NASA History

Detailed Biographies of Apollo I Crew - Ed White

by Mary C. White

"I think you have to understand the feeling that a pilot has, that a test pilot has, that I look forward a great deal to making the first flight. There's a great deal of pride involved in making a first flight." -Ed White (The New York Times, January 29, 1967, p. 48.)Ed White photo
There is no typical path which leads a person to become an astronaut. For some, aerial combat or test piloting in one of the armed forces leads to a career in space flight. Some develop a curiosity and love of flying during adolescence. Others recall a childhood filled with memories of making airplanes from paper or balsa wood and flying with nothing more than a cardboard box for a cockpit and imagination for fuel. Others, however, were "actually born into flying." (1) Edward White fell into this category. For Ed White, flying was not merely a hobby, fascination or job. Flying was his birthright.

Edward Higgins White, II was born on November 14, 1930 in San Antonio, Texas. His father was a West Point graduate who served in the United States Air Force. He became known as a pioneer in aeronautics, beginning his military career by flying U.S. Army balloons. As the years went by and more emphasis was placed on powered flight, he switched to flying powered aircraft. By the time he retired from the Air Force, White's father had earned the rank of major general.

White's parents instilled a variety of personal qualities in their son. They taught him the value of self discipline, persistence and single minded dedication. They also modeled to him the importance of seasoning such a highly focused life with a good dose of laughter and fun. White learned his lessons well and successfully used these qualities throughout his personal and professional life.

At the age of twelve, when most other boys were flying model airplanes, Ed went up in an old T-6 trainer with his father. It was an experience he would long remember. Even though "he was barely old enough to strap on a parachute" (2) his father allowed him to take over the controls of the plane. Ed recalled that "it felt like the most natural thing in the world to do." (3) Rather than experiencing a crippling sense of fear, the twelve year old boy displayed a sense of calm confidence which was the product of the main lesson his parents had taught him: Set a goal, believe in your heart and soul that you can achieve it and then work to accomplish it.

Because Ed's father was a career military officer, the family moved numerous times to various Air Force bases around the country. As a result, Ed learned to adjust to new situations, people and places. Ed was considered to be a very good student and an excellent athlete in whatever school he attended. In fact, the constant shuffling from one Air Force post to another did not create any major difficulties for White until he was enrolled in Western High School in Washington, D.C. Once he began researching the admission policies at his college of choice, the lack of a continuous residency presented an obstacle.

The White family had a long and proud history of service in the various branches of the military. In addition to his father's career in the Air Force, two of Ed's uncles had solid careers in the Army and Marines. West Point had graduated two members of the White family "and there never seemed to be any question that I would go there too. But most military families don't have a permanent residence so we didn't have a congressman to appoint me to the Academy." (4)

White knew that he would need to be sponsored as an at-large appointee if he was going to follow in his father's and uncle's footsteps and attend West Point. In order to obtain the coveted appointment, Ed would "go up and down the halls of Congress knocking on doors... [and] finally knocked on enough doors to get an appointment". (5) Following his high school graduation, the United States Military Academy at West Point opened its doors to Edward H. White, II , the newest member of the White clan to walk down its hallowed halls.

While attending West Point, White continued to perform in both academics and athletics. He starred as a half-back on the soccer team. He made the track team as a hurdler and set a West Point record in the 400 meter hurdles. He barely missed getting a spot on the 1952 United States Olympic track team. He devoted himself to an established daily regimen for maintaining physical fitness which kept his five foot eleven inch frame in superb condition.

Ed also made time for activities other than studying and training for athletic competitions. While attending a football weekend at West Point, he met Patricia Eileen Finegan. In time, Pat, a petite blonde woman from Washington, D.C., became Mrs. Edward White, II.

In 1952, White graduated from West Point with a bachelor of science degree and enlisted in the U.S. Air Force. After receiving flight instructions, he earned his wings. Soon afterwards, he was transferred to Germany. While serving abroad, White established himself as an accomplished pilot by flying F-86 Sabre jets as well as the newer F-100 fighter jets. In addition, White successfully completed the Air Force Survival School in Bad Tolz, Germany.

Then in 1957, Ed White read an article that described the role of future astronauts. "The article was written with tongue in cheek, but something told me: this is it - this is the type of thing you're cut out for. From then on everything I did seemed to be preparing me for space flight." (6) The fact of the matter was that, at that moment, Ed White decided that becoming an astronaut was his newest goal and he carefully planned his future activities in order to achieve that goal.

After serving for three and one half years in Germany, White returned to the United States with his wife and two children, Edward and Bonnie Lynn. By this time, Ed was convinced that an advanced degree would give him an edge over other men against whom he would be competing for a spot on the roster of astronauts. Therefore, he enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Michigan. He received his MS degree in aeronautical engineering in 1959.

That same year, NASA selected its original seven astronauts for Project Mercury, the first U.S. manned space program. With their selection, it became clear that test pilot credentials would be a prerequisite for those seeking to become part of the astronaut corps. Accordingly, White enrolled in the Air Force Test Pilot School at California's Edwards AFB. He received his test pilot credentials in 1959 and was transferred to Wright-Patterson AFB in Ohio where he was assigned as an experimental test pilot in the Aeronautical System Division. While at Wright-Patterson, White "made flight tests for research and weapons systems development, wrote technical engineering reports and made recommendations for improvement in aircraft design and construction". (7)

By the time White was serving as a test pilot in Ohio, the seven Project Mercury astronauts were immersed in training. One of the most crucial training exercises was designed to prepare them for the weightlessness which they would experience during space flight. Three planes were used to provide the astronauts with brief periods of weightlessness: the Air Force C-131, C-135 and F-100F. Ed White piloted several of these flights. "I flew the big Air Force cargo planes through weightless maneuvers to test what happens to a pilot in zero-gravity. Two of my passengers were John Glenn and Deke Slayton, who were practicing weightless flying for Project Mercury... Two other passengers of mine were Ham and Enos, the chimps that went up before the Astronauts." (8)

As Project Mercury was coming to a successful close and Project Gemini began to emerge, it became clear that an additional group of astronauts would be required to meet the goals of the intermediate space program. In April 1962, NASA began recruiting. Most of the basic requirements remained the same. NASA was looking for male test pilots who had extensive flight experience in jet aircraft. Candidates needed to possess at least a bachelor's degree in engineering or one of the physical sciences. However, the maximum age limit was reduced from forty to thirty-five and the maximum height was increased from five feet, eleven inches to six feet. Additionally, civilian test pilots would be eligible to apply. As with Project Mercury, candidates completed numerous physical and psychological tests. In September 1962, the final selection was made and NASA added its newest members to the roster of astronauts. Air Force Captain Edward H. White, II, "who liked to set high goals and then drive for them" (9) reached his goal by edging out over two hundred other applicants to win the title of Astronaut. Eight other test pilots also earned a place on NASA's final list:

Mr. Neil A. Armstrong
Major Frank Borman, U.S. Air Force
Lieutenant Charles Conrad, U.S. Navy
Lieutenant Commander James A. Lovell, Jr., U.S. Navy
Captain James A. McDivitt, U.S. Air Force
Mr. Elliot See, Jr.
Captain Thomas P. Stafford, U.S. Air Force
Lieutenant Commander John W. Young, U.S. Navy

After being selected as part of the second group of astronauts, Ed White and his family followed the trend and moved to Texas to be near the future Manned Space Center. Ed chose a home in the Houston suburb of El Lago. White had seen the rousing parades and media blitz which surrounded the Project Mercury astronauts and their families, but he was not prepared for the attention he and his friend, Jim McDivitt would receive upon their arrival in Houston. As he made final arrangements for the purchase of his home, neighborhood children started to gather nearby. The youngsters asked if he was an astronaut. As soon as they received an affirmative reply, "the kids ran up and down the street yelling, 'Astronauts are in the house!' When White and McDivitt came out, the children asked for their autographs. After obliging, both expressed surprise... that anyone would want their autograph, because they hadn't done anything". (10) White "looked upon himself as a member of a team... as an engineering cog in a vast technical program" (11) rather than a hero to be followed around. Additionally, he just barely had been selected. Autographs and attention seemed out of place and premature.

Once they were formally part of the program, the nine new men were sized up fairly quickly by their seven predecessors. All members of the second group were judged to be highly skilled pilots. It was also evident that on the average, the second group had a greater level of formal education than the original Mercury astronauts. Nonetheless, even among a group of high achievers, Ed White stood out among the crowd. He was seen as "a man who, when asked an intelligent question, will answer thoughtfully and to the point, but will rarely volunteer information". (12) The "old hands from Project Mercury picked him as the guy to watch". (13)

Because he already was deeply involved in the Gemini program in September 1962, Gus Grissom was assigned to supervise the new recruits. Grissom gave credit where credit was due in his evaluation of the newcomers: "They're all talented. In fact, when one of them comes up with a new answer for some problem, I think they are a lot smarter than our original group of seven". (14) However, it was made crystal clear from day one that because no one in the second group had trained specifically for space flight, let alone actually flown in space, they were the new kids on the block. "On one occasion, Grissom crisply advised one youngster: Don't feel so smart. You're just an astronaut trainee." (15)

Bolstered by the information and experience gained in Project Mercury, NASA adopted a new training program which was much more advanced, refined and rigorous than previous space flight preparations. Ed White and his fellow trainees soon found themselves participating in a variety of exercises designed to anticipate Project Gemini, the next stage of U.S. manned space flight.

Training began by familiarizing the new members of the astronaut corps with details gathered from Project Mercury. They gained hands on experience with the Mercury spacecraft systems and hardware. They learned about flight operations and associated inflight tasks. They toured the facilities at Cape Kennedy, including the tracking systems and launch areas. Titan, Atlas, Agena and Saturn became part of their vocabulary as they became familiar with the various boosters associated with the space program.

Formal classroom instruction was an integral part of the Gemini training so that astronauts would be able "to do scientific tasks and talk intelligently with PhD scientists in every field". (16) Thus, astronauts participated in intensive training in the fields of physics, geology, anatomy and physiology, astronomy, meteorology, aerodynamics, flight mechanics, guidance and navigation, mathematics and communications, among others. The educational component proved to be taxing even for a group of men whose IQ level averaged out to approximately 135.

After completing the required classroom instruction, each of the Gemini astronauts was assigned to specialize in a particular aspect of space flight. This allowed each astronaut to be directly involved in an integral part of engineering development. In addition, because of the vast number of tasks associated with the Gemini program, this specialization encouraged excellent time management practices. By delegating areas of responsibility throughout the entire astronaut corps, the agency was able to reduce drastically the amount of time required to cover the entire operating system adequately. Through the effective use of briefings, staff meetings and conferences, all members of the team could stay well informed about all areas of program and systems operations, regardless of their area of specialization. Even with effective delegation of tasks, Ed felt that "the day just isn't long enough to do everything I'd like to". (17)

Ed White was assigned to specialize "in the design and development of spacecraft flight control systems and related equipment". (18) White thoroughly enjoyed his specialty area "because it involves the pilot's own touch - the human connection with the spacecraft and the way he maneuvers it". (19) The so-called "pilot's touch" was extremely important to Ed White as a test pilot. He clearly understood that a marriage between man and machine was absolutely necessary in order to achieve the goal of reaching the moon. However, he stood equally convicted that "the important thing is that man - not an automatic machine - is the primary system in space flight". (20) Yet for White, the "pilot's touch" went beyond the nuts and bolts of space travel and reached into the core of his being. "A lot of us here on earth are getting pretty curious about what the moon's made of, and you'll never satisfy man's curiosity unless a man goes himself." (21)

One of the biggest frustrations that Ed encountered during training, however, did involve the mechanical aspect of the "pilot's touch". Each of the simulators was equipped with a different kind of hand control stick. As a result, Ed found that the astronauts needed to devote portions of their training time simply to adjust to each control stick and get the feel of it. White judged this to be a misuse of precious time and began "campaigning for a controller that is basically similar for all the vehicles in the program. It seemed inconceivable to me that, as some people had suggested, an Astronaut would fly toward the moon in the Apollo using one kind of stick, then climb into the LEM, our lunar landing craft, and use a different kind of controller to land him on the moon". (22) White's persistence paid off with the creation of "a type of controller that I believe we can use in all of the vehicles. It will feel the same, and when we move it, it will give basically the same response". (23)

Survival training also played an important part in the Gemini training program. Astronauts were drilled in handling potential crises on both land and sea. They learned how to leave a sinking capsule and successfully use a life raft in case they encountered an emergency after splashdown. In addition, they became skilled in techniques which would help them survive in the unlikely event that their spacecraft landed on the ground instead of in the ocean. Ed White and his colleagues learned how to fashion clothing from parachutes which would protect them from the intense heat of the Nevada desert. They were dropped in pairs from helicopters into the depths of the steamy Panamanian rain forest where cooked iguana, roasted boa constrictor and palm hearts were the daily luncheon specials.

Keeping in excellent physical condition was a top priority for the Gemini astronauts, as well. This focus merely reinforced Ed White's lifelong commitment to maintaining his physical health and strength. In spite of his busy training schedule, Ed continued to participate in swimming, handball, volleyball, squash and golf. He began his day with at least a one mile run. Rather than drive from his home to the Manned Space Center in Houston, White often opted to bicycle the three mile stretch. While jogging, White liked to squeeze a hard rubber ball in order to increase the strength in his hands and arms. He installed a forty foot climbing rope in the backyard of his home and tackled it on a regular basis. "He could knock off fifty sit-ups and fifty pushups without a whimper." (24) Without a doubt, Ed White was considered to be the most physically fit of all the astronauts in the corps.

A less obvious area of astronaut training was public relations. Many of the men felt very uncomfortable speaking in public. However, "on occasion, often without warning, [the astronauts would] be asked to speak to employee gatherings, often impromptu affairs held right on the production line". (25) Knowing that public speaking was considered part of the job, Ed White joined the Toastmasters International to improve his public communication skills. At one point, Ed served as vice president - secretary for the organization.

After months of training, the Gemini flight schedule was released. James McDivitt was selected as command pilot for the upcoming Gemini 4 flight with Ed White serving as pilot. Frank Borman and James Lovell, Jr. were backups for the flight. White and McDivitt were well matched and their personal and professional lives often had uncanny parallels. Both were married to women named Pat. Both were captains in the Air Force. Both had earned degrees in aeronautical engineering at the University of Michigan in 1959. While Ed was pursuing a masters' degree, Jim was studying for his bachelor of science degree. Both had completed test pilot training at Edwards AFB. Although White had more hours of flying time overall, McDivitt's two thousand hours in jet aircraft were almost identical to White's 1,950 hours in jets. Both had responded to NASA's call for additional astronauts in 1962 and both had been selected as part of the second group of astronauts in September of that same year. Recalling how their paths had crossed on numerous occasions, White stated that, "Jim and I have been following right along together. It seems that every time we got together we were taking examinations of some kind." (26)

The success of Grissom and Young's Gemini 3 flight paved the way for long duration space flights. The longest U.S. manned space flight to date had been Gordon Cooper's thirty four hour Mercury flight. The Soviets, however, had four long duration flights to their credit, ranging from seventy to one hundred nineteen hours. McDivitt and White were selected to fly the first long duration flight for the Gemini program.

Gemini 4's original flight plan was a fairly conservative one. The primary objective was to determine how both spacecraft and crew would perform during a four day flight. In addition, thirteen scientific experiments dotted the plan. However, early in March 1965, NASA revised the flight plan and added two extra components. One of the new objectives was to attempt to maintain a fixed distance from the second stage of the spacecraft's Titan II launch vehicle. This task, which would assist in future rendezvous missions, fell to command pilot Jim McDivitt. Ed White was slated to perform a dramatic extra vehicular activity (EVA). On March 18, 1965, Russian cosmonaut Alexi Leonov had become the first man to venture outside the relative safety of his spacecraft to float in space for ten minutes while attached to the Voskhod II by means of a ten foot tether. White was scheduled to use a newly developed suit and a special hand held unit which would allow the astronaut to propel himself while performing maneuvers outside the spacecraft. When the original flight plan was introduced, White's suit and self-propulsion unit were still on the drawing board. In fact, the gear was not certified for use in space until ten days before the Gemini 4 launch and the EVA itself was not officially confirmed until one week before the scheduled launch. Nonetheless, White spent countless hours practicing in the McDonnell pressure chamber to prepare himself to perform his space walk. Although a Russian had been the first to float in space, Ed White was determined to be the first to use jet propulsion to actually maneuver himself in space.

Although GT-4 was to be his first space flight, Ed stated, "I do feel entirely safe in a spacecraft". (27) With that sense of confidence as a backdrop, White gave his trademark thumbs up sign to the crowd that had gathered on June 3, 1965 and boarded Gemini 4 with Commander Jim McDivitt. They lifted off from Pad 19 at 10:16 AM. Ed, a devout Methodist, brought three special items to carry with him during his planned EVA: a St. Christopher's medal, a gold cross and a Star of David. "I had great faith in myself and especially in Jim, and also I think I had great faith in my God. So the reason I took those symbols was that I think this was the most important thing I had going for me, and I felt that while I couldn't take one for every religion in the country, I could take the three I was most familiar with." (28)

It became clear shortly after liftoff that McDivitt's plan to maintain a fixed distance from the jettisoned second stage of the Titan II launch vehicle would have to be abandoned because the stage was tumbling so severely that its orbit had deteriorated from that of the spacecraft. In order to pursue the object, McDivitt would have used up too much fuel. With this objective scrubbed, the crew turned its attention to Ed White's EVA, which had been scheduled to take place at the end of the second revolution.

As Gemini 4 began its second revolution, Jim and Ed started to go through the checklist for the various EVA equipment. Within the cramped confines of the spacecraft, they unpacked White's emergency oxygen chest pack, his specially designed thermal gloves and the bulky twenty five foot combination primary oxygen umbilical and tether cord. The seven and one half pound maneuvering unit was unstowed and checked. The camera equipment, which would record White's historic walk, was assembled. They wanted to be very meticulous in their EVA preparations because "it was our first step into space... [and] we wanted to be sure that the procedures were done thoroughly and correctly". (29) As the time for the EVA drew nearer, the crew realized that they were starting to rush through the checklist. McDivitt made the call to delay the EVA until the third revolution in order to give them the time they needed to properly check and don the equipment. A disappointed Ed White eventually concurred. "We decided to go right from the beginning of the checklist again... We started it all over. This time, we were able to take all the time that we wanted to." (30)

During the third revolution, the crew received a go ahead for both decompression and EVA. Accordingly, the spacecraft's atmosphere was reduced to a vacuum and White's hatch was opened. As Ed stood in his seat, preparing for egress, he checked his camera equipment three times. "I wanted to make sure I didn't leave the lens cap on... I knew I might as well not come back if I did." (31)

At 2:45 P.M., as Gemini 4 passed beyond Hawaii, Ed White emerged through the hatch. "When I departed the spacecraft, there was no pushoff whatsoever from the spacecraft... The gun actually provided the impulse for me to leave the spacecraft." (32) As he began his space walk, Ed was fully aware that all of his VOX transmissions were being heard by millions of people who were glued to their radios and television sets. "I thought, 'What do you say to 194 million people when you're looking down at them from space?' Then the solution became very obvious to me... 'They don't want me to talk to them. They want to hear what we're doing up here.' ... So what you heard were two test pilots conducting their mission in the best manner possible." (33)

Ed relayed that he did not experience any disorientation or sensation that he was falling. In spite of the fact that Gemini 4 was whipping through space at speeds in excess of 17,500 mph, White felt very little sensation of speed. He reported that "the maneuvering unit is good. The only problem I have is that I haven't got enough fuel". (34) With the fuel exhausted in the hand unit, White had to rely on the twenty five foot tether to maneuver himself. He soon discovered that the gun provided much better control than the tether and that moving was much more difficult and awkward without it.

Ed, a photography buff, then turned his attention to capturing the spectacular views he was witnessing on film. "I'm going to work on getting some pictures... I can sit out here and see the whole California coast," (35) he remarked. While White snapped away with his 35 mm camera, Jim McDivitt took some photos of Ed as he came into full view of the window. As he maneuvered away, Ed accidently bumped into the spacecraft, leaving a mark on McDivitt's window. The world delighted in hearing the banter between two friends as Jim stated, "You smeared up my windshield, you dirty dog. You see how it's all smeared up there?" (36)

White's suit held up well and the special helmet visor provided the necessary protection from the sun. White noted that, "The sun in space is not blinding but it's quite nice." (37) The entire space walk was progressing extremely well. It was clear that White was enjoying himself thoroughly as he exuberantly radioed, "I'm very thankful in having the experience to be first... This is fun!" (38)

Ed's final view during his space walk was of the state of Florida. "I could see all the lower part of the state, the island chain of Cuba and Puerto Rico." (39) All too soon, the flight director ordered White back inside Gemini 4 and America's first walk in space came to a close. No one was sorrier to see it end than Ed White. "It's the saddest moment of my life," (40) he commented as he slowly maneuvered his way back. Without the benefit of the self propulsion unit, Ed needed extra time to return to the hatch. Some contended that the delay was an indication that he had suffered from a kind of narcosis of the deep or euphoria. However, Ed insisted that this was not the case. "I can say in all sincerity and honesty that I enjoyed the EVA very much, and I was sorry to see it draw to a close, and I was indeed reluctant to come in. But when the word came that the EVA phase was over, I knew it was time to come in and I did. There was no euphoria, but getting back into the cabin took just as much time as getting out; I had to do the same things, only in reverse order, handing my gear in to Jim, and so on." (41) White had achieved his goal of becoming the first man to propel himself in space. In addition, his space walk had lasted twice as long as Leonov's ten minute excursion. Ed had felt many things during those twenty minutes, but "the biggest thing was a feeling of accomplishment". (42)

Gemini 4 made sixty two orbits around the earth, flying a grand total of 1,609,700 miles before splashing down in the Atlantic. Skeptics had predicted that astronauts would suffer horrendous physical side effects from a long duration flight and that the recovery crews would find either dead bodies or unconscious astronauts hovering on the brink of death once they opened the hatches. However, the recovery helicopter pilot saw a totally different sight. "They were like a couple of kids playing on the beach, splashing in the salt water." (43) Ed White was doing some kind of exercise that resembled deep knee bends. Both astronauts appeared to be in fine shape, aside from a slight case of seasickness on Ed's part and being in desperate need of a shower and shave. Commenting on their distinct aroma after the flight Ed quipped, "I thought we smelled fine. It was all those people on the carrier that smelled strange." (44) On board the recovery carrier Wasp, Ed stated, "I felt so good I didn't know whether to hop, skip, jump or walk on my hands!" (40) His spirits were so high that he danced a jig on the way to the crew quarters.

In spite of their good mood, the astronauts had experienced some practical concerns during their flight. They found the work/rest cycles to be inadequate. Thoughts about running out of water had caused the crew to be overly conservative in their water intake, putting them at risk for dehydration. In addition, "White noted that about four or five hours after eating, he began to feel as if his energy level was going downhill in a more pronounced manner than it did on earth. Each time he ate, he noted definitely that his energy level bounced up." (45) Those who knew Ed White were not at all surprised to learn that hunger pangs were his biggest discomfort during the flight. He was known to have the most voracious appetite in the entire astronaut corps. "Although space doctors failed to find an ounce of fat on his 170 pound frame, White could put away two full course dinners at one sitting and then ask for dessert with a straight face." (46) Needless to say, it did not take Ed long to gain back the eight pounds he had lost during his flight.

Upon returning to Houston, White and McDivitt received a grand welcome home. President Lyndon Johnson took the opportunity to promote both men to the rank of lieutenant colonel and presented each of them with a NASA Exceptional Service medal. Chicago played host to an enormous ticker tape parade. The University of Michigan awarded the newly created honorary doctorate degree of astronautical science to both alumni. After receiving the degree, White, who still was trying to adjust to his new military title joked, "I can hardly get used to people calling me 'Colonel'. I know in a million years I'll never get used to people calling me 'Doctor'." (47) Finally, White and McDivitt, along with their families, were asked to represent the United States and strut their stuff at the Paris Air Show. In spite of the presence of Russia's pride and joy, Yuri Gagarin, the U.S. Gemini space twins captured a great deal of media attention and put the U.S. manned space program back on the map.

Based in part on the quality and strength of his EVA performance, Ed White was selected as Senior Pilot for the first Apollo flight. He was joined by Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom and Pilot Roger Chaffee. Grissom expressed a great deal of satisfaction with White saying, "Ed's a real hard driver. I don't care what kind of job you give Ed, he's going to get it done; he's going to get it finished." (48) Ed valued Grissom's experience and was pleased to discover that he and his commander tended to think along the same lines about many things.

As the crew prepared for the flight, they encountered numerous glitches and setbacks with the Apollo spacecraft. The crew stayed focused and dealt with the problems as they came up. In spite of the frustrations and delays, they never failed to keep their sense of humor intact. Well aware of Ed White's tremendous appetite, Grissom joked that during the Apollo I flight, he planned to keep his personal food supply under lock and key to discourage Ed from sneaking samples from his meals. Shortly before the final series of spacecraft testing began, the crew was asked to pose for pictures wearing their space suits. As photographers attempted to get the perfect shot of the first Apollo crew, Grissom reached over and tugged at a cord on White's space suit, causing its bright orange Mae Wests to suddenly balloon to life.

As the crew entered the Apollo I command module for the plugs out test on January 27, 1967, Ed White took the center seat. Toward the end of the test, they would be practicing emergency egress procedures and Ed would be responsible for opening the hatch by removing the bolts which sealed it shut. It was a difficult maneuver because Ed needed to reach over his head to loosen the bolts with a ratchet. The inner hatch was extremely heavy, but Ed, who was known for his great strength, had become accustomed to handling it by repeatedly practicing the opening procedure. Although the well-trained crew had practiced the egress drill numerous times, they never had managed to perform the duty within the ninety second recommended time frame. The entire plugs out test had been riddled with various problems from the time the crew entered the spacecraft shortly after 1:00 P.M., especially in the area of communications. As darkness began to fall, the crew still needed to perform the emergency egress procedure before ending the test and heading home for the weekend. A ninety second time frame was the goal for completing the hatch removal. Ed White had no idea that he and the crew soon would be in an emergency situation and that their lives would depend upon the crew opening the hatch in less than twenty seconds.


1. Life. June 18, 1965, p. 38.

2. Time. February 3, 1967, p. 16.

3. Newsweek. June 14, 1965, p. 32.

4. Life, p. 38.

5. Ibid.

6. Ibid.

7. Erik Bergaust, editor, Illustrated Space Encyclopedia (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1965), p. 146.

8. Life, p. 38.

9. Newsweek, February 6, 1967, p. 29.

10. Henry Dethloff, Suddenly Tomorrow Came... A History of the Johnson Space Center (Houston: Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, National Aeronautics and Space Administration, 1993), p. 44.

11. The New York Times, January 28, 1967, p. 1L.

12. Ibid.

13. Life, February 10, 1967, p. 22.

14. Betty Grissom and Henry Still, Starfall (New York: Thomas Y. Crowell Company, 1974), p. 144.

15. Ibid, p. 123.

16. Virgil Grissom, Gemini: A Personal Account of Man's Venture Into Space (New York: The Macmillan Company, 1968), p. 74.

17. Life, June 18, 1965, p. 39.

18. Ralph O. Shankle, The Twins of Space: The Story of the Gemini Project (New York: J.B. Lippincott Company, 1964), p. 160.

19. Life, p. 38.

20. Life, p. 39.

21. Ibid.

22. Ibid.

23. Ibid.

24. Life, February 10, 1967, p. 22.

25. Grissom, p. 78.

26. United Press International, editors, Gemini: America's Historic Walk In Space (United Press International, Inc., 1965), p. 13.

27. Newsweek, February 6, 1967, p. 29.

28. Grissom, p. 130.

29. Aviation Week and Space Technology, June 21, 1965, p. 76.

30. Ibid, p. 77.

31. National Geographic, September 1965, p. 443.

32. Aviation Week and Space Technology, p. 77.

33. Newsweek, June 21, 1965, p. 24.

34. U.S. News and World Report, June 14, 1965, p. 35.

35. Ibid.

36. Ibid.

37. NASA Mission Commentary Transcript, Tape 11 (EVA), p. 7.

38. U.S. News and World Report, p. 35.

39. Grissom, p. 129.

40. U.S. News and World Report, p. 35.

41. Grissom, pp. 129 - 130.

42. Newsweek, June 21, 1965, p. 24.

43. United Press International, editors, p. 58.

44. Newsweek, p. 25.

45. Aviation Week and Space Technology, p. 79.

46. Life, February 10, 1967, p. 22.

47. Time, June 25, 1965, p. 33.

48. The New York Times, January 29, 1967, p. 48.

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