Jim McDivitt & the art of analytics

Jim McDivitt, in the foreground, somehow had to reach the hatch over Ed White’s head to clear a jammed locking mechanism during the Gemini 4 flight. McDivitt, born on June 10, 1929, died on October 14. He was a member of NASA’s second group of astronauts chosen in 1962.


If the the righthand hatch of Gemini 4 didn’t seal, Jim McDivitt and Ed White, who’d just completed the first U.S. spacewalk, would face death.   The damn hatch over White’s head had given him trouble opening due to a broken spring.  McDivitt, always weighing the risks, told him, if you can get it open, I can get it shut.  And now, after Whites 20-minute “walk,”  was the time to prove it.

Back in March, during a run in the altitude chamber in St. Louis where McDonnell Aircraft manufactured the Gemini, testing whether they could perform the spacewalk, the hatch had failed to seal.  Technicians had to ramp up the pressure in the chamber before McDivitt and White could exit.  After showering and changing, McDivitt went back, observed a technician working on the hatch.  And learned the secret to clearing a jam in the small cogs in the latching mechanism.

`Now, more than two months later on June 3, 1965, he put his observations to work.  And it wasn’t easy in the cramped Gemini cabin, his partner’s hatch not within easy reach.  Nor was it easy working in bulky pressure gloves — bulky but at risk of being torn on the sharp edges of the hatch mechanism.  On top of that, by now they’d entered the dark side of their orbit.   Maybe it didn’t matter much — as he couldn’t see the mechanism from his side of the capsule.

Working by what feel the gloves granted, he reached around the corner of the hatch, felt his way to the housing of the locking mechanism, down along a small groove.  That led to the gears.  He found the damn cog that was the culprit.  And pushed it into place.

The hatch now would seal.   He was sweating like crazy — it’d taken damn near a half hour to close and latch the hatch.

That was Jim McDivitt, engineer and astronaut.  Who would go on to command the all-important Apollo 9, the first test of the lunar module in March 1969.

That was Jim McDivitt, who would head the Apollo program from Apollos 12 through 16, analyzing risks, overcoming the problems that threatened every mission.  Before the term “analytics” was coined, he masted the art of analysis.

That was Jim McDivitt, who died on October 14 at age 93.


Now there are only four Gemini astronauts still live:  Tom Stafford, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, Dave Scott and Buzz Aldrin.

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