|James Alton McDivitt|
June 10, 1929 |
|Other occupation||Business executive|
|Previous occupation||Test pilot|
|Alma mater||University of Michigan|
|Rank||Brigadier General, USAF|
|Time in space||14d 02h 56m|
|Selection||1962 NASA Group|
|Missions||Gemini 4, Apollo 9|
James Alton McDivitt (Brig Gen, USAF Ret.) (born June 10, 1929) is a former NASA astronaut who flew in the Gemini and Apollo programs. He commanded the Gemini 4 flight during which Edward H. White performed the first US space walk, and later the Apollo 9 flight which was the first manned flight test of the Lunar Module and the complete set of Apollo flight hardware. He later became Manager of Lunar Landing Operations and was the Apollo Spacecraft Program Manager for Apollo flights 12 through 16
McDivitt graduated from Kalamazoo Central High School, Kalamazoo, Michigan; Jackson Junior College (now known as Jackson Community College), Jackson, Michigan, and received a bachelor of science degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan (graduated first in class) in 1959 and an honorary doctorate in astronautical science from the University of Michigan in 1965; honorary doctor of science, Seton Hall University, 1969; honorary doctor of science, Miami University (Ohio), 1970; honorary doctor of laws, Eastern Michigan University, 1975.
McDivitt was awarded two NASA Distinguished Service Medals; NASA Exceptional Service Medal; two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals; four Distinguished Flying Crosses; five Air Medals; the Chong Moo Medal from South Korea; the USAF Air Force Systems Command Aerospace Primus Award; the Arnold Air Society JFK Trophy; the Sword of Loyola; the Michigan Wolverine Frontiersman Award; and USAF Astronaut Wings.
United States Air Force
He has logged over 5,000 flight hours, including flying as a chase pilot for Robert M. White's historic X-15 flight on July 17, 1962, in which White reached an altitude of 59.5 miles (95.8 km) and became the first to be awarded astronaut wings based on the USAF definition of 50 miles (80 km).
McDivitt was selected as an astronaut by NASA in September 1962 as part of Astronaut Group 2. He was chosen as Command Pilot of Gemini 4, becoming the first US astronaut to command his first spaceflight. Only three other Gemini astronauts, from this group, were chosen to command their first flights: Frank Borman (Gemini 7), Neil Armstrong (Gemini 8), and Elliot See. (See was killed in the crash of a T-38 trainer jet three months before his Gemini 9 mission.) After Gemini, only two other rookies commanded their first flights: Gerald Carr (Skylab 4) and Joe Engle (Space Shuttle STS-2).
McDivitt was launched with Edward H. White aboard Gemini 4 on June 3, 1965. The mission lasted four days and made 66 orbits, allowing the United States to come close to the early space endurance record of five days set by the Soviet Vostok 5 flight. The first objective was to attempt the first space rendezvous with the spacecraft's spent Titan II launch vehicle's upper stage. This was not successful; McDivitt was unable to get closer than what he estimated to be 200 feet (61 m). Several factors worked against him. There were depth-perception problems (his and White's visual estimates of the distance differed, variously longer or shorter than each other at different times). The orbital mechanics of rendezvous were not yet well understood by NASA engineers. Also, the stage was venting its remaining propellant, which kept pushing it around in different directions relative to the spacecraft.
McDivitt finally broke off the rendezvous attempt in order to save fuel and preserve the second, more important objective, which was for White to perform the first United States "space walk". McDivitt controlled the capsule's attitude and photographed White during the "walk". The hatch on Gemini 4, through which White exited to make his walk, was prone to problems with the latch mechanism gears coming unmeshed, making it difficult to open and relatch the hatch. McDivitt had spent some time before the flight with a McDonnell engineer, improvising a technique of forcing the gears to mesh by inserting the fingers inside the mechanism. The hatch was difficult to open and also to relatch during the flight, but McDivitt was able to get it working both times, with his hands in his pressurized space suit gloves. If he had not been able to get the hatch latched after the space walk, both men would have most certainly been killed during re-entry.
On the second day, over Hawaii, while White was asleep, McDivitt happened to see an unidentified flying object, which he described as looking "like a beer can or a pop can, and with a little thing like maybe like a pencil or something sticking out of it." He got a camera and took a few photographs of it, but did not have time to properly set exposure or focus properly. He believes that since it was visible to him, it must have been in an orbit close to that of his spacecraft, probably a piece of ice or Mylar insulation having broken off of it.
Word of the "UFO photos" reached the press by the time the flight splashed down, and one eager reporter waited for the Gemini 4 photos to be processed. He found one with a cluster of three or four images that looked like disc-shaped objects with tails, which became known as the "tadpole" photo. McDivitt has identified these as reflections of bolts in the multipaned windows.
In April 1966, McDivitt, along with Astronaut Group 3 astronauts David Scott and Rusty Schweickart were named as members of the backup crew for Gus Grissom's first manned Apollo mission Apollo 1, flying only the Apollo Command/Service Module in Earth orbit. In December, they were replaced as backups with the crew of a cancelled second mission and were promoted to prime crew of a new second mission flying both the Command/Service Module and the Lunar Module. They were training for this mission when tragedy struck on January 27, 1967: A cabin fire killed Grissom's crew and brought a 22-month suspension of manned Apollo flights.
After the Apollo 1 fire, plans resumed for McDivitt's crew to fly the Lunar Module mission, which would have been Apollo 8 in December 1968. But the Lunar Module wasn't ready in time, so NASA decided to make Apollo 8 a circumlunar flight of the Command/Service Module, flown by Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and William Anders. McDivitt's 10-day Earth orbital LM test became Apollo 9, launched on March 3, 1969.
After Apollo 9, McDivitt became Manager of Lunar Landing Operations in May 1969, and led a team that planned the lunar exploration program and redesigned the spacecraft to accomplish this task. In August 1969, he became Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program and was the program manager for Apollo 12, 13, 14, 15 and 16. After leaving the Apollo Program he was offered the opportunity to be the Shuttle Program Director, but elected to leave NASA to pursue a career in business.
McDivitt retired from the USAF and left NASA in June 1972, to take the position of Executive Vice-President, Corporate Affairs for Consumers Power Company. In March 1975, he joined Pullman, Inc. as Executive Vice-President and a Director. In October 1975 he became President of the Pullman Standard Division.
Source:A NASA biography page
- McDivitt has a school named after him in Old Bridge, New Jersey, the James A. McDivitt Elementary School. Many of the elementary schools in the Old Bridge Township Public School System are named after astronauts, such as Alan B. Shepard, Gordon Cooper, and Scott Carpenter.
- He also has a building, James McDivitt Hall, named after him, on the campus of Jackson Community College, Jackson, Michigan, where the now closed Michigan Space Center was once housed.
- There is a street named after him In Blue Bell, PA, called McDivitt Drive, built in 1990.
- There is a section of streets on Staten Island NY named after astronauts, and one of them is named after James McDivitt.
- McDivitt-White Plaza is located outside of 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).
- A major street in Vandercook Lake, Michigan is named after him.
- He also has a room, McDivitt Conference Room, named after him, on the campus of University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, Michigan in the François-Xavier Bagnoud Building
- Appeared on The Brady Bunch in a 5th season season episode about UFO's. He appeared as himself as the guest on a talk show to talk about his UFO experience. At the end of the talk show, he signed autographs for the characters Peter Brady and Bobby Brady.
- The FAI sets the limit of space at 100 kilometres (62 mi).
- "Famous Catholics".
- Oral History Transcript / James A. McDivitt / Interviewed by Doug Ward / Elk Lake, Michigan - 29 June 1999
- Cooper, Gordon (2000). Leap of Faith: An Astronaut's Journey Into the Unknown. New York, NY: HarperCollins. p. 87. ISBN 0060194162. "I know of only one possible UFO seen in space by an astronaut, which was duly reported at the time. It occurred in 1965, when James McDivitt and Ed White were passing over Hawaii in Gemini 4 and spotted what McDivitt described as a 'weird-looking metallic object' with an 'arm sticking out.' The object was moving away from the spacecraft. It wasn't on their list of space junk, so he took some pictures. It was so bright with the sun shining off it that it was difficult to see much detail, and the astronauts frankly didn't know what they were observing. Later there was some speculation that it could have been the second stage of their Titan II booster, but McDivitt had seen the rocket section trailing them earlier and identified it as such."
- Profile at NASA
- Spacefacts biography of James McDivitt
- James McDivitt at the Internet Movie Database
- Works by or about James McDivitt in libraries (WorldCat catalog)