This day in history: Ed White becomes first American to walk in space

Ed White floats weightless in space during the first American spacewalk

Imagine you are in a spacecraft orbiting the Earth.

Now, imagine you open the hatch door and look down. There is nothing below you.

There has only been one person before you that has done what you are about to do.

You take a breath. You take a step. You let go.

You are now floating weightless around your spacecraft with the Earth far below you.

What would it feel like? According to Ed White, it was the “greatest experience”.  In fact, it was so incredible he didn’t want it to end.

First American spacewalk

54 years ago today, Ed White became the first American to go for a walk in space. The feat came ten weeks after Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov conducted the first spacewalk.

Ed White spent roughly 20 minutes floating in space attached by only a 23 foot tether and 25 foot umbilical, with the world far below him. He circled the Earth at a speed of 17,000 miles per hour and traveled a total distance of 6,500 miles.

White’s walk was part of the four-day Gemini IV mission which sought to study the effects of prolonged space flight. The 4-ton capsule carried White (mission pilot) and James McDivitt (mission commander). They performed 11 experiments aboard their capsule during the remainder of the flight, which included Earth photography and spacecraft navigation to aid future lunar missions.

His legacy

Two years after his extraordinary space stroll, White tragically lost his life in the Apollo 1 launchpad fire. White will forever be remembered for taking that courageous first step.

Scroll through the gallery below to learn some additional fun facts about Ed White’s historic spacewalk.

During your next visit to the center, stop by Astronaut Gallery to see Ed White’s Gemini Extravehicular Activity suit, which appears weightless, just as White was for 20 minutes on June 3, 1965.

The saddest moment of his life.

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Ed White didn't want his time in space to end. In fact, as he returned to the capsule he said, “I’m coming back in, and it’s the saddest moment of my life.” Photo Credit: NASA




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