James A. McDivitt, who commanded NASA’s first space mission and later participated in the first manned orbital flight of the lunar module, a key step toward a human ascent to the moon, died Friday in Tucson, Ariz.
His daughter, Katie Pierce, confirmed his death.
When he joined the Air Force in 1951 as an airplane cadet after attending junior college, Mr. McDivitt had “never been in an airplane, never been on the ground,” he recalled in an interview for NASA’s Johnson Space Center Oral History Project.
He went on missions to fly 145 fighter jets during the Korean War, became an Air Force test pilot, then was selected by NASA in September 1962 as one of the nine astronauts of the Gemini program, a bridge between the original Mercury Seven astronauts. and leading Apollo in the ports of the moon.
Mr. McDivitt was in charge of Gemini 4, which orbited the earth for nearly 98 hours over four days in June 1965, a record for a two-person space flight.
The main purpose of the mission was to determine whether the astronauts could survive longer in space, and in the end they did. But his most famous achievement was the achievement of twenty minutes of space by Master McDivitt’s fellow sailor, Edward H. White 2d, who had been his classmate at the University of Michigan and became a friend.
Mr. McDivitt created a stir when he reported spotting what appeared to be an orbiting satellite near his boat and took photographs.
As he later recounted in a NASA oral history: “It had a geometric shape like a beer can or poplar, and with a little bit maybe like lead or something sticking out of it. It was all white. “
When NASA and Mr. McDivitt reviewed the images, they found nothing that looked like a UFO. He said he probably saw a piece of ice or Mylar that had slipped into his space capsule.
The supposed UFO saga has drawn him for years. He once famously said, “I was the world’s expert on UFOs – unfortunately.” But there was some humor in it. In January 1974, he played himself in an episode of “The Brady Bunch” TV series, in which he appeared and suggested that there are not only Earthlings in the universe.
Mr. McDivitt’s second and final space mission came in March 1969, when he commanded the Apollo 9 flight, a 10-day orbital flight with a three-person crew. Mr. McDivitt flew with Russell L. Schweickart in the test pilot of the lunar module, the prototype space vehicle that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon four months later. With David R. Scott skillfully piloting Apollo 9, the lunar module idled away, orbited more than 100 miles, and then returned.
James Alton McDivitt was born on June 10, 1829 in Chicago and grew up in Kalamazoo, Mich. After attending high school there, he worked as a water boiler repairman, then attended Jackson Junior College in Jackson, Mich. Air Force.
After the Korean War he was sent by the Air Force to the University of Michigan for his last two years of college. He graduated first in his class in 1959 with a Bachelor of Science degree in aeronautical engineering.
He became a test pilot at Edwards Air Force Base in California, then entered the Air Force aerospace research program there, a training facility for prospective astronauts. He was soon picked up for the Gemini program.
(In January 1967, less than two years after the Gemini 4 orbiter, his crew and friend on that mission, Mr. White, and two other astronauts died when their Apollo spacecraft, perched on a Saturn rock at Cape Canaveral in Florida, burst into flames. by experiment).
In the spring of 1969, Mr. McDivitt became manager of NASA’s lunar landing operations, as preparations for Apollo 11’s first moon landing came to a climax. He was named program manager following the Apollo missions, which were epic flights.
He retired from NASA and the Air Force as a lieutenant general in 1972 and later was an executive with Consumers Power Company, Pullman and the aerospace and electronics company Rockwell International.
A previous marriage to Patricia Haas ended in divorce. In addition to his daughter Ms. Pierce, from his first marriage, Mr. McDivitt is survived by three other children from that marriage, Ann Walz and Michael and Patrick McDivitt; wife, Judith (Odell) McDivitt; two stepsons, Joe and Jeff Bagby; seven grandchildren; five stepchildren; and six great-grandchildren.
For all the celebrity status of an astronaut in the early years of space, Mr. McDivitt had been figuratively brought down to earth by his children.
Shortly after announcing to the public that he had been chosen for Gemini 4, he gathered his children (he had three at the time) at the breakfast table one Saturday morning.
What he said: “I said, Kids, I have something important to tell you. I’m just going to fly in space.”
His older children said they had already heard it at school. His son Patrick, 4 years old at the time, told us something about his family: “Guess what it is, a bug in a milk bottle on the front porch.
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