As we watch the United States take new steps in our space program, we also commemorate the 55th anniversary of the first American space walk on June 3, 1965.
The Russian launch of Sputnik in 1957 had spurred U.S. development in space capabilities. The National Aeronautics and Space Act (Pub. L. 85-568, 72 Stat. 426), which established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), was signed by President Eisenhower on August 1, 1958. The specific purpose of this law can be found in its long title, “to provide for research into the problems of flight within and outside the earth’s atmosphere, and for other purposes.”
This law and the establishment of NASA signaled the start of the Project Mercury program, which ran between 1958 and 1963, with the primary goals of orbiting a manned spacecraft around the earth and retrieving that spacecraft.
Three years later, on May 25, 1961, President Kennedy appeared before a special joint session of Congress urging that these goals be expanded and the United States should fund a project to put a man on the moon.
Four years after Kennedy’s speech, the U.S. space program had advanced significantly. A series of spacecraft known as the Ranger, Surveyor and Luna Orbiters had been sent out to either land on or orbit the Moon and gather data on it. During the same period, the Gemini missions had advanced NASA understanding of what it would take for a person to live and work in space. The Gemini IV mission was focused on enabling a man to walk in space.
On June 3, 1965 astronaut Ed White took the first U.S. space walk. Fellow astronaut, Jim McDivit was the pilot for the craft as Ed took a 20 minute walk in space while Gemini IV orbited the earth from Hawaii to the coast of Florida. Although cosmonaut Alexei Leonov had been the first man to walk in space three months earlier, his walk had only lasted 10 minutes. And in the end, the United States won the first round of the space race, putting a man on the moon on July 11, 1969 with Apollo 11.