Point record in the 400-meter hurdles, and almost earned a spot on the 1952 United States Olympic track team.
Air Force Career
After West Point, White underwent flight training in Florida and Texas, and then spent 3½ years in Germany with a fighter squadron. Having by now learned that the United States was recruiting pilots to become astronauts, White determined to do whatever was necessary to become part of that elite group. His first task was to earn a Master of Science in Aeronautical Engineering from the University in Michigan, in 1959. He then enrolled at the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California.
Upon completing his test pilot training, White was assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Ohio, where he served as an experimental test pilot with the Aeronautical Systems Division. His duties in this position included making flight tests for research and weapons system development, writing technical engineering reports, and making recommendations for improvement in aircraft design and construction. He also piloted some of the flights during which the Project Mercury astronauts were subjected to weightless conditions. By 1962 he had logged more than 3,000 hours of flying time, including more than 2,200 hours in jet aircraft.
In September 1962, Captain Ed White was selected by NASA to be part of the new astronaut corps. To be closer to the Manned Space Center in Houston, he soon moved his family to the suburb of El Lago. He and his colleagues would spend the next couple of years working on and training for what NASA called the Gemini Program.
On June 3, 1965, White, along with James McDivitt, lifted off from Kennedy Space Center to undertake what would become an historic mission. During the mission's third revolution, White became the first American to "walk in space," as well as the first man to control himself in space during an EVA with a maneuvering unit; his "space walk" (seen at left) lasted 21 minutes. Other highlights of the mission included the first-ever cabin depressurization during an American manned mission, and the carrying out of 12 scientific and medical experiments. The two men splashed down on June 7. President Lyndon Johnson rewarded both men with promotions to Lieutenant Colonel.
On March 21, 1966, White was named Command Module Pilot of AS-204, the first 3-man Apollo flight; his colleagues were Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Pilot Roger Chaffee. On January 27, 1967, all three men were killed when a fire broke out in the Apollo capsule during a launch pad test at the Kennedy Space Center.
Awards and Honors
posthumously awarded Congressional
Space Medal of Honor
Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. White II was survived by his wife, Patricia Eileen Finegan White, and their two children, Edward and Bonnie Lynn.
This page was last updated on 03/24/2017.