Astronaut Jim McDivitt, Who Led Gemini IV And Apollo 9 Missions, Passes Away At 93

Astronaut Jim McDivitt, Who Led Gemini IV And Apollo 9 Missions, Passes Away At 93

Former NASA astronaut James A McDivitt, who led the Gemini IV and Apollo 9 missions, passed away at 93 years of age on October 13, 2022. He passed away peacefully in his sleep in Tucson, Arizona, NASA said in a statement dated October 18. 

McDivitt first flew in space as the commander of the Gemini IV mission in June, 1965. The Apollo 9 mission was his second spaceflight, during which he served as the commander. 

With heavy hearts, we mourn the recent passing of Korean War veteran, former test pilot, aeronautical engineer, and @NASA astronaut Jim McDivitt. McDivitt was selected to be part of Astronaut Group 2 and went on to command Gemini IV in 1965 and Apollo 9 in 1969. Rest in peace 🫡 pic.twitter.com/PRvTShrnwy

— NASA History Office (@NASAhistory) October 17, 2022 About Jim McDivitt

Born June 10, 1929 in Chicago, McDivitt graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School, Michigan, and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Aeronautical Engineering from the University of Michigan. 

McDivitt joined the Air Force in 1951, and retired with the rank of Brigadier General. During the Korean War, he flew 145 combat missions in F-80 and F-86 aircraft. 

McDivitt was a graduate of the US Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School and US Air Force Aerospace Research Pilot course, served as an experimental test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and recorded more than 5,000 flying hours during his piloting career. 

Jim McDivitt’s astronaut career

In September 1962, McDivitt was selected as an astronaut by NASA, as part of the space agency’s second astronaut class.

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McDivitt, who first flew in space as commander of Gemini IV in June, 1965, was joined by fellow Air Force pilot Ed White on the mission. During Gemini IV, White became the first American to venture outside his spacecraft for what is officially called an Extravehicular Activity (EVA) or popularly known as a spacewalk. Gemini IV was a four-day mission and nearly doubled NASA astronauts’ previous time in space to that point. Former NASA astronaut Gordon Cooper’s 34-hour Mercury 9 mission previously held the record for the longest American spaceflight.

Apollo 9 was McDivitt’s second spaceflight. As the commander of the mission, he played an important role that served as the stepping stone towards landing the first humans on the Moon. Apollo 9 was the first flight of the complete set of Apollo hardware and the first flight of the Lunar Module. 

Launched from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center on March 3, 1969, Apollo 9 had Jim McDivitt as the Commander, David Scott as the Command Module Pilot, and Russell Schweickart as the Lunar Module Pilot. 

Apollo 9 entered Earth orbit after launch. The crew performed an engineering test of the first crewed lunar module, nicknamed Spider, from beginning to the end, and simulated the manoeuvres that would be performed during actual lunar missions. The astronauts performed a series of flight tasks during the mission, with the command and service module and the lunar module. 

Rendezvous and docking of the lunar module with the command and service module was the top priority. The Apollo 9 crew also configured the lunar module to support a spacewalk by McDivitt and Schweickart. 

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On March 13, 1969, the Apollo 9 capsule re-entered Earth’s atmosphere and splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean. McDivitt spent more than 14 days in space. 

McDivitt became the manager of lunar landing operations after Apollo 9. He led a team that planned the lunar exploration program and redesigned the spacecraft to accomplish the task. He became manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program in August, 1969, and guided the program through Apollo 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. In June, 1972, he left NASA.

McDivitt received numerous honours, including two NASA Distinguished Service Medals and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.