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In five decades of spacewalks, we challenge you to find a set of photos that more fully represents the potential of the tumbling gymnastics you can do during a spacewalk.
NASA astronaut Ed White stepped out of his Gemini 4 spacecraft 49 years ago today, equipped in a spacesuit and attached to his spacecraft by nothing more than a tether. These incredible pictures (taken by commander Jim McDivitt) give a sense of how White moved around, propelled by a small maneuvering unit in his hand.
After about 20 minutes of orbital exercises, White was ordered back to the spacecraft. “It’s the saddest moment of my life,” he said. In a NASA oral history interview in 1999, McDivitt later recalled the trouble they had getting him back inside:
I was kind of anxious to have him get back inside the spacecraft, because I’d like to do this in the daylight, not in the dark. But by the time he got back in, it was dark. So, when we went to close the hatch, it wouldn’t close. It wouldn’t lock. And so, in the dark I was trying to fiddle around over on the side where I couldn’t see anything, trying to get my glove down in this little slot to push the gears together. And finally, we got that done and got it latched.
It was the first time any American had done this — but White was not the first in the world. That honor belongs to Alexei Leonov, who pushed out of Vokshod 2 in March 1965. (The Soviet spacewalk was actually quite terrifying, as Leonov had to reduce the pressure in his spacesuit to get back inside the spacecraft.)
Even after White’s triumph, there was much to learn about spacewalking. Several astronauts in later Gemini missions struggled with doing tasks outside the spacecraft because there were not enough handholds to keep a grip in microgravity. It took until Gemini 12 for a combination of astronaut training and spacecraft design to make spacewalking a more controlled procedure — just in time for the Apollo moon program of the 1960s and 1970s.
Below the video about Gemini 4 are several more pictures of White’s adventures in space. Gemini 4 was White’s only spaceflight. He died in a launch pad fire for Apollo 1 on Jan. 27, 1967.
Check out more photos of memorable NASA spacewalks in this past Universe Today story.