The Coolest—and Most Frightening—Spacewalks in History

NASA astronaut Ed White during the first US spacewalk in 1965.

NASA astronaut Ed White during the first US spacewalk in 1965.

NASA astronaut Ed White is the first US citizen to perform a spacewalk, which he did on June 3, 1965, only three months after Leonov’s daring jaunt. The EVA, conducted during the Gemini 4 mission, started above the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and lasted for 23 minutes. White used a hand-held oxygen-jet gun (the image above shows him holding the instrument) to push himself out of the capsule and to move in space.

“Initially, White propelled himself to the end of the 8-meter [26-feet] tether and back to the spacecraft three times using the hand-held gun,” according to NASA. “After the first three minutes the fuel ran out and White maneuvered by twisting his body and pulling on the tether.”

White pushed his luck with the zip gun, as the astronauts called it, but thankfully not to his detriment. The Gemini 4 spacewalk was not as dramatic as the one performed by Leonov, but it too experienced some issues, including poor communications during the EVA and a stubborn hatch that was difficult to open and close.

“So, when we went to close the hatch, it wouldn’t close. It wouldn’t lock,” James McDivitt, White’s Gemini 4 crew partner, explained during an interview in 1999. “And so, in the dark I was trying to fiddle around over on the side where I couldn’t see anything, trying to get my glove down in this little slot to push the gears together. And finally, we got that done and got it latched.” Had McDivitt failed to close the hatch, both astronauts would’ve assuredly been killed during re-entry.

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