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Edward Higgins White

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Title: Edward Higgins White  
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Subject: Gus Grissom, Roger B. Chaffee, Neil Armstrong, Apollo 1, List of United States Military Academy alumni
Collection: 1930 Births, 1965 in Spaceflight, 1967 Deaths, Accidental Deaths in Florida, American Aerospace Engineers, American Astronauts, American Methodists, American Test Pilots, Apollo Program Astronauts, Aviators from Texas, Burials at West Point Cemetery, Deaths by Smoke Inhalation, Harmon Trophy Winners, National Aviation Hall of Fame Inductees, People from San Antonio, Texas, Recipients of the Congressional Space Medal of Honor, Recipients of the NASA Distinguished Service Medal, Space Program Fatalities, U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School Alumni, United States Air Force Astronauts, United States Air Force Officers, United States Astronaut Hall of Fame Inductees, United States Military Academy Alumni, University of Michigan Alumni
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Edward Higgins White

Edward H. White, II
NASA Astronaut
Nationality American
Status Killed during training
Born (1930-11-14)November 14, 1930
San Antonio, Texas, U.S.
Died January 27, 1967(1967-01-27) (aged 36)
Cape Canaveral, Florida, U.S.
Other names
Edward Higgins White, II
Other occupation
Test pilot
USMA, B.S. 1952
UMich, M.S. 1959
Rank Lieutenant Colonel, USAF
Time in space
4d 01h 56m
Selection 1962 NASA Group 2
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
36 minutes
Missions Gemini 4, Apollo 1
Mission insignia

Edward Higgins "Ed" White, II (November 14, 1930 – January 27, 1967), (Lt Col, USAF), was an American aeronautical engineer, U.S. Air Force officer, test pilot and NASA astronaut. On June 3, 1965, he became the first American to "walk" in space. White died along with his fellow astronauts Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Roger B. Chaffee during prelaunch testing for the first manned Apollo mission at Cape Canaveral. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his flight in Gemini 4 and then awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously.[1]


  • Biography 1
    • Early years, education and military service 1.1
    • NASA career 1.2
      • Project Gemini 1.2.1
      • Apollo program 1.2.2
    • Death 1.3
  • Organizations 2
  • Awards and honors 3
  • Memorials 4
    • Schools 4.1
    • Other sites 4.2
    • In space 4.3
    • Philatelic 4.4
  • In media 5
  • Physical description 6
  • See also 7
  • References 8
  • External links 9


Early years, education and military service

White was born on November 14, 1930, in San Antonio, Texas, where he attended school and became a member of the Boy Scouts of America,[2] where he earned the rank of Second Class Scout.[3] White's father, Edward H. White, Sr., became a major general in the Air Force. After graduation from high school, he was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where in 1952 he earned his Bachelor of Science degree and was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Air Force.[4] White then chose a commission with the U.S. Air Force and attended flight school, a course that takes just over a year. Following graduation from flight school, White was assigned to the 22nd Fighter Day Squadron at Bitburg Air Base, West Germany. He spent three and a half years in West Germany flying in F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre squadrons in the defense of NATO.[5][6]

After graduating from West Point, Ed competed for s spot on the U.S. Olympic team in the 400 meter hurdles race. He missed making the team by only 1/10 second. His hobbies included squash, handball, swimming, golf, and photography.

In 1958, White enrolled in the University of Michigan under Air Force sponsorship to study Aeronautical Engineering, where he earned his Master of Science degree in 1959. Following graduation, White was selected to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base and was then assigned as a test pilot at the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. During his career, White would log more than 3,000 flight hours with the Air Force, including about 2,200 hours in jets, and would ultimately attain the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1953, White married Patricia Finegan, whom he met while at West Point.[6] The Whites would have two children, Edward White III (born 16 September 1953) and Bonnie Lynn White (born 15 May 1956).[1] White was a devout Methodist.[7]

NASA career

Project Gemini

Edward White during EVA. During the Gemini 4 mission, White became the first American astronaut to perform a spacewalk
Another image of Edward White during Gemini 4 performing EVA

White was one of nine men chosen as part of the second group of astronauts in 1962. Within an already elite group, White was considered to be a high-flier by the management of NASA. He was chosen as Pilot of Gemini 4, with Command Pilot James McDivitt. White became the first American to make a walk in space, on June 3, 1965. He found the experience so exhilarating that he was reluctant to terminate the EVA at the allotted time, and had to be ordered back into the spacecraft. While he was outside, a spare thermal glove floated away through the open hatch of the spacecraft, becoming an early piece of space debris in low-earth orbit, until it burned up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. There was a mechanical problem with the hatch mechanism, which made it difficult to open and to relatch, which added to the time constraint of the spacewalk, and could have threatened the lives of both men if McDivitt had been unable to get the hatch latched, as they could not re-enter the atmosphere with an unsealed hatch.

White's next assignment after Gemini 4 was as the back-up for Gemini 7 Command Pilot Frank Borman. He was also named the astronaut specialist for the flight control systems of the Apollo Command/Service Module. By the usual procedure of crew rotation in the Gemini program, White would have been in line for a second flight as the Command Pilot of Gemini 10 in July 1966, which would have made him the first of his group to fly twice.

Apollo program

Apollo 1 crew, White, Grissom, and Chaffee

In March 1966 he was selected as Senior Pilot (second seat) for the first manned Apollo flight, designated AS-204, along with Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, who had flown in space on the Mercury 4 Liberty Bell 7 mission and as commander of the Gemini 3 Molly Brown mission, and Pilot Roger Chaffee, who had yet to fly into space. The mission, which the men named Apollo 1 in June, was originally planned for late 1966 (perhaps concurrent with the last Gemini mission), but delays in the spacecraft development pushed the launch into 1967.


Charred remains of the Apollo 1 command module, in which White was killed along with Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee
Apollo 1 mission patch design

Launch of Apollo 1 was planned for February 21, 1967, when the crew entered the spacecraft on January 27, mounted atop its Saturn IB booster on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, for a "plugs-out" test of the spacecraft, which included a rehearsal of the launch countdown procedure. Mid-way through the test, a fire broke out in the pure oxygen-filled cabin, killing all three men.

White's job was to open the hatch cover in an emergency, which he apparently tried to do; his body was found in his center seat, with his arms reaching over his head toward the hatch. Removing the cover to open the hatch was impossible, because the plug door design required venting normally slightly greater-than-atmospheric pressure and pulling the cover into the cabin. Grissom was unable to reach the cabin vent control to his left, where the fire's source was located. The intense heat raised the cabin pressure even more, to the point where the cabin walls ruptured. The astronauts were killed by asphyxiation and smoke inhalation.

The fire's ignition source was never determined, but their deaths were attributed to a wide range of lethal hazards in the early Apollo Command Module design and workmanship, and conditions of the test, including: the highly pressurized 100% oxygen pre-launch atmosphere; many wiring and plumbing flaws; flammable materials used in the cockpit and the astronauts' flight suits; and the hatch which could not be opened quickly in an emergency.[9] After the incident, these problems were fixed, and the Apollo program carried on successfully to reach its objective of landing men on the Moon.

White was buried with full military honors at West Point Cemetery while Grissom and Chaffee are both buried in Section 3 (GPS Coordinates: 38.873115 N, -77.072755 W) of Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1997, White was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. White was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1993[10] and the National Aviation Hall of Fame on July 18, 2009.[11][12]

White's wife Patricia remarried and continued to reside in Houston. On September 7, 1983 she committed suicide after surgery earlier in the year to remove a tumor.[13][14]


He was a member of the Society of Experimental Test Pilots; associate member of Institute of Aerospace Sciences; Tau Delta Phi (engineering honorary); and Sigma Delta Psi (athletic honorary).[15]

Awards and honors



Many schools have been named in honor of Lt Colonel White:

Other sites

One of two Apollo 1 memorial plaques at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34
White's name along with Grissom's and Chaffee's on the Space Mirror Memorial
  • Edward White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.
  • Edward H. White II Park in Fullerton, California.[25] Fullerton has also named parks in honor of Chaffee and Grissom.
  • Island White, an artificial island in Long Beach Harbor off Southern California.[26][27]
  • Edward H. White Hall is a dormitory at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. White Hall houses the 365th Training Squadron which train aircraft avionics troops.
  • Edward White Way, a service road at Oakland International Airport, Oakland, California.
  • Edward White Drive in Amherst, New York.
  • McDivitt-White Plaza is located outside West Hall at the University of Michigan. West Hall formerly housed the College of Engineering and counts James McDivitt and Ed White among its alumni (McDivitt earned his B.S. and White earned his M.S. at the University of Michigan).
  • The dismantled Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral bears two memorial plaques: One says, They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind's final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived. and the other, In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so others could reach for the stars. Ad astra per aspera, (a rough road leads to the stars). God speed to the crew of Apollo 1.[6]
  • Edward White Guidance Library in Washington, DC. Located inside the former Western High School now renamed The Duke Ellington School of the Arts located at 35th Street and R Street, Northwest, Washington, D.C..
  • Edward H. White II American Legion Post 521; Pasadena, TX

In space

Voyager golden record 112 astronaut
  • The star Iota Ursae Majoris was nicknamed "Dnoces" ("Second", as in "Edward Higgins White the Second", spelled backwards).
  • White Hill, 11.2 km (7.0 mi) northwest of Columbia Memorial Station on Mars, is a part of the Apollo 1 Hills.
  • A photograph of White performing his Gemini 4 space walk is included as one of several images on the Voyager Golden Record.


  • Eight months after his death, in September 1967, a postage stamp was issued by the United States Post Office, commemorating White's space walk, the first-ever by an American.[28] It was the first time in USPO history that the design was actually spread over two stamps (one which featured White, the other his Gemini capsule, the two connected by a tether), which was considered befitting the "twins" aspect of the Gemini mission.[24] White's name did not appear on the stamps.

In media

White was played by Steven Ruge in the 1995 film Apollo 13 and by Chris Isaak in the 1998 HBO miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Physical description

  • Weight: 176 lb (79 kg)
  • Height: 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
  • Hair: Reddish brown
  • Eyes: Brown

See also


  1. ^ a b "Ed White". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  2. ^ "Astronauts and the BSA". Fact sheet. Boy Scouts of America. Retrieved March 20, 2006. 
  3. ^ Edward Higgins White at
  4. ^ Prior to the first graduating class from the Georgia Tech, Michigan, Purdue Univ., and the Univ. of California.
  5. ^ "Astronaut Bio: Edward H. White, II". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  6. ^ a b c "The Official Site of Edward White, II". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  7. ^ Burgess, Colin and Doolan, Kate, with Vis, Bert (2003). Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon, Lincoln and London: University of Nebraska Press. ISBN 0-8032-6212-4
  8. ^ Composite Air-to-ground and Onboard Voice Tape Transcription of the GT-4 Mission (U) (PDF), NASA, 31 August 1965, p. 54 
  9. ^ "Findings, Determinations And Recommendations". Report of Apollo 204 Review Board. NASA. April 5, 1967. No single ignition source of the fire was conclusively identified. 
  10. ^ Ed White inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame
  11. ^ Kaplan, Ron (December 17, 2008). "National Aviation Hall of Fame reveals names of "Class of 2009" inductees". National Aviation Hall of Fame web site. National Aviation Hall of Fame. Retrieved 2009-02-16. 
  12. ^ Hannah, James (July 19, 2009). "Ed White, Jimmy Stewart inducted in Aviation Hall". Washington Post. 
  13. ^ UPI (1983-09-08). "Pat White's obituary in New York Times". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  14. ^ "PBS's "Race to the Moon" site on Pat White's suicide". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  15. ^ Ed White's memberships
  16. ^ White's decorations
  17. ^ "Edward White Elementary Career Academy". Chicago Public Schools. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  18. ^ "Edward H. White Middle School". San Antonio, Texas: North East Independent School District. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  19. ^ "Ed White Elementary School". Clear Creek ISD. Retrieved July 20, 2009. Our school opened in 1965 as El Lago Elementary. The name was changed in 1967 to Edward H. White II Elementary in honor of the life and accomplishments of Edward Higgins White II -- the first American to walk in space. 
  20. ^ "North Scott Community School District". Retrieved August 8, 2011. 
  21. ^ "Bay Area Charter Schools". Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  22. ^ "Edward H. White". Duval County Public Schools. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 
  23. ^ "Ed White Middle School". Huntsville (Ala.) City Schools official site. 
  24. ^ a b Jaques, Bob (June 6, 2002). "First spacewalk by American astronaut 37 years ago" (PDF). Marshall Star (NASA Marshall Space Flight Center). p. 5. 
  25. ^ "City of Fullerton - List of Parks". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  26. ^ Michael Robert Patterson. "Fallen Astronaut". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  27. ^ "pdf of City of Long Beach Economic Zones". Retrieved 2013-11-28. 
  28. ^ "Gemini Space Walk". Sky Image Lab. Retrieved July 20, 2009. 

External links

  • Official website of Edward Higgins White
  • Official NASA biography
  • Edward Higgins White at the National Aviation Hall of Fame
  • Edward Higgins White at the Internet Movie Database
  • - Edward Higgins WhiteChampion of the Cosmos
  • White at International Space Hall of Fame
  • White at Encyclopedia of Science
  • White page at Astronaut Memorial
  • Edward Higgins White at Astronauts Memorial page
  • Astronautix biography of Edward Higgins White
  • Spacefacts biography of Edward Higgins White
  • Congressional Space Medal of Honor, C-SPAN, December 17, 1997
  • Works by or about Edward Higgins White in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
  • America's First Space Walk - slideshow by Life magazine
  • "Edward Higgins White". at Find a Grave
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