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NASA honors America's first spacewalker with moon rock award

June 5, 2015

— NASA has bestowed a small moon rock to the late Edward White, who 50 years ago became the first American astronaut to walk in space.

The presentation of the Ambassador of Exploration award, which featured the small lunar stone embedded in acrylic, was held Wednesday (June 3), a half century after White exited the Gemini 4 capsule for his historic extravehicular activity. The award went on immediate display at the U.S. Military Academy's West Point Museum in New York, the host of the ceremony.

"It is fitting today, on the 50th anniversary of this historic achievement in space, that we honor Ed White," stated Lt. Gen. Robert Caslen, West Point superintendent, before he presented the Apollo moon rock-adorned award to White's daughter, Bonnie Baer. "His legacy serves as a reminder that when you set a goal and believe you can do it, you can accomplish anything — even step out and touch the stars."

Ed White Ambassador of Exploration. Click to enlarge video in a new, pop-up window. (NASA)

White, who graduated from West Point in 1952, was an Air Force Major when he was selected for the astronaut corps ten years later. Gemini 4 in 1965 was his only spaceflight. Two years later, as a member of the first Apollo crew, he tragically died in a fire during a test on the launch pad.

"Every road to a new frontier has challenges and space is no exception," Caslen said. "But that road was paved with the personal character, the courage, the selfless service and sacrifice, all of the attributes that we try to instill here at West Point, of these early pioneers."

White is the 30th Mercury, Gemini or Apollo astronaut to be honored with NASA's Ambassador of Exploration award since 2004. Other recipients have included flight directors Chris Kraft and Gene Kranz, President John F. Kennedy and veteran television journalist Walter Cronkite.

The presented moon rocks remain the property of NASA, but the astronauts and their surviving families select the museum or educational institution where their awards are displayed in their name to help inspire a new generation of explorers.

"I recently watched footage of the Gemini 4 mission and I am still astounded at what NASA, [astronaut] Jim McDivitt and my father were able to accomplish," said Baer. "Each of the Mercury, Gemini and Apollo flights were important stepping stones towards achieving the final goal of landing men on the moon."

White's excursion into space put America on pace to walk on the moon four years later, capture and repair satellites in orbit, build the International Space Station, and prepare for NASA's future planned missions to Mars.

"Fifty years ago, [White] proved that human beings could operate in the airless, weightless environment of space, a capability essential if we aspire to explore, work and live beyond the surface of our planet," former NASA astronaut and West Point graduate Bill McArthur said. "Building from Ed's first spacewalk, we now have a space station that is our springboard to the rest of the solar system."

In addition to the Ambassador of Exploration award, White was earlier awarded NASA Exceptional and Distinguished Service Medals and Air Force Senior Astronaut Wings for his role in the Gemini 4 mission.


West Point Superintendent Lt. General Robert Caslen presented a moon rock to NASA astronaut Ed White's daughter, Bonnie Baer, during a ceremony at the military academy's museum. (NASA)

The West Point Museum's space exploration exhibit now features White's Ambassador of Exploration award. (West Point Museum)

Bonnie Baer, daughter of NASA astronaut Ed White, received her father's posthumous award on behalf of the White family. (NASA)

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