On the 50th anniversary of the first spacewalk in U.S. history, NASA Wednesday posthumously awarded astronaut Ed White, America’s first spacewalker, its Ambassador of Exploration Award at a ceremony at the West Point Museum at the United States Military Academy West Point in New York.
White achieved this first in U.S. space exploration history in 1965 while serving as the pilot of Gemini 4, a four-day mission that began on June 3 and during which he carried out the first extra vehicular activity (EVA). He was outside Gemini 4 for 21 minutes and became the first man to control himself in space during an EVA with a maneuvering unit – a hand-held oxygen jet gun.
White’s first excursion into space on June 3, 1965 put America on pace to walk on the moon just four years later, capture and repair satellites in orbit, construct the International Space Station, and prepare us for our journey to Mars.
At the ceremony, West Point superintendent Lieutenant General Robert L. Caslen Jr. presented a lunar sample with the award to White’s daughter, Bonnie Baer, and former NASA astronaut and West Point graduate Bill McArthur spoke about the significance of the Ambassador of Exploration award.
“In many ways, Ed’s spacewalk was the modern day equivalent of Lewis and Clark’s portage across the Gates of the Mountains during exploration of the West. He had ventured into uncharted territory,” said NASA Deputy Administrator Dava Newman. “That historical achievement is a big part of the reason why Mars is now within our sights, and we will continue to push EVA technological advancements as we move forward on our journey to Mars.”
White was serving as a U.S. Air Force lieutenant colonel, with more than 3,000 hours flying time, when he was selected to join NASA’s astronaut corps in September 1962. White received the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the U.S. Air Force Senior Astronaut Wings for his role in the Gemini 4 mission.
NASA’s Ambassador of Exploration awards have been given to the first generation of explorers in the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo space programs. The award is a moon rock encased in Lucite, mounted for public display. The rock is part of the 842 pounds of lunar samples collected during six Apollo expeditions from 1969 to 1972.
The Ambassador of Exploration Awards will remain the property of NASA, but be displayed at the West Point Museum.
Ed White’s biography is available here.