How did James McDivitt die? Apollo 9 commander played major role in putting first humans on moon

How did James McDivitt die? Apollo 9 commander played major role in putting first humans on moon
Former NASA astronaut James McDivitt oversaw the Gemini IV and Apollo 9 missions (NASA)

TUCSON, ARIZONA: Former NASA astronaut James McDivitt, who oversaw the Gemini IV and Apollo 9 missions, passed away peacefully in his sleep last week in Tucson, Arizona, according to a statement released by NASA on October 17. He was 93 years old. 

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According to NASA, McDivitt passed away on October 13 surrounded by his family and friends. McDivitt, who was chosen to be a member of NASA's second astronaut class in 1962 (called the 'New Nine'), made significant contributions to the Apollo 9 mission, which ultimately assisted the Apollo 11 mission in putting the first humans on the moon. His work on Gemini IV also contributed to nearly doubling of astronauts' time in space at that point in the history of space. 

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On McDivitt's first mission as commander, Ed White, an American astronaut, made history on the Gemini IV mission in 1965 by going outside the spacecraft in what would later be referred to as a spacewalk. His shots of White taken during the spacewalk have become famous. After the Apollo 11 lunar landing, he turned down the opportunity to land on the moon and worked as the space agency's programme manager for five more Apollo missions.

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American astronauts James A McDivitt (left) and Edward H White (holding a model of their rocket) arriving for an after show after returning home safely from their Gemini 4 space flight, Paris, 1965. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American astronauts James A McDivitt (left) and Edward H White (holding a model of their rocket) arriving for an after show after returning home safely from their Gemini 4 space flight, Paris, 1965. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“In the following years, it was a skill that allowed Apollo explorers to walk on the Moon and American astronauts and their partners from around the world to build the International Space Station,” NASA wrote in the statement.

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The lightweight lunar lander, known as Spider, was put to the test for the first time in orbit on McDivitt's flight alongside fellow Apollo 9 crew members Rusty Schweickart and David Scott. They wanted to test if humans could live there, whether it could dock with other spacecraft in orbit, and—most importantly during the Apollo 13 crisis—whether the lunar module's engines could operate a stack of spacecraft that included the command module Gumdrop.

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The former astronaut was born in Chicago and completed his high school education from Kalamazoo, Micigan. In 1959, he graduated first in his class from the University of Michigan with a bachelor's degree in aeronautical engineering. His alma mater expressed its sorrow over his passing, noting that his contributions to the school "have inspired generations of students."

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In 1951, McDivitt enlisted in the US Air Force. He flew 145 combat mission during the Korean War. For his service in the military, he received several awards, including two Air Force Distinguished Service Medals. In 1972, McDivitt left the Air Force and NASA for a number of positions in the private sector, including head of Pullman Inc.'s railcar division and a senior post with aerospace company Rockwell International.

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