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Daylong Program To Honor Astronaut McDivitt Next Friday

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The Ann Arbor News, Saturday, April 12,1969

Daylong Program To Honor Astronaut McDivitt Next Friday

At 12 noon on March 13, the Apollo 9 spacecraft splashed down in the Atlantic Ocean, successfully ending the most complex and hazardous mission so far in the U.S. man-to-the-moon program.

Michigan residents can relive some of the highlights of the historic space voyage when the man who led the mission, Astronaut James A. McDevitt. visits Ann Arbor next Friday.

The guest of the City of Ann Arbor and the University of Michigan, the 39-year-old Air Force colonel will be honored in a day-long program, including a 4:30 p.m. motorcade and an 8 p.m. public appearance in the U-M Events Building, where he will speak and show a documentary color film of the Apollo 9 flight. Program details will be announced later. The astronaut’s visit was recently announced by the U-M President Robben Fleming and Congressman Marvin L. Esch, R-Ann Arbor.

Michigan residents have long shown a strong interest in the Apollo Program. Some 8,000 persons, for example, came to the U-M campus last January to see NASA flight on Apollo 8. It was part of an illustrated lecture by Capt. Robert F. Freitag, director of NASA’s Manned Space Flight Center Development.

McDivitt and his Apollo 9 crew circled the earth 151 about 3 3/4 million miles—in 10 days, one hour, and 52 seconds.

Their major objective in-included a thorough checkout of the lunar module and its systems in a series of tests earth orbit, rendezvous and docking of the lunar module with the command and service modules, and space walks by the crew members.

The Apollo 9 crew accomplished the first transfer by U.S. astronauts from one spacecraft to another while in orbit and the first linkup of two manned U.S. spacecraft. For the first three astronauts—McDivitt, David R. Scott, and Russell L. Schweickart—were exposed to space hazards at the same time.

Apollo 9 was the heaviest satellite (150 tons) ever placed in orbit. The launch vehicle, Saturn V, had 7 1/2 million pounds of thrust.

McDivitt is no stranger to Ann Arbor. As an undergraduate at U-M, he compiled a straight-A record to finish ahead of the 606 engineering seniors graduating with him in 1959. Following his Gemini 4 mission—a 66-orbit four-day mission in June 1965— McDivitt was awarded an honorary doctor of astronautical science degree by the University.

Recalling the colonel’s student days, Prof. Wilbur C. Nelson, former chairman of the U-M aerospace engineering department, said that “McDivitt was truly outstanding, both academically and as an individual. He is a well-balanced, all-around individual with a broad range of interests.”

When he first came to Ann Arbor, he lived in a rooming house near the campus briefly until his family joined him. Then the McDivvitts moved to new subdivision in northwest Ann Arbor.

McDivitt was a captain when he was sent to the University by the Air Force in 1957 to further his education. He had completed two years at Jackson Junior College before joining the Air Force in 1951. Soon afterward he flew 145 jet fighter missions Korean War.

Following his work at the U-M, McDivitt was assigned to the Air Force Experimental Test Pilot School where he made the best record in the school’s history. Late in 1961, he became the first graduate of the Air Force’s then-new Aerospace Research Pilot Course at Edwards Air Force Base.

He was selected as an astronaut by NASA in 1962.

He was awarded the Distinguished Service Medal for “his outstanding contributions to the nation’s manned space flight program and the advancement of space technology as commander of Apollo 9.” The citation further noted that “he demonstrated outstanding leadership, courage, exceptional skill, and dedication in performing extremely complex spacecraft maneuvers. The success of Apollo 9 was a major milestone on the way to the first manned lunar landing.”

Among his other special honors are the NASA Exceptional Service Medal and the Air Force Astronaut Wings; four Distinguished Flying Crosses; five Air Medals; the Arnold Air Society John F. Kennedy Trophy; and the Michigan Wolverine Frontiersman Award. 

McDivitt was born in Chicago and was graduated from high school in Kalamazoo. His parents now live in Jackson, where his father is an electrical engineer.