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James Alton McDivitt, Jr.

McDivitt, Jr., James Alton

Astronaut
Enshrined 2014 1929-

Biography

James Alton McDivitt, Jr. was born in Chicago, Illinois, on June 10, 1929, to James McDivitt, Sr. and Margaret Maxwell McDivitt. His sister Charleen joined the family seven years later.

After graduating from Kalamazoo Central High School, McDivitt completed two years at Jackson Junior College before enlisting in the Air Force in January 1951.

By November 1952 he was in Korea, assigned to the 35th Fighter-Bomber Squadron. During the war he flew 145 combat missions in both F-80 and F-86 jets, and earned three Distinguished Flying Crosses, five Air Medals, and the Chung Mu Order of Military Merit from South Korea.

Returning to the States in September 1953, he joined the 49th Fighter-Interceptor Squadron at Dow Air Force Base in Maine, and in 1954 went on to enter the advanced flying school at Tyndall Air Force Base, Florida. Following was assignment with the 332nd Fighter Interceptor Squadron at McGuire Air Force Base where McDivitt served as pilot, operations officer and flight commander.

In June of 1957 McDivitt was back in college at the University of Michigan under the Air Force Institute of Technology program. He married the former Patricia Ann Haas and eventually they had four children: Michael, Ann Lynn, Patrick and Katie.

In June of 1959 McDivitt graduated with a degree in Aeronautical Engineering – first in his class.

Following graduation he attended Experimental Test Pilot School at Edwards Air Force Base, California, and served for three years at the Air Force Flight Test Center, flying T-38s, F-104s, and other jets, with an eye on the upcoming X-15 program.

However in 1962 he was selected by NASA with eight others for training as an astronaut.  On June 3, 1965, Gemini 4 launched on a four-day mission with McDivitt as Command Pilot and fellow University of Michigan graduate, Ed White II, as Pilot.

While the two-man craft flew 66 orbits around the earth, they performed experiments and several firsts, including White’s first ever American spacewalk.  The Gemini program was a stepping stone on NASA’s the way to the moon.

McDivitt’s return to space would come next on March 3, 1969, as commander of Apollo 9.  Commander McDivitt and his crew of David Scott and Russell Schweickart were the first to demonstrate the entire set of Apollo flight hardware on their ten-day earth orbital flight.
The Apollo 9 team made the first lunar module flight, the first test of the Apollo spacesuits, the first rendezvous between the lunar and command module, and made the first joint operation of two manned spacecraft in orbit. Their success was vital to that of Apollo 11’s lunar landing, just four months later.

McDivitt left the Astronaut Office in June that year, becoming manager for the Lunar Landing Operations in the Apollo Spacecraft Program, responsible for planning the lunar landing missions after Apollo 11. He was also responsible for redesigning the Apollo spacecraft to extend its lunar exploration capability. By September 1969 he was the manager of the entire Apollo Spacecraft Program.
In June 1972, now Brigadier General McDivitt left NASA and retired from the Air Force.

He soon joined Consumers Power Company of Jackson, Michigan as its executive vice president and director before becoming executive vice president and a member of the board of directors of Pullman, Incorporated of Chicago.  In 1981 he joined Rockwell International and was appointed Senior Vice President of Government Operations in January 1988.

McDivitt retired in 1995, enjoying time with his family, including his wife Judy, who he married in 1985, and outdoor activities like tennis, golf and fishing.

An engineer, combat and test pilot with over 5,000 flight hours, and astronaut with over 14 days in orbit, he is truly a pioneer in the advancement of manned space exploration. Tonight we welcome James A. McDivitt into the National Aviation Hall of Fame.