June 3 – Anniversary of the First American Spacewalk

Posted on June 3, 2014

One of the big deals that most astronauts seem to want to do – and that some of them get to do – is to do a spacewalk.

That means putting on their bulky, cumbersome pressure suits, going through the hatch, and being outside of their spaceships.

It means becoming tiny little satellites in orbit around the Earth, separated from the gorgeous blue-and-white planet and blazing sunlight and incredible spangled sky by nothing more than the gold-plated visors on their helmets!

The first human to do an EVA (extra-vehicular activity) was a Soviet cosmonaut named Alexei Leonov, who accomplished his spacewalk on March 18, 1965. On this date in 1965, astronaut Ed White became the first American to do an EVA.

White and his crewmate James McDivitt both had to put on pressure suits, because their Gemini capsule did not have an airlock. They had to depressurize the entire spacecraft. Then White tried to open the hatch, but the latch was stuck.

McDivitt had seen that this kind of latch had failed to open in a vacuum chamber test on Earth, so he was able to help White get the latch to work and the hatch to open. Then White used a hand-held oxygen-jet gun (also called a zip gun) to maneuver out of the capsule. The first sight that met his eyes was the state of Hawaii serenely floating in the Pacific Ocean.

White was float about 5 meters (15 feet) away from the capsule, where he began to learnto maneuver. He found it easy to learn how to use the zip gun to move, but it ran out of O-2 all too soon.

One of the problems during the spacewalk was that the voice-operated switch (VOX) on their helmets didn't work, and White couldn't hear the people at Mission Control with either VOX or the Push-to-Talk mode. (The guys at Mission Control could hear everything that the astronauts were saying, though.) The guys on the ground were getting frustrated – the CAPCOM had tried to reach the astronauts at least 40 times without a reply – and they really wanted to get the astronauts safely in before the sun disappeared behind the Earth. Finally McDivitt did the Push-to-Talk thing and found out that Mission Control really wanted White back in the spaceship. White asked to take a few more pictures, but McDivitt coaxed him to come back immediately. Since his zip gun no longer worked, McDivitt pulled himself back to the hatch using the 8-meter tether.

Here is the most dangerous part of the EVA – the hatch wouldn't re-latch again. If they couldn't solve the problem, both men would have died as the Gemini capsule returned to Earth. Once again, McDivitt had to fiddle and twiddle, and he was finally able to help White securely close the hatch.

White had spent about 23 minutes out in space. When he had to come back in, he said, “It's the saddest moment of my life.” 

Here is a great National Geographic video about spacewalks!

Also on this date:

Plan ahead:

Check out my Pinterest boards for:
And here are my Pinterest boards for:

No comments:

Post a Comment