Stories of RNS Photos: Prayers for Gemini 4
PHS is the recipient of a 2023 National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Collections and Reference Resources implementation grant. The $330,678 grant will fund digitization of 22,500 images, newspaper clippings, and related documents from the Religious News Service Photograph Collection, and the rehousing of the entire collection of 60,000 photographs and accompanying materials. Click here to learn more.
On the morning of June 3rd, 1965, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) was preparing for the launch of Gemini 4, the second crewed spaceflight in NASA’s Project Gemini. The crew, James A. McDivitt and Edward H. White II, were busy getting themselves mentally ready for both of their first spaceflights. Their trip had many objectives – execute the first American multi-day spaceflight, the first American extra-vehicular activity (EVA), and the first space rendezvous. To accomplish a voyage of this grandeur, McDivitt and White had been training for Gemini 4 for over a year.
While the two-man crew prepared to leave Earth, their families remained on land, finding comfort in their faith that McDivitt and White would return safely. Captured in photographs by the Religious News Service are scenes of the astronauts and their families praying for the well-being of their husbands, fathers, and sons.
With less than a week until departure, James McDivitt and Edward White finalized planning for the biggest mission of their careers thus far. A part of this preparation included a trip to the Catholic Church of Our Saviour in Cocoa Beach, Florida. Spaceflight was extremely risky, and NASA’s goals for the trip were considerable. A spacewalk had only been accomplished once, just months prior , by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. Only days before, NASA was still determining whether it would be safe for White to tackle it. With the heavy stakes at hand, McDivitt and White leaned onto their faith in God to guide them through the groundbreaking nature of Gemini 4.
Bright and early, the McDivitt family arrived for a special 5:30 A.M. mass on the day of Gemini 4’s takeoff. James McDivitt’s wife, Pat, and his three children – Michael, Ann Lynn, and Patrick – arrived at the home chapel of Father George Beck in Clear Lake City near Houston, Texas. Escorted by a NASA official, the family surely was filled with a swirl of emotions. Later during Gemini’s orbit, both Pat McDivitt and Patricia White, wife of Edward, were able to communicate with their astronaut husbands in orbit via Mission Control in Houston.
Prayers of optimism for the Gemini 4 spacecraft were just as strong in Jackson, Michigan. Gathered at Queen of the Miraculous Medal Catholic Church, McDivitt’s parents, Margaret and James Sr., attended a service the morning of takeoff. Joined by his sister, Charleen Schmidt, his parents were seen in mass with a visible mixture of pride and nervousness as their eldest son was only hours away from leaving the planet. The McDivitt’s were no strangers to praying for James’ welfare, as he served in the Air Force during the Korean War.
Gemini 4 orbited Earth 66 times. The flight lasted for 97 hours total, ending on June 7th. Although the attempted space rendezvous failed, Ed White successfully performed the first American spacewalk for approximately 23 minutes. Overall, the spaceflight of Gemini 4 was hailed a triumph for both NASA and America. The crew’s families had their prayers answered when the men safely landed back on Earth.
Tragically, Gemini 4 was Ed White’s only spaceflight as he was killed in the Apollo 1 fire in January 1967. James McDivitt continued his astronaut career and entered spaceflight once more as part of the Apollo 9 mission in 1969.
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