Edward H. White

class of 1948


Ed White Gemini 4 Spacwalk
Photo: NASA, JSC


Gemini 4 Mission Patch

He Walked in Space

Ed White is one of the most famous alumni of The Western High School, class of 1948. After attending West Point, he entered the Air Force and became a test pilot. He was a NASA astronaut and, as a member of Project Gemini, was the first American to walk in space.

Edward Higgins White II was born on November 14, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas. His father was a West Point graduate who served in the Army Air Corps. He become known as a pioneer in aeronautics, beginning his military career by flying U.S. Army balloons. As the years went by, he progressed to flying powered aircraft. When he was 12 his father took Ed aloft in a T-6 trainer and after that, it was never questioned that the boy would become a flier. Ed White's father retired from the U.S. Air Force with the rank of Major General.

At Western, Ed was a very good student and an active participant in school activities. He was in the cadet corps and Major of the Second Battalion, was on the football and track teams, a member of the Chevron Club, the Stage Crew, the Rifle Club, and the Hunting Club.

Like so many others in his class, Ed looked forward to a career in the military. Ironically, because of his military family background, he could not claim a particular state as a permanent residence. He finally received an appointment to West Point by doggedly knocking on congressmen's doors seeking an "at large" appointment. At the Academy, he starred in soccer and track. He almost made the U.S. Olympic team as a 400-Meter hurdler, missing a place on the team by 1/10 of a second. Ed graduated from West Point and received a Bachelor of Science degree in 1952.

Ed was commissioned in the Air Force where he was trained as a pilot. He was subsequently sent to fly with the US Air Forces in Germany, mostly in F86 and F100 fighters. Ed married a fellow Westerner, Patricia Finegan (Class of 1951) and they had two children, Edward H. White III and Bonnie Lynn White.

After returning from his European tour, Ed realized he needed further training. He applied to the University of Michigan and earned a Masters of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering in 1959. He then applied for and graduated from the Air Force Test Pilot school.

Several times Ed piloted large cargo aircraft on the parabolic trajectory used to train the first group of NASA astronauts with the experience of weightlessness. Ed applied for a position in the second group of NASA astronauts. After a rigorous testing process, NASA selected Captain Ed White as an astronaut in September 1962 at the age of 31.

When he become an astronaut old hands from Project Mercury picked him as "the guy to watch". "He was a little bit different than the other astronauts," a NASA associate recalled. "Perhaps he had a longer view. The space program meant a lot to him in its implications for the country as a whole. He was like John Glenn. He was highly motivated and interested in others".

The same exuberant self-discipline, determination, and dedication ---leavened by ready laughter --- characterized his entire life. Such qualities, he once remarked, are not inborn but are "instilled in the manner in which you are brought up."

Ed was selected as the pilot for Gemini 4, a 62-orbit, 4-day mission under the command of Jim McDivitt. During this space flight, Ed was scheduled to be the first U.S. astronaut and the first American to walk in space.

Gemini 4's primary objective was to determine how both spacecraft and crew would perform during a four-day flight. In addition, thirteen scientific experiments filled the schedule. Final plans slated Ed to perform a dramatic extra vehicular activity (EVA). On March 18, 1965, Russian cosmonaut Alexi Leonov had become the first man to venture outside a spacecraft and floated in space for ten minutes while attached to the Voskhod II by a 10-foot tether. Ed White was determined to be the first to use jet propulsion to maneuver himself in space. Gemini 4 lifted off on June 3, 1965.

All the superb conditioning, self-discipline and audacious spirit fused in those 20 spectacular minutes when Ed White became the first American to walk in space.

Following the successful completion of the Gemini 4 mission, Ed was promoted to Lt. Colonel and awarded an honorary Doctorate in Astronautics from the University of Michigan.

Lt. Colonel Ed White was named Command Module Pilot for the Apollo 1 test mission. This was to be the first of a series of missions to test and qualify the hardware and procedures leading to the landing of a man on the moon. Sadly, on January 27, 1967, at the age of 37, he and his fellow astronauts, Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Roger Chafee, perished in the fatal fire that consumed their capsule during a countdown simulation in preparation for the scheduled launch of their Saturn/Apollo mission.

Ed White was buried with full military honors at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.


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Updated 11/20/2003 04:19 PM