Apollo 9 commander James McDivitt dies at 93

Former astronaut James McDivitt (pictured above left) has died at the age of 93. The Apollo 9 commander died in his sleep last Thursday in Tuscon, Arizona.

NASA selected Air Force veteran McDivitt, who flew 145 combat missions in the Korean War and was an experimental test pilot, to be part of its second astronaut class in 1962. His first trip into space was in 1965 as commander of Gemini IV. During this mission, astronaut Ed White performed the first American spacewalk. The four-day mission was NASA’s longest space flight at the time.

McDivitt returned to space four years later as commander of Apollo 9, a key precursor to landing humans on the moon. Launched on March 3, 1969, the mission brought the Lunar Module and all Apollo hardware into space for the first time.

The Apollo 9 crew conducted a technical test of the lunar module in Earth orbit, including a simulation of maneuvers that would be performed during missions to the moon. McDivitt and Lunar Module pilot Russell Schweickart conducted a spacewalk during the mission, which returned to Earth on March 13. Four months later, the lunar module landed on the moon.

After the Apollo 9 mission, McDivitt became head of NASA’s lunar landing operations. McDivitt, who received 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 safely on the moon. After the success of he became manager of the Apollo spacecraft program and guided it through the Apollo 16 mission.

McDivitt retired from NASA and the Air Force in 1972. Among other things, he received two NASA Distinguished Service Medals, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals.

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