Photograph by Mission Commander
James McDivitt (NASA photo ID S65-30431)
A Russian was the first to actually leave his space capsule and walk outside of it in space. About three weeks later, on June 3, 1965, the United States launched its first manned space capsule in a program called Gemini, commanded by astronaut James McDivitt accompanied by astronaut Edward White.
During the third orbit, 120 miles above the earth, astronaut White opened his hatch and used a hand-held oxygen-jet gun to push himself out of the capsule. He needed the oxygen-jet gun to provide the energy to move himself around because there was zero gravity in space and, surrounded by nothing but air, there was nothing to push off against like there is on the ground. To prevent him from drifting away from the space capsule, he was attached to a tether about 23 feet long. He used the oxygen-jet gun to move himself along the tether. He was outside the space capsule for about 23 minutes.
As you can imagine, it is very cold in space but also the sun’s rays can be very bright. To protect him from these conditions, White wore a specially designed spacesuit, with the visor of his helmet gold plated to protect him against the unfiltered rays of the sun. He also wore an emergency oxygen pack.
Not only was this flight important for the national pride of the United States, it provided proof that the launch technology worked, that the capsule could provide shelter and food so the astronauts could survive the hostile environment of space, and that the capsule and its astronauts could be successfully returned to earth. The flight also provided valuable data about the biological effects of space travel on the astronauts.
What followed years later was the first walk on the moon by an astronaut.