NASA Apollo astronaut Jim McDivitt dies aged 93 • The Register

Jim McDivitt, a US Air Force pilot and NASA veteran best known for his participation in the groundbreaking Gemini and Apollo manned space programs that led to the first manned moon landing, has died at the age of 93.

McDivitt’s career began during the Korean War, where he served as a fighter pilot, piloting F-80 and F-86 jets in 145 combat missions. After the war he completed a degree in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan, which he graduated in 1959 at the top of his class.

He then returned to the Air Force and was accepted into the Experimental Flight Test Pilot School, meaning he was prepared for NASA’s search for intrepid spacefarers. As such, he joined America’s first team of astronauts, dubbed the Mercury Seven.

McDivitt was appointed command pilot of Gemini IV in 1965, which was tasked with rendezvousing the spent Titan II rocket upper stage. He encouraged NASA to design space suits that would allow his colleague Ed White to open their spacecraft’s hatch and perform a spacewalk if necessary, resulting in the famous image of White outside the spacecraft, well above the Pacific Ocean depicting the conducted the first American spacewalk. McDivitt took this picture.

For his next job, in 1966 he began training to be the commander of a backup team to support the first manned Apollo mission, codenamed AS-204. However, all planned crewed missions were temporarily canceled when a cabin fire struck Apollo 1 during a launch rehearsal test in 1967, killing three astronauts on board, Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee.

McDivitt did not fly again until 1969 for Apollo 9, a ten-day mission testing the Apollo Command and Service Module (CSM) and a Lunar Module (LM) in Earth orbit. This was to validate the modules for use in future actual lunar operations.

The goal of Apollo 9 was to dock the CSM to the LM after both components separated from the launch vehicle and control both modules with a single motor. McDivitt and his crew exited the CSM to enter the LM, demonstrating that astronauts could transfer from one spacecraft to another for the first time. After flying in low Earth orbit for more than a week, the team returned home and landed in the Atlantic Ocean.

McDivitt was later promoted to manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program and oversaw missions 12 through 16, including Apollo 11 in 1969: the mission that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the lunar surface, the first humans to set foot on the lunar regolith.

“For McDivitt, it was more important that the overall program was a success than personally landing on the moon,” Frances French, space historian, told NPR.

“It’s very unusual to find people in life who are both lighthearted and genuinely committed to their work. And this guy was one of those rare examples of both,” added French.

McDivitt left the USAF and NASA in 1972 for the corporate world and worked as an executive for Consumers Power Company, Pullman Inc and Rockwell International before officially retiring in 1995.

By then he had flown over 5,000 hours and spent over 14 days in space and was inducted into the United States Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1993. ® NASA Apollo astronaut Jim McDivitt dies aged 93 • The Register

Rick Schindler

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