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Astronaut Jim McDivitt, who led Gemini 4 and Apollo 9 missions, Dies at 93

McDivitt also served as program manager for Apollo 12 through Apollo 16.

Former NASA astronaut James McDivitt, who commanded the first U.S. mission to conduct a spacewalk before leading the first test flight of the Apollo moon lander in Earth orbit, has died at the age of 93.

In a statement, NASA astronaut Jim McDivitt, a veteran of the Korean War and a former test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and pilot, was remembered as having recently passed away. "Rest peacefully.

In 1962, McDivitt became a part of NASA's second class of astronauts. Neil Armstrong, Jim Lovell, and Ed White were among McDivitt's classmates who were known as "The Next Nine" since they came after the "Original Seven" selected in 1959. McDivitt and White had gone to test pilot school together, knew each other from college, and were going to be named members of the Gemini 4 crew.

The plan for Gemini 4 did not start with a trip, despite the fact that it is now famous for being the first American mission to carry out an extravehicular activity (EVA, or spacewalk).

Up and out

In a 1999 NASA oral history(opens in new tab) interview, McDivitt stated that the journey had been planned primarily as a medical experiment with a long duration. There was a lot of medical experimentation on it, including tests and other assorted junk, as well as a few scientific experiments, but mostly it was the four days that determined whether we were going to make it or not. "We'd never had a flight longer than [34] hours, and there weren't any Russian flights up until that time that were very long either.

The original plan was for White to open his hatch and peek his head out while McDivitt held him down while discussion of include a spacewalk increased. The world's first spacewalker was then achieved on March 18, 1965, when Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov(opens in new tab) descended from his Voskhod 2 spacecraft and floated outside for 12 minutes and 9 seconds .

NASA officially added a complete EVA to Gemini 4 after falling behind the Soviet Union once more in the race for space. It was necessary to make various adjustments to that choice, including one to take McDivitt's size into consideration.

"I'm out of a very tall sitting height, 99 percentile or something. So, when we all of a sudden had to close the hatch in a pressurized condition, we had to redesign the seats," he said.

On the second crewed flight of the NASA Gemini programme, which took place on June 3, 1965, McDivitt and White were launched atop a Titan II rocket. Prior to launching White on the first American spacewalk, McDivitt attempted but ultimately failed to complete the first orbital rendezvous in history.

The idea was for McDivitt to fly up close to the Titan's spent upper stage, but a number of things conspired against him, including a lack of depth awareness that made it challenging for him and White to determine how far away from their objective they actually were. But compared to the fact that the stage was moving, that problem was viewed as small.

When we backed away from it and did our inertial measurement unit alignment, the rocket started maneuvering away from us, so I had to curtail the alignment to get back down close to the rocket, according to McDivitt. "They left a vent on it to vent the propellant on it, which acted like a small rocket engine.

Then, as we moved into the darkness, it kept moving around and lost its steadiness, so it might have been moving in one direction at one point and another at another.

White believed they were farther away, at 850 to 1,000 feet, while McDivitt thought the closest he could approach to the stage was 200 feet (61 meters) (260 and 300 m). McDivitt gave up on the rendezvous and continued with the mission because he needed to conserve fuel for the EVA.

Despite having issues opening White's hatch at the beginning and locking it at the conclusion, White's 23-minute EVA(opens in new tab) was more successful. The images by McDivitt showing White floating at the end of an umbilical against the blue and white of the Earth below quickly gained notoriety. White's EVA also prepared the way for a number of spacewalks that would come on later flights.

We probably didn't completely understand this until after the mission that operating outside a spaceship was substantially different from working inside, according to McDivitt. Having no prior EVA experience before Apollo would have been problematic. And once more, that was a requirement for the experience you needed to acquire in order to complete the Apollo activities.

Despite a more difficult landing than expected brought on by a broken computer and a jammed thruster, McDivitt and White splashed down safely in the North Atlantic Ocean on June 7, 1965, four days and an hour after their launch.

Making ready for the moon

McDivitt's second command did not go according to plan, just as his first trip. However, this time, the order in which the missions were to be flown altered rather than the mission's goals.

McDivitt was given the second crewed flight of the Apollo programme after the Apollo 1 fire, which lost the lives of three astronauts including his Gemini 4 crewmate White. McDivitt, David Scott, and Rusty Schweickart would test the Apollo lunar module during Apollo 8's Earth orbital mission.

But there was an issue. The main lunar module contractor for NASA, Grumman Aircraft (now Northrop Grumman), was experiencing delays while constructing the moon lander. As the Soviet Union worked towards the same objective of putting a crew on the moon by the end of the decade, NASA came up with a new plan: it would fly men to the moon on a command module without a lunar module as the second crewed mission of the Apollo programme.

So, either McDivitt's crew would go to the moon, forgoing all of the training and experience they had already acquired on the lunar module, or they would transition from Apollo 8 to Apollo 9.

In "Deke! U.S. Manned Space From Mercury to the Shuttle," Slayton's 1994 autobiography, McDivitt said, "Deke [Slayton, director of flight crew operations] explained the situation and said that he wanted me to stick with my original mission, which would now become Apollo 9, but he wasn't going to force me." There was some rationale in keeping Rusty and I where we were because we understood more about this specific lunar module than everyone else.

According to McDivitt, "this narrative has developed over the years to the point where people now believe I was offered the flight around the moon but declined it. "Not quite. I think Deke would have given us the [Apollo 8] mission if I'd thrown myself on the floor and pleaded for it, but it was never really offered."

On March 3, 1969, McDivitt, Scott, and Schweickart launched as the Apollo 9 crew, riding in the command module "Gumdrop" with the lunar module "Spider" in tow. The three tested tools and abilities necessary to later land on the moon during the 10-day expedition. They completed a two-person spacewalk, the first docking and extraction of a lunar module, and the second docking of two crewed spacecraft.

According to McDivitt in his NASA oral history, "the key thing was that we got an opportunity to fly the lunar module to see if it truly worked." "We did a damn good job of engineering it, since we really didn't have very many huge difficulties with the spacecraft. It all went together beautifully," said the engineer. "The rendezvous worked alright, the computers functioned, the radar worked."

It was a fairly flimsy tiny spacecraft, so we had to make sure everything fit together correctly and would function.

As part of the mission, McDivitt made history by being the first astronaut to fly the lunar module in space and one of the first men to switch between spacecraft while in orbit. On March 13, 1969, he and his fellow crew members safely splashed down on Gumdrop in the North Atlantic Ocean. The mission was deemed a total success by NASA, opening the door for Apollo 10 to conduct a comprehensive dress rehearsal for the first moon landing later that same year in lunar orbit.

McDivitt's final space trip was Apollo 9. He spent a total of 14 days, 2 hours, and 56 minutes in space during the course of his two missions, making 217 orbits around the earth.

Moon mission manager

James Alton McDivitt was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 10, 1929, but he spent his formative years in Kalamazoo, Michigan, where he also received his education. In 1950, he finished his two years at Jackson Junior College (now Jackson College), and in 1959, he obtained his Bachelor of Science in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan, where he placed first in his class.

Rather of holding off till the U.S. McDivitt enrolled in the U.S. Army to serve in the Korean War. He joined the Air Force in 1951 and was awarded pilot wings a year later. He led the 35th Fighter-Bomber Squadron on 145 combat flights in Korea while flying the F-80 Shooting Star and F-86 Sabre jet planes.

In 1953, McDivitt made his way back to the United States, where he proceeded to fly for the 332d Fighter Interceptor Squadron, the 19th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, and Dow Air Force Base in New Jersey.

McDivitt arrived in California's Edwards Air Force Base after receiving his degree from the University of Michigan and applied to work as a test pilot there. Before joining the Manned Spacecraft Operations Branch in July 1962, he remained there with the Flight Test Center as an experimental flight test pilot and successfully completed the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School and Aerospace Research Pilot School.

McDivitt served as the chase pilot on Robert White's X-15 rocket plane flight on July 17, 1962, which ascended to a height of 59.5 miles (95.8 km). Based on the Air Force's definition of space beginning at 50 miles, White (who is unrelated to McDivitt's Gemini 4 crewmate) became the first X-15 pilot to be issued astronaut wings (80 km).

McDivitt could have continued his career as an X-15 pilot, but he chose to join NASA's astronaut corps instead.

McDivitt was given the responsibility of working on the Gemini guiding and navigation systems once he joined the space agency. After his Gemini 4 flight, he worked in mission control as a capcom (capsule communicator) for Gemini 5, after which he was appointed the Astronaut Office's engineering head for the Apollo programme.

McDivitt previously held the position of backup commander for the disastrous AS-204 (Apollo 1) mission before being assigned to Apollo 8/9. After stepping off Apollo 9, McDivitt made the decision to transition into management.

It became clear to him that he would not be the first man to touch down on the moon, which was significant to him, he added. I didn't really care if I was the second or third guy.

McDivitt took on the role of manager of lunar landing operations and then manager of the Apollo spacecraft programme, overseeing the Apollo 12 through Apollo 16 missions, after turning down other opportunities to lead the Air Force's Manned Orbiting Laboratory (MOL) programme, serve as secretary of the Space Council, or fly on Apollo 13.

Apollo 12, which was launched and then had two lightning strikes, was McDivitt's first attempt as a programme manager. "I had to determine whether it was okay to send it to the moon or not, and I did," he recalled. "Then 13 was — it was probably the best space flight anyone has ever flown, and that worked out fine.

Then, I think it was 14, we had solder balls flying around and sending 'I'm going to shut off'-engine shut off signals to the engine. And in 15, we had a major problem. I can't remember what [that was], and in 16, we had the gimbal thing. And we were able to go forward with all of those except 13."

When McDivitt learned that Gene Cernan would be in charge of Apollo 17, he resigned from his position. McDivitt considered Cernan's recent helicopter crash to be a major worry. When the Apollo 16 mission was over, McDivitt departed despite his objection being overruled.

McDivitt left the United States. He resigned from NASA in June 1972 to become the executive vice president for corporate affairs at Consumers Power Corporation, a Michigan utility company, with the rank of brigadier general. He started working at Pullman, Inc. as executive vice president and a director in March 1975. He was elected president of the Pullman Standard Division seven months later.

McDivitt started working at Rockwell International in 1981; it is now a division of Boeing. He served as senior vice president for government operations and international in Washington, D.C., and retired in 1995.

McDivitt belonged to the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA) and the Society of Experimental Test Pilots (SETP) (AIAA). He was a Knight of Columbus as well, and in 1967 he represented the Order at the Vatican's Third World Congress for the Lay Apostolate.

In the "Brady Bunch" episode "Out of This World" from 1974, McDivitt played himself; in the HBO miniseries "From the Earth to the Moon" from 1998, actor Conor O'Farrell played him.

The Friday Pilots, edited by Don Shepperd and released in 2014, had a chapter written by McDivitt titled "Career Limiting Capers."

McDivitt received numerous awards for his contributions to the Air Force and the space programme, including four Distinguished Flying Crosses, two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals, two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He received the Iven C. Kincheloe Award from the SETP in 1969.

McDivitt received the Ambassador of Exploration Award from NASA in 2006, a trophy with a moon pebble implanted in it, and he decided to display it at the University of Michigan College of Engineering in Ann Arbor.

McDivitt has a primary school in Old Bridge, New Jersey, as well as a building at Jackson College in Michigan that are both named in his honour. Outside West Hall at the University of Michigan lies McDivitt-White Plaza.

Michael, Ann Lynn, Patrick, and Kathleen were the result of McDivitt's first marriage to Patricia Ann Haas in 1956. He then married Judith Ann Odell in 1985, with whom he had two stepchildren.

Source: (Click Here)

Edited by : Ankit Biswas (LinkedIn)


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