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
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
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.