Ed White may not have been the first man to walk in space, but his extravehicular activity, or EVA, 50 years ago Wednesday (June 3) was no less historic.
The first U.S. astronaut to exit a spacecraft while in orbit, White spent more than 20 minutes floating in the vacuum of space, protected only by a spacesuit. He moved about using a "zip gun," a hand-held maneuvering unit, while still attached to Gemini 4 by a tether and umbilical.
"I feel like a million dollars!"
White exclaimed to his crew mate James McDivitt, who was snapping photos from his seat on the spacecraft. That excitement lasted until White was ordered back inside by Mission Control.
"I'm coming back in... and it's the saddest moment of my life," White radioed.
The Gemini 4 mission marks the first time that mission control will be exercised at the Manned Spacecraft Center, Houston," NASA's 1965 press kit for the Gemini 4 mission stated, referring to the center that eight years later would be renamed the Johnson Space Center.
As he was walking in space, White carried mustard seeds in his spacesuit's pocket. The seeds were a symbol of his religion, in reference to the New Testament's description of Jesus using the mustard seed as a model of the growth of the Kingdom of God, from an extremely tiny seed to the largest of all garden plants. They were also an example of the tiny amount of faith needed to accomplish much.
"You don't need to take a mustard seed with you as a symbol of your faith," minister and author Norman Vincent Peale wrote to White prior to the flight. "You have the faith itself, and the inner sturdiness that will carry you through this tremendous and rewarding experience."
There goes your glove...
One artifact that did not return to Earth with White was his right comfort glove.
"Oops, there goes your glove," McDivitt stated as he saw the optional over-glove float out the hatch while White was already out on his spacewalk.
White wore the matching glove pulled over his spacesuit's pressure gauntlet to help keep his hand warm. The right thermal glove seemed to take on a mission of its own.
"I had one thermal glove on the one hand, my left hand," he said after returning to Earth. "I always wanted my right hand to be free to operate that [zip] gun and the camera."
"It floated out over my right shoulder and out," described White during a technical review. "It looked like it was on a definite trajectory going somewhere. I don't know where it was going."
"It floated very smartly out of the spacecraft and out into space," he said.