Tag Archives: Astronaut

15 May 1963, 13:04:13.106 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.106

Mercury Atlas 9 (MA-9), consisting of Faith 7 and Atlas 130-D, lifts off from Launch Complex 14 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Florida, at 13:04:13 UTC, 15 May 1963. (NASA)

15 May 1963: At 8:04:13.106 a.m., Eastern Standard Time, Mercury-Atlas 9, carrying NASA astronaut, L. Gordon Cooper aboard Faith 7, lifted off from Launch Complex 14, Cape Canaveral Air Force Base, Florida. Cooper reported, “The liftoff was smooth, but very definite, the acceleration was very pleasant. The booster had a very good feel to it and it felt like we were real on the go, there.” The maximum acceleration experienced during launch was 7.6 gs.

Faith 7 separated from the Atlas booster at T+00:05:05.5.3 and entered low Earth orbit with an apogee of 165.9 statute miles (267.0 kilometers) and perigee of 100.3 statute miles (161.4 kilometers). The orbital period was 88 minutes, 45 seconds. The spacecraft’s velocity was 25,714.0 feet per second (7,837.6 meters per second), or 17,532.3 miles per hour (28,215.5 kilometers per hour).

Major L. Gordon Cooper, Jr., United States Air Force. NASA Astronaut. (March 6, 1927 – October 4, 2004). Major Cooper is wearing a modified U.S. Navy Mark IV full-pressure suit produced by B.F. Goodrich. (NASA)

MA-9 was the final flight of Project Mercury. Gordon Cooper flew 22.5 orbits. Due to electrical system problems that began on the 21st orbit, he had to fly a manual reentry which resulted in the most accurate landing of the Mercury program.

The spacecraft’s three retrorockets fired 5 second intervals beginning at T+33:59:30. 34 hours, 19 minutes, 49 seconds after lift off, Faith 7 “splashed down” approximately 70 miles (112.7 kilometers) southeast of Midway Atoll in the North Pacific Ocean, just 4.4 miles (7.1 kilometers) from the primary recovery ship, the United States Navy Ticonderoga-class aircraft carrier USS Kearsarge (CV-33).

Mercury spacecraft profile with dimensions. (NASA)

The Mercury spacecraft, which Cooper named Faith 7, was built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was the 20th and final Mercury capsule to be built, and was one of four which were modified to support a day-long mission. Some items considered unnecessary were deleted and extra oxygen and battery capacity was added.

Designed to carry one pilot, the Mercury space craft could be controlled in pitch, roll and yaw by thrusters. The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). Faith 7 weighed 4,330.82 pounds (1,964.43 kilograms) at liftoff.

During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry) so it could not change its orbit.

The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi with 100% oxygen. Gordon Cooper wore a modified  B.F. Goodrich Mark IV full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost. Cooper’s suit varied considerably from those worn by previous Mercury astronauts.

Mercury-Atlas 9 at Laucnh Complex 14. The gantry has been pulled back, but the rocket has not been filled with propellants. (NASA)
Mercury-Atlas 9 at Launch Complex 14. The gantry has been pulled back, but the rocket has not been filled with propellants. Two men at the lower right of the image provide scale.(NASA)

The rocket, a “1-½ stage” liquid-fueled Atlas LV-3B, number 130-D, was built by the  Convair Division of General Dynamics at San Diego, California. It was developed from a U.S. Air Force SM-65 Atlas D intercontinental ballistic missile, modified for use as a “man-rated” orbital launch vehicle.

The LV-3B was 65 feet (19.812 meters) long from the base to the Mercury adapter section, and the tank section is 10 feet (3.038 meters) in diameter. The complete Mercury-Atlas orbital launch vehicle is 93 feet (28.436 meters) tall, including the escape tower. When ready for launch it weighed approximately 260,000 pounds (117,934 kilograms).

Diagram of Atlas LV-3B with Metric dimensions. (Space Launch Report)

The Atlas’ three engines were built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. Two Rocketdyne LR89-NA-5 engines and one LR105-NA-5 produced 341,140 pounds (1,517.466 kilonewtons) of thrust. The rocket was fueled by a highly-refined kerosene, RP-1, with liquid oxygen as the oxidizer.

Faith 7 is displayed at the Space Center Houston, the visitor center for the Johnson Space Flight Center, Houston, Texas.

Mercury-Atlas 9 at Launch Complex 14. (NASA GPN-2000-000609)

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

5 May 1961, 13:34:13.48 UTC, T plus 00:00:00.48

Mercury-Redstone 3 lifts off from LC-5, 10:34:13 EDT, 5 May 1961. (NASA)
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., astronaut. (NASA)
Alan Bartlett Shepard Jr., Astronaut. (NASA)

At 10:34:13.48 a.m., Eastern Daylight Time ¹ (13:34:13.48 UTC), 5 May 1961, Mercury-Redstone 3 lifted off from Launch Complex 5 at the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, Cape Canaveral, Florida. On board was a NASA Astronaut, Commander Alan Bartlett Shepard, Jr., United States Navy. Shepard had named his spacecraft Freedom 7.

This was the very first time that an American astronaut had been carried into space aboard a rocket and came 23 days after Soviet Union Cosmonaut Yuri Alekseyevich Gagarin had completed one orbit of the Earth.

During the launch, acceleration reached 6.3 gs. The Redstone’s engine shut down at T+02:21.3, with the rocket having reached a velocity of 7,388 feet per second (2,251.9 meters per second). 10 seconds later, the Mercury spacecraft separated from the Redstone booster. The spacecraft’s maximum speed was 5,134 miles per hour (8,262.4 kilometers per hour). For the next 5 minutes, 4 seconds, Alan Shepard was “weightless.” Freedom 7 reached a peak altitude of 101.2 nautical miles (116.46 statute miles/187.42 kilometers), 0.9 nautical miles (1.7 kilometers) higher than planned.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., seated in the cockpit of Freedom 7 before launch, 5 May 1961. (NASA)

Alan Shepard’s flight was suborbital. The rocket launched the capsule on a ballistic trajectory. During the flight, Shepard demonstrated the use of manually controlled thrusters to orient the Mercury capsule in three axes.

Freedom 7 began reentry to the atmosphere at T+07:38. Deceleration forces reached 11.0 gs. Shepard manually controlled the vehicle’s attitude, and once correctly oriented for reentry, reverted to automatic control. With the blunt (bottom) end of the spacecraft forward, aerodynamic drag slowed the capsule. A spherical-segment ablative Beryllium heat shield protected the space ship and its passenger.

On reaching the lower atmosphere, the capsule’s speed was reduced by a 63-foot (19.2 meter) diameter ring-sail parachute, and a “landing bag” deployed from the base of the spacecraft to provide an impact cushion. The landing, or “splash down,” took place in the Atlantic Ocean, 263.1 nautical miles (302.8 statute miles/487.3 kilometers) down range, 6.8 nautical miles (7.8 miles/12.6 kilometers) farther than planned. (N. 75° 53′, W. 27° 13.7′)

The total duration of Alan Shepard’s flight was 15 minutes, 28 seconds. All mission objectives were accomplished and no malfunctions occurred.

Alan B. Shepard, Jr., being hoisted aboard the Sikorsky HUS-1 Seahorse helicopter, N. 75° 53′, W. 27° 13.7′, in the Atlantic Ocean, 5 May 1961. (NASA)

Eleven minutes after splash down, Commander Shepard was hoisted from the capsule to a hovering U.S. Marine Corps HUS-1 Sea Horse (Sikorsky S-58) helicopter of Marine Helicopter Transport Squadron (Light) 262 (HMR(L)-262).² The helicopter then lifted the Mercury capsule and flew to the nearby U.S. Navy Ticonderoga-class anti-submarine aircraft carrier, USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39). The Mercury capsule was returned to Cape Canaveral for inspection and found to be in excellent condition.

U.S. Marine Corps HUS-1 Seahorse (Sikorsky S-58) Bu. No. 148767 of HMR(L)-262 hovers while hoisting Alan Shepard from Freedom 7 after his sub-orbital flight, 5 May 1961. The Mercury capsule will also be lifted from the ocean by the helicopter and carried to USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39). (NASA)
USS Lake Champlain (CVS-39), 1 July 1960. (U.S. Navy)

Freedom 7 was the seventh of twenty Mercury capsules built by McDonnell Aircraft Corporation at St. Louis, Missouri, which would also build the follow-on, two-place Gemini spacecraft. It was delivered to Cape Canaveral 9 December 1960.

The space capsule was truncated cone with sides angled 20° from the longitudinal axis. It was 6 feet, 10 inches (2.083 meters) long and had a maximum diameter of 6 feet, 2.50 inches (1.892 meters). The total height of the spacecraft, from the tip of the aero spike to the booster adapter, was 26 feet, 1.26 inches (7.957 meters). At launch, Freedom 7 weighed 4,040.28 pounds (1,832.64 kilograms).

Project Mercury spacecraft under construction at McDonnell Aircraft Corporation, St. Louis, Missouri. (NASA)

During flight outside the atmosphere, the Mercury spacecraft could be controlled in its pitch, roll and yaw axes by hydrogen peroxide-fueled reaction control thrusters. Both manual and automatic attitude control were available. It could not accelerate or decelerate (except for reentry), so it could not change its orbit.

The spacecraft cabin was pressurized to 5.5 psi (0.38 Bar) with 100% oxygen. The astronaut wore a B.F. Goodrich Mark IV Model 3 Type I full-pressure suit and flight helmet for protection in the event that cabin pressure was lost.

Mercury-Redstone Launch Vehicle with dimensions. (NASA)

The Redstone MRLV rocket was a redesigned, “man rated” version of the Chrysler Corporation Missile Division-built United States Army M8 Redstone nuclear-armed medium range ballistic missile (MRBM). It was lengthened to provide greater fuel capacity, a pressurized instrumentation section was added, the control systems were simplified for greater reliability, and an inflight abort sensing system was installed. The rocket fuel was changed from hydrazine to ethyl alcohol.

The cylindrical booster was 59.00 feet (17.983 meters) long and 5 feet, 10 inches (1.778 meters) in diameter. The rocket had four guidance fins with rudders mounted at the tail section. (Interestingly, the Redstone stood freely on the launch pad. No hold-downs were used. The guidance fins supported the entire weight of the vehicle.)

Compare the U.S. Army M8 Redstone medium-range ballistic missile in this photograph to the Mercury-Redstone launch vehicle in the photograph above. This rocket, CC-1002, was the first Block 1 tactical rocket, photographed at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 16 May 1958. (NASA)

The Redstone MRLV was powered by a single liquid-fueled NAA 75-110-A7 rocket engine built by the Rocketdyne Division of North American Aviation, Inc., at Canoga Park, California. The MR-3 A7 produced 78,860 pounds of thrust (350.79 kilonewtons) at Sea Level, and approximately 89,000 pounds (395.89 kilonewtons) in vacuum, burning ethyl alcohol with liquid oxygen.

The total vehicle height of Mercury-Redstone 3, including the booster, adapter, capsule and escape tower, was 83.38 feet (25.414 meters). The total MR-3 vehicle launch weight was 66,098 pounds (29,982 kilograms).

Alan B. Shepard, Jr. is credited with two Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) World Records for this flight:

FAI Record File Num [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: K (Space records)
Sub-Class: K-1 (Suborbital missions)
Category: Spacecraft with one astronaut
Group: General category
Type of record: Altitude
Performance: 186.307 km
Date: 1961-05-05
Course/Location: Cape Canaveral, FL (USA)
Claimant Alan B. Shepard, Jr (USA)
Spacecraft: NASA Mercury Redstone MR-7 / Capsule Mercury Spacecraft n°7

FAI Record File Num [Direct Link]
Status: ratified – current record
Region: World
Class: K (Space records)
Sub-Class: K-1 (Suborbital missions)
Category: Spacecraft with one astronaut
Group: General category
Type of record: Greatest mass lifted to altitude
Performance: 1 832.51 kg
Date: 1961-05-05
Course/Location: Cape Canaveral, FL (USA)
Claimant Alan B. Shepard, Jr (USA)
Spacecraft: NASA Mercury Redstone MR-7 / Capsule Mercury Spacecraft n°7

The flight of Freedom 7 was the first manned spaceflight in the 50-year history of the NASA program.³ Alan Shepard would later command Apollo 14, the third successful manned lunar landing mission, in 1971.

Alan Shepard’s Mercury spacecraft, Freedom 7, is on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

Alan Shepard’s Freedom 7 on display at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, Boston, Massachusetts.

¹ In 1961, Daylight Saving Time in the United States began on 30 April, just six days before Shepard’s flight. Contemporary newspaper articles about the flight frequently give the time of the launch in both standard time and daylight saving time.

² Sikorsky HUS-1 Sea Horse, Bu. No. 148767, modex ET-44. Sikorsky serial number 581318.

³ From the liftoff of Mercury-Redstone 3 until wheel stop of Space Shuttle Discovery (STS-135), the era of NASA’s Manned Spaceflight Programs lasted 50 years, 2 months, 15 days, 20 hours, 23 minutes, 41 seconds.

© 2019, Bryan R. Swopes

Virgil Ivan Grissom (3 April 1926 – 27 January 1967)

Astronaut Virgil I. Grissom with scale model of Gemini/Titan II launch vehicle. (NASA)
Virgil Ivan Grissom (1944 Gold and Blue)

3 April 1926: Virgil Ivan Grissom was born at Mitchell, Indiana, the second of five children of Dennis David Grissom, an electrician, and Cecile King Grissom. “Gus” Grissom attended Mitchell High School, graduating in 1944. He was a member of the Hi-Y Club, the Camera Club, and the Signal Club.

Upon graduation from high school. Virgil I. Grissom enlisted as an aviation cadet in the Air Corps, United States Army, at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Lawrence, Indiana, 9 August 1944. He was assigned to basic flight training at Sheppard Field, Texas, but the War came to an end before he could graduate as a pilot. Then reassigned as a clerk, he requested to be discharged from the Air Corps, which he was in November 1945.

Grissom married Miss Betty Lavonne Moore at Mitchell, Indiana, 6 July 1945. They wood have two sons, Scott and Mark. (In Korea, Grissom named his F-86 Scotty after his first son.)

After the war, Grissom enrolled at Purdue University, Lafayette, Indiana, and in 1950, graduated with the degree of Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering.

He then re-joined the U.S. Air Force in 1950 and was trained at Randolph Air Force Base, Texas, and Williams Air Base, Arizona, where he specialized as a fighter pilot.  He was commissioned as a second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force, in March 1952.

Lieutenant Grissom was assigned to he 334th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 4th Fighter Interceptor Wing, based at Kenpo Air Base (K-14), in the Republic of South Korea. He flew 100 combat missions in the North American Aviation F-86 Sabre. Grissom was promoted to first lieutenant, 11 March 1952. he requested to fly another 25 combat missions, but that was declined and he returned to the United States. Lieutenant Grissom was then assigned as a flight instructor at Bryan Air Force Base, Texas.

Grissom attended a one year program at the Air Force Institute of Technology at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, Dayton, Ohio, and earned a second bachelor’s degree in aircraft engineering. He was then sent to the Air Force Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California (Class 56D). After completion, he was assigned as a fighter test pilot back at Wright-Patterson.

One of 508 pilots who were considered by NASA for Project Mercury, Gus Grissom was in the group of 110 that were asked to attend secret meetings for further evaluation. From that group, 32 went on with the selection process and finally 18 were recommended for the program. Grissom was one of the seven selected.

Mercury-Redstone 4 (Liberty Bell 7) launch at Pad 5, Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, 12 20 36 UTC, 21 July 1961. (NASA)

Major Grissom was the second American to “ride the rocket” aboard Mercury-Redstone 4. He named his space capsule Liberty Bell 7. The spacecraft reached a maximum altitude of 102.8 nautical miles (118.3 statute miles, 190.4 kilometers) and traveled 262.5 nautical miles (302.1 statute miles, 486.2 kilometers) down range. During the 15 minute, 37 second, flight, Grissom was weightless for 5:00 minutes.

Next he orbited Earth as commander of Gemini III along with fellow astronaut John Young. He was back-up commander for Gemini VI-A, then went on to the Apollo Program.

The flight crew of Gemini III, John W. Young and Virgil I. Grissom. (NASA)

Gus Grissom was selected as the commander for Apollo I in January 1968. This was to be the first manned flight of the Apollo spacecraft. Ed White and Roger Chaffee were the other members of the flight crew.

As commander of AS-204 (Apollo I), LCOL Virgil I. Grissom, USAF was killed along with Ed White and Roger Chafee during a test on the launchpad, 27 January 1967.

The crew of Apollo 1. Left to right, Lieutenant Colonel Virgil I. Grissom, United States Air Force, Lieutenant Colonel Edward H. White II, United States Air Force, and Lieutenant Commander Roger B. Chaffee, United States Navy. (NASA)

Gus Grissom was an Air Force Command Astronaut with over 4,600 hours flight time. He was the first American astronaut to fly into space twice, and logged 5 hours, 7 minutes of space flight. For his military service, Grissom was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross; the Air Medal with one bronze oak leaf cluster (two awards); the American Campaign medal; the World War II Victory Medal; teh Korean Service Medal; the United Nations Korea medal, and the Korean War Service Medal of the Republic of South Korea. For his NASA service, he was awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor (posthumous); the NASA Distinguished Service Medal (two awards); and the NASA Exceptional Service Medal.

Had he lived, it is very possible that Grissom would have commanded the first Apollo mission to land on The Moon.

The remains of Lieutenant Colonel Virgil Ivan Grissom, United States Air Force, NASA Astronaut, are buried at the Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia.

© 2018, Bryan R. Swopes

Robert Michael White (6 July 1924–17 March 2010)

Major Robert Michael White, United States Air Force, with a North American Aviation, Inc., X-15 hypersonic research rocketplane, at Edwards Air Force Base, California, 19 November 1959. (Arnold Newman)

Robert Michael White was born 6 July 1924, in Manhattan, New York City. He was the first of two sons of Michael White, a baker, and Helen (Karoline) Butz White, an immigrant from Austria. He attended a vocational high school in The Bronx where he studied to be an electrician. After school and on weekends, White worked as a telegram messenger for Western Union.

White enlisted in the United States Army Air Forces as an Aviation Cadet in November 1942. When he completed flight training in February 1944, White was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He had been trained as a fighter pilot and was sent to England to join the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group, at RAF Steeple Morden in Hertfordshire. He first entered combat during July 1944 flying the North American Aviation P-51 Mustang.

In this photograph, Lieutenant Robert M. White is on the right, with Lieutenant F. Mark Johnson (left) and Major Lee G. Mendenhall (center), all of the 354th Fighter Squadron, 355th Fighter Group. Lieutenant Johnson’s fighter, “Sweet Dosey II,” is a North American Aviation P-51D-10-NA Mustang, 44-14089. (Little Friends)
North American Aviation P-51B/C Mustangs of the 354th Fighter Squadron. Lieutenant White’s fighter was coded WR-V. (U.S. Air Force)

On his 52nd combat mission, 23 February 1945, White, call sign “Falcon Green One,” was strafing Neuberg Airfield in Germany, when his North American Aviation P-51C-10-NT Mustang 42-103795, WR-V, Dutchess of Manhattan, was hit by ground fire. Too low to bail out, he crash landed in a forest clearing near Boehnfeld. (MACR 12398)

MACR 12398, statement of Falcon Green Two.

White was captured and held as a prisoner of war. He was moved around to various POW camps in Germany before being taken to Stalag III-D in Berlin. A railroad train on which he was being moved was strafed by American P-51 fighters. Many passengers were wounded or killed, but White was unhurt. As the Allies advanced, this camp was evacuated and the prisoners were marched 110 miles (177 kilometers) to Stalag VII-A in southern Bavaria. Stalag VII-A was the largest POW camp in Germany, with more than 130,000 Allied prisoners.

“Aerial view of German prison of war camp Stalag 7A near Moosburg, Bavaria, Germany, where thousands of USAAF prisoners of war were imprisoned along with thousands of allied prisoners of various nationalities. Most AF prisoners arrived here from Stalag Luft III, Sagen Germany about 4th Feb 45. This photo was taken 20 days before the camp was liberated by US ground forces. The German guard garrison was housed in the group of long barrack buildings in the right centre of the photo. Parked in the parade ground are 22 white GI trucks which delivered thousands of red cross food parcels to the hungry POW’s. 9th April 1945.” (American Air Museum in Britain UPL 36313)

Stalag VII-A was liberated by Combat Command A, 14th Armored Division, Seventh  Army, on 29 April 1945. White was taken to a relocation center in France, then eventually returned to America aboard a Liberty ship. Lieutenant White was released from active duty at Fort Dix, New Jersey, but retained an officer’s commission in the USAAF Reserve.

While attending New York University (NYU), he made regular currency flights at Mitchel Field, flying a North American Aviation AT-6 Texan.

Identical to the Inglewood, California-built North American Aviation P-51B Mustang, this is a Dallas, Texas-built P-51C-1-NT, 42-103023. (North American Aviation, Inc.)

On 7 February 1948, Bob White married Miss Doris M. Allen at the Holy Name Church in New York. They would have four children.

Bob White graduated from NYU in May 1951 with a Bachelor of Science degree in Electrical Engineering (BSEE).

During the Korean War, White was recalled to active duty, assigned as a pilot and engineering officer, 514th Troop Carrier Wing, Mitchel AFB, New York. In February 1952 he was sent to the 40th Fighter Interceptor Squadron, 35th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Johnson Air Base near Tokyo, Japan, flying F-51 Mustangs. As the unit transitioned to jet fighters, Lieutenant White received 50 hours of training in the Lockheed T-33, and was then assigned to fly F-80 Shooting Stars. He applied for a commission as a regular officer in the U.S. Air Force, which was approved, and he was promoted to the rank of captain. After 18 months overseas, he returned to the United States to attend the Squadron Officer’s School at Maxwell AFB, Alabama. He finished first in his class.

While at Maxwell, Captain White applied to the Test Pilot School at Edwards AFB in California. He was accepted and in June 1954 began 6 months of training at Edwards. On completion of the school, he was assigned to Edwards under Lieutenant Colonel Frank Kendall (“Pete”) Everest, chief of flight test operations. He flew “chase” in the F-86 and F-100, made test flights in the Convair F-102, North American F-86K Sabre, Northrop F-89H Scorpion, the Ryan X-13, and the Republic YF-105A and F-105B Thunderchief.

Republic F-105B-1-RE Thunderchief 54-102. Captain Bob White test flew the YF-105A and F-105B Thunderchief when he was at Edwards AFB. (U.S. Air Force)

When the Air Force’s selection to test the North American Aviation X-15, Captain Iven Kincheloe, was killed, White was assigned to the X-15 hypersonic research program.

The X-15 is dropped from the NB-52 at an altitude of 45,000–50,000 feet, at Mach 0.82. (NASA)

Major White flew 16 flights in the X-15 rocket plane over a 32 month period. He was the third pilot to fly the X-15, and he was the first pilot to exceed Mach 4, Mach 5 and Mach 6. His maximum speed during the program was Mach 6.04 (4,093 miles per hour/6,589 kilometers per hour), 9 November 1961. On 17 July 1962, he flew the X-15 to an altitude of 314,750 feet (95,936 meters). He set a Fédération Aéronautique Internationale world record for altitude gain (aircraft launched from a carrier aircraft), of 82,190 meters (269,652 feet),¹ and qualified as an Air Force astronaut.

A. Scott Crossfield, Major Bob White and NASA test pilot Neil Armstrong, at the X-15-2 delivery ceremony 7 February 1961, NASA Dryden Flight Research Center, Edwards AFB,California. (AFFTC/HO/Jet Pilot Overseas)

On 28 November 1961, President John F. Kennedy presented Major White with the Harmon Trophy.

President John F. Kennedy presents the 1961 Harmon International Trophy for Aviators to A. Scott Crossfield, Joseph A. Walker, and Major Robert M. White. (L-R) Harrison A. Storms; Thomas Scott Crossfield and Paul Scott Crossfield (sons of A. Scott Crossfield); Joseph V. Charyk, Under Secretary of the Air Force; President Kennedy; Joseph A. Walker; Major Alexander P. de Seversky; Major Robert M. White; Colonel Ansel E. Talbert; Colonel Bernt Balchen; William E. Schramek; unidentified man. Fish Room, White House, Washington, D.C.

In 1962, President Kennedy present him with the Collier Trophy.

Major Robert M. White, May 1962. (TPFLTE)
FAI # 9604-1 (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)
Robert M. White and the X-15 (USAF 071203-F-9999J-130)
FAI Record File Number 9604 (Fédération Aéronautique Internationale)

Major White was featured on the cover of LIFE Magazine, the most widely read magazine in America, 3 August 1962.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, is greeted by his son after his record-setting flight into space. “Boy, what a ride.” (Lawrence Schiller/LIFE Magazine)

After almost nine years as a test pilot at Edwards, Major White returned to operational duties, first being assigned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and then in October 1963, to the 22nd Tactical Fighter Squadron, 36th Tactical Fighter Wing, at Bitburg Air Base, Germany, as operations officer. The squadron was equipped with the F-105, which White had tested at Edwards.

After five months at Bitburg, he was given command of the 53rd Tactical Fighter Squadron, which also flew the F-105.

Lieutenant Colonel Robert M. White with a Republic F-105 Thunderchief, Bitburg AB, Germany.

After his tour in Germany, White returned to the United States, and from August 1965 to 1966, attended the Industrial College of the Armed Forces in Washington, D.C. He also attended George Washington University where he earned a master’s degree in business administration. He was then assigned to the Air Force Systems Command at White-Patterson AFB in Ohio as the chief tactical systems officer in the F-111 Systems Program Office.

Republic F-105F-10-RE Thunderchief 60-0464, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB. (U.S. Air Force)

In May 1967, Colonel White deployed to Southeast Asia as deputy commander of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing at Takhli Royal Thai AFB. He flew 70 combat missions in the Republic F-105 Thunderchief.

Colonel Robert M. White, United States Air Force, Deputy Commander for Operations, 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli RTAFB, 1967, with other Republic F-105 Thunderchief pilots. Colonel White is the third from the left. (U.S. Air Force)

For his actions during an attack against the Paul Doumer Bridge near Hanoi, 11 August 1967, Colonel White was awarded the Air Force Cross.

Doumer Bridge, by Keith Ferris, oil on panel, depicts Col. Robert M. White leading the strike against the Paul Doumer Bridge, 11 August 1967. (United States Air Force art collection)
Air Force Cross

The President of the United States of America, authorized by Title 10, Section 8742, United States Code, takes pleasure in presenting the Air Force Cross to Colonel Robert M. White (AFSN: 0-24589A), United States Air Force, for extraordinary heroism in military operations against an opposing armed force as an F-105 Mission Commander and Pilot of the 355th Tactical Fighter Wing, Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand, in action near Hanoi, North Vietnam, on 11 August 1967. On that date, Colonel White led the entire combat force against a key railroad and highway bridge in the vicinity of Hanoi. In spite of 14 surface-to-air missile launches, MiG interceptor attacks, and intense anti-aircraft artillery fire, he gallantly led the attack. By being the first aircraft to dive through the dark clouds of bursting flak, Colonel White set an example that inspired the remaining attacking force to destroy the bridge without a single aircraft being lost to the hostile gunners. Through his extraordinary heroism, superb airmanship, and aggressiveness in the face of hostile forces, Colonel White reflected the highest credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.

Action Date: 11-Aug-67

Service: Air Force

Rank: Colonel

Company: Deputy Commander for Operations

Regiment: 355th Tactical Fighter Wing

Division: Takhli Royal Thai Air Base, Thailand

The AFC was presented to Colonel White by President Lyndon B. Johnson at a ceremony held at Cam Ranh Bay, December 1967.

In October 1967, Colonel White was assigned as chief, attack division, Directorate of Combat Operations, Seventh Air Force, at Tan San Nhut Air Base.

In June 1968, Colonel White returned to White-Patterson Air Base AFSC, Aero Systems Division, as director of the F-15 systems program.

F-15 Eagles from the 44th Fighter Squadron, Kadena Air Base, Japan, fly over the Pacific Ocean Aug. 9 during Exercise Valiant Shield. During the exercise, Air Force aircraft and personnel will participate in integrated joint training with Navy and Coast Guard forces. (U.S. Air Force photo/Senior Airman Miranda Moorer)

In August 1970, Colonel White returned to Edwards Air Force Base where he took command of the Air Force Flight Test Center.

In October 1971, he attended the U.S. Navy parachute test pilot school. In November 1972, Brigadier General White took command of the Air Force Reserve Officers Training Corps (AFROTC) at Maxwell AFB.

Major General Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force

On 12 February 1975, White was promoted to the rank of major general, with his date of rank retroactive to 1 July 1972. The following month, he took command of the Fourth Allied Tactical Air Force, based at Ramstein Air Base, Germany.

In 1980, Major General White and his wife, Doris, divorced. She returned to the United States.

In December 1980, White married his second wife, Ms. Christa Katherina Kasper (née  ScChrista Katherina Shmenger) (b. 3 Dec. ’42, Pirmasens, Germany. Daughter: Judith Kasper)

In 1981, Major General White retired from the U.S. Air Force after 39 years of service. During his military career, he had been awarded the Air Force Cross, the Distinguished Service medal with oak leaf cluster (two awards); the Silver Star with three oak leaf clusters (four awards); the Legion of Merit with four oak leaf clusters (five awards); the Bronze Star; and the Air Medal with sixteen oak leaf clusters (seventeen awards). He wore the wings of a command pilot astronaut.

He had also been awarded the Harmon and Collier Trophies, and the NASA Distinguished Service Medal.

At Edwards Air Force Base, a street is named Bob White Drive in his honor.

In 2006, White was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.

Mrs. Christa White died 9 January 2007.

Major Robert M. White, U.S. Air Force, with a North American Aviation X-15 on Rogers Dry Lake, 7 Feb 1961. (NASA) Flight 33. Mach 3.50, 78,150′, last XLR-11 flight. major White is wearing a David Clark Company MC-2 full-pressure suit with an MA-3 helmet.
28 Nov 1961 JFKWHP-KN-C19570
18 July 1962 JFKWHP-AR7365-D
18 July 1962 JFKWHP-AR7365-D
NASM-SI-92-13598

Major General Robert Michael White, United States Air Force (Retired), died at 11:55p.m., 17 March 2010 at an assisted living facility in Orlando, Florida. His remains were interred at the Arlington National Cemetery.

Tom Wolfe, author of The Right Stuff, described  General White as “the eternally correct and reserved Air Force blue suiter.” In The Right Stuff he wrote:

“He didn’t drink. He exercised like a college athlete in training. He was an usher in the Roman Catholic chapel of the base and never, but never, missed Mass. He was slender, black-haired, handsome, intelligent—even cultivated, if the truth were known. And he was terribly serious.”

“White had not unbent as much as one inch for the occasion. You could see them straining to manufacture on of those ‘personality profiles’ about White, and all he would give them was the Blue Suit and a straight arrow. That was Bob White.”

RMW Arlington (Anne Cady)

Recommended: Higher and Faster: Memoir of a Pioneering Air Force Test Pilot, by Robert M. White and Jack L. Summers. McFarland & Company, Inc., Jefferson, North Carolina, 2010

¹ FAI Record File Number 9604

© 2023, Bryan R. Swopes