Former NASA astronaut James McDivitt (pictured above, on the left) has died at the age of 93. The Apollo 9 commander passed away in his sleep in Tuscon, Arizona, last Thursday, the agency said.
NASA selected Air Force veteran McDivitt, who flew 145 combat missions in the Korean War and was an experimental test pilot, as part of its second astronaut class in 1962. His first trip to space was in 1965, as the commander of Gemini IV. During that mission, astronaut Ed White conducted the first spacewalk by an American. The four-day mission was the longest NASA spaceflight at that point.
McDivitt returned to space four years later as the commander of Apollo 9, an important precursor to landing humans on the Moon. The mission, which launched on March 3rd, 1969, took the lunar module and the full set of Apollo hardware to space for the first time.
The Apollo 9 crew conducted an engineering test of the lunar module in Earth’s orbit, including a simulation of maneuvers that would be carried out during missions to the Moon. McDivitt and lunar module pilot Russell Schweickart carried out a spacewalk during the mission, which returned to Earth on March 13th. Four months later, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin landed the lunar module on the Moon.
After the Apollo 9 mission, McDivitt became NASA’s manager of lunar landing operations. McDivitt, who held a bachelor’s degree in aeronautical engineering from the University of Michigan, and his team planned the lunar exploration program and redesigned the spacecraft to ensure it landed on the Moon safely. Following the success of Apollo 11, he became manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program and led it through the Apollo 16 mission.
McDivitt retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1972. Among other honors, he received two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals.