Lt. Colonel Edward H. White

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LTC Edward Higgins White, II

Birthplace: San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, United States
Death: January 27, 1967 (36)
Cape Kennedy, Florida, United States
Place of Burial: West Point, Orange County, New York, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Edward Higgins White and Mary Rosina White
Husband of Patricia Eileen Finegan White
Father of Private and Private
Brother of Dorotha J. Roberts and Major James Blair White

Find A Grave No.: 1093
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Lt. Colonel Edward H. White

Edward Higgins White, II (Lt Col, USAF) (November 14, 1930 – January 27, 1967) was an engineer, United States Air Force officer and NASA astronaut. On June 3, 1965, he became the first American to "walk" in space. White died along with fellow astronauts Gus Grissom and Roger Chaffee during a pre-launch test for the first manned Apollo mission at Cape Kennedy. He was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his Gemini 4 spaceflight and was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor.

Early years

White was born in San Antonio, Texas, where he attended school and became a member of the Boy Scouts of America. After graduation from high school, he was accepted to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, where in 1952 he earned his Bachelor of Science degree and was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Air Force. White then chose a commission with the U.S. Air Force and attended flight school, a course that takes more than a year. Following graduation from flight school, white was assigned to the 22nd Fighter Day Squadron at Bitburg Air Base, Germany and would spend three and a half years in Germany flying in F-86 Sabre and F-100 Super Sabre squadrons.

In 1958, White enrolled in the University of Michigan under Air Force sponsorship to study aeronautical engineering, where he earned his Master of Science degree in 1959. Following graduation, White was selected to attend the U.S. Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base and was then assigned as a test pilot at the Aeronautical Systems Division at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base. During his career, White would log more than 3,000 flight hours with the Air Force, including about 2,200 hours in jets, and would ultimately attain the rank of lieutenant colonel.

In 1953, White married Patricia Finegan, whom he met while at West Point. The Whites would have two children, Edward White III (born 15 September 1953) and Bonnie Lynn White (born 15 May 1956). White was a devout Methodist.

NASA career

Project Gemini

Main article: Gemini 4

White was one of nine men chosen as part of the second group of astronauts in 1962. Within an already elite group, White was considered to be a high-flier by the management of NASA. He was chosen as Pilot of Gemini 4, with Command Pilot James McDivitt. White became the first American to make a walk in space, on June 3, 1965. He found the experience so exhilarating that he was reluctant to terminate the EVA at the allotted time, and had to be ordered back into the spacecraft. While he was outside, a spare thermal glove floated away through the open hatch of the spacecraft, becoming an early piece of space debris in low-earth orbit, until it burned up upon re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere. There was a mechanical problem with the hatch mechanism, which made it difficult to open and to relatch, which added to the time constraint of the spacewalk, and could have threatened the lives of both men if McDivitt had been unable to get the hatch latched, as they could not re-enter the atmosphere with an unsealed hatch.

This is the saddest moment of my life.

— Astronaut Edward H. White while reentering the spacecraft after his EVA

White's next assignment after Gemini 4 was as the back-up for Gemini 7 Command Pilot Frank Borman. He was also named the astronaut specialist for the flight control systems of the Apollo Command/Service Module. By the usual procedure of crew rotation in the Gemini program, White would have been in line for a second flight as the Command Pilot of Gemini 10 in July 1966, which would have made him the first of his group to fly twice.

Project Apollo

But in March 1966 he was selected as Senior Pilot (second seat) for the first manned Apollo flight, designated AS-204, along with Command Pilot Virgil "Gus" Grissom, who had flown in space on the Mercury 4 Liberty Bell 7 mission and as commander of the Gemini 3 Molly Brown mission, and Pilot Roger Chaffee, who had yet to fly into space. The mission, which the men named Apollo 1 in June, was originally planned for late 1966 (perhaps concurrent with the last Gemini mission), but delays in the spacecraft development pushed the launch into 1967.


Main article: Apollo 1

Launch of Apollo 1 was planned for February 21, 1967, when the crew entered the spacecraft on January 27, mounted atop its Saturn IB booster on Launch Pad 34 at Cape Kennedy, for a "plugs-out" test of the spacecraft, which included a rehearsal of the launch countdown procedure. Mid-way through the test, a fire broke out in the cabin, killing all three men. White's job in an emergency was to open the hatch, which he apparently tried to do; his body was found in his center seat, with his arms reaching over his head toward the hatch. This was an impossible task, as the hatch opened into the cabin and was held in place by greater than atmospheric pressure. The fire increased the pressure to the point where the cabin wall ruptured, and the astronauts were killed by asphyxiation and smoke inhalation.

The fire's ignition source was never determined, but their deaths were attributed to a wide range of lethal hazards in the early Apollo Command Module design and workmanship, and conditions of the test, including: the highly pressurized 100% oxygen pre-launch atmosphere; many wiring and plumbing flaws; flammable materials used in the cockpit and the astronauts' flight suits; and the hatch which could not be opened quickly in an emergency. After the tragedy, these problems were fixed, and the Apollo program carried on successfully to reach its objective of landing men on the Moon.

White was buried with full military honors at West Point Cemetery while Grissom and Chaffee are both buried in Section 3 (GPS Coordinates: 38.873115 N, -77.072755 W) of Arlington National Cemetery.

In 1997, White was posthumously awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor. White was inducted into the Astronaut Hall of Fame in 1993 and the National Aviation Hall of Fame on July 18, 2009.

His wife Patricia remarried and continued to reside in Houston. On September 7, 1983 she committed suicide after surgery earlier in the year to remove a tumor.



Many schools have been named in honor of Lt Colonel White:

Edward White Elementary Career Academy in Chicago
Edward H. White Middle School in San Antonio, Texas
Ed White Elementary School in El Lago, Texas
Edward White Elementary School in Eldridge, Iowa
Ed White Memorial High School in League City, Texas
Edward H. White High School in Jacksonville, Florida
Edward H. White Elementary School in Houston, Texas.
Ed White Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama. Huntsville is home to NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center and has strong community ties to the space program. At the same time, the Huntsville City Schools named Roger B. Chaffee Elementary School and Virgil I. Grissom High School for White's fallen Apollo 1 crewmates.

Other sites

One of two Apollo 1 memorial plaques at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station Launch Complex 34. Edward White Hospital in St. Petersburg, Florida.

Edward H. White II Park in Fullerton, California. Fullerton has also named parks in honor of Chaffee and Grissom.
Island White, an artificial island in Long Beach Harbor off Southern California.
Edward H. White Hall is a dormitory at Sheppard Air Force Base in Wichita Falls, Texas. White Hall houses the 365th Training Squadron which train aircraft avionics troops.
Edward White Way, a service road at Oakland International Airport, Oakland, California.
Edward White Drive in Amherst, New York.
McDivitt-White Plaza is located outside of West Hall at the University of Michigan. West Hall formerly housed the College of Engineering and counts James McDivitt and Ed White among its alumni (McDivitt earned his B.S. and White earned his M.S. at the University of Michigan).
The dismantled Launch Pad 34 at Cape Canaveral bears two memorial plaques: One says, They gave their lives in service to their country in the ongoing exploration of humankind's final frontier. Remember them not for how they died but for those ideals for which they lived. and the other, In memory of those who made the ultimate sacrifice so others could reach for the stars. Ad astra per aspera, (a rough road leads to the stars). God speed to the crew of Apollo 1.

In space

The star Iota Ursae Majoris was nicknamed "Dnoces" ("Second", as in "Edward Higgins White the Second", spelled backwards).

White Hill, 11.2 km (7.0 mi) northwest of Columbia Memorial Station on Mars, is a part of the Apollo 1 Hills.
A photograph of White performing his Gemini 4 space walk is included as one of several images on the Voyager Golden Record.


Eight months after his death, in September 1967, a postage stamp was issued by the United States Post Office, commemorating White's space walk, the first-ever by an American. It was the first time in USPO history that the design was actually spread over two stamps (one which featured White, the other his Gemini capsule, the two connected by a tether), which was considered befitting the "twins" aspect of the Gemini mission. White's name did not appear on the stamps.

White in the movies

White was played by Steven Ruge in the 1995 film Apollo 13 and by Chris Isaak in the 1998 miniseries From the Earth to the Moon.

Physical description

Weight: 176 lb (80 kg)
Height: 5 ft 11 in (1.80 m)
Hair: Reddish Brown
Eyes: brown
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Lt. Colonel Edward H. White's Timeline

November 14, 1930
San Antonio, Bexar County, Texas, United States
January 27, 1967
Age 36
Florida, United States
West Point, Orange County, New York, United States