I'm reading the book Das kleines Handbuch für angehende Raumfahrer ("The Little Handbook for Budding Space Travelers") by the Doctors Bergita and Urs Ganse. I generally like it. They got a few little details wrong, like saying the F-1 engine of the Saturn V was cooled by LOX rather than kerosene.

Anyway, page 134, they describe Leonov's spacewalk, the trouble he had getting back inside and bleeding pressure out of his suit so he could fit through the hatch.

They go on to say that, because of the Cold War, that information was not shared, and Ed White had exactly the same problem and solved it in exactly the same way, by reducing the pressure in his suit.

It's a nice little story about independent teams having the same problems and finding the same solutions, but I can't find that bit about White's spacewalk anywhere else. He didn't WANT to end the spacewalk, and there was a problem sealing the hatch, but nothing about fitting back inside.


3 Answers 3


Not according to the official NASA history, On the Shoulders of Titans.

White had difficulty opening the hatch to start the EVA:

Over the Indian Ocean, White was ready for EVA at last - hoses hooked up, umbilical ready, gun in hand, and chestpack in place - and they again rested and chatted. Nearing Carnarvon, Australia, they began to depressurize the cabin. Then a mechanical problem arose - the door would not unlatch because a spring had failed to compress. After much yanking and poking around the hatch ratchet, the door suddenly cracked open. White found the hatch as hard to push up in zero g as it had been on the ground.

and closing that same hatch at the end of the EVA:

White closed the hatch and reached for the handle to lock it. When it failed to catch, he knew it was going to be as hard to close as it had been to open. Pushing on the handle lifted White out of his seat, so McDivitt pulled on him to give him some leverage. Finally White felt a little torque in the handle and yelled for McDivitt to yank harder. The door was latched.

But this was a mechanical problem with the hatch, and had nothing to do with the pressure of the spacesuit.

He had no trouble getting back in to the capsule:

Finally, after 15 minutes 40 seconds, McDivitt broke off to ask the ground if they wanted anything. "Yes," Kraft chuckled, "Tell him to get back in." After he passed this on to White, McDivitt heard boots thumping atop the spacecraft. White came back to the hatch as Gemini IV was passing over the Atlantic, dismounted the camera and removed electrical connections, and handed all these items to McDivitt along with the gun. McDivitt then helped White get settled, pulling on his legs and guiding his feet into the footwells.

After the hatch was closed, both astronauts were exhausted. They rested in their spacesuits for almost one orbit, before bothering to repressurize the spacecraft:

White sat back, physically exhausted, sweat streaming into his eyes and fogging his faceplate. McDivitt also felt tired, so they rested before extending a radio antenna to find a ground-based voice and tell Earth all was well. Carnarvon answered them. The crew of Gemini IV had almost circled the globe in an unpressurized spacecraft.

Perhaps this last part was somehow misinterpreted into the incorrect story of White depressurizing his suit.

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Was this gun a conventional firearm or some sort of airgun for manoeuvring? $\endgroup$
    – Burgi
    May 31, 2020 at 13:02
  • $\begingroup$ @Burgi: White was given a small thruster that could spray compressed oxygen for maneuvering. The quoted source calls it a "gun" because the part which White held in his gloved hand was shaped like a pistol. It was not a real firearm. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    May 31, 2020 at 17:30
  • $\begingroup$ Wasn't it compressed nitrogen used by the thruster? $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    Jun 2, 2020 at 21:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Uwe: Two independent sources claim that White's thruster contained compressed oxygen. Compressed nitrogen was later used by the Manned Maneuvering Unit and SAFER. $\endgroup$
    – DrSheldon
    Jun 3, 2020 at 3:31

Leonov used an airlock to leave and reenter the Voskhod capsule, but White did not use an airlock, the whole Gemini capsule was depressurized.

Leonov's problem was to fit into the inflatable airlock again after the EVA. He reduced the pressure in his suit from 0.34 to 0.4 bar down to emergency mode of only 0.2 to 0.27 bar to fit into the small airlock.

Alexei Archipowitsch Leonov's capsule was so small that the other cosmonaut Pawel Beljajew could not wear a space suit, therefore the inflatable airlock had to be used. Another reason was that the Voskhod capsule could not depressurized, the electronics were air cooled and would overheat in a vacuum.

Both Gemini astronauts Ed White and James McDivitt did wear space suits, an airlock was not needed and not used, the whole capsule could be depressurized. The Gemini suit operating pressure was lower: 3.7 psi (25.5 kPa) or 0.255 bar.

So it is simply wrong to write: "They go on to say that, because of the Cold War, that information was not shared, and Ed White had exactly the same problem and solved it in exactly the same way, by reducing the pressure in his suit."

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ White did have significant trouble getting back into the spacecraft and getting the hatch closed, however. I don't recall anything about him dropping pressure in his suit, though. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 22:43
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Did the Gemini suits even have the capability to bleed their pressure down? I honestly don't know. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 22:46
  • $\begingroup$ I'm sure I heard something recently about an early suit expanding when the outside pressure dropped, leaving the wearer's hands no longer properly in the gloves, so they had to risk the bends and drop the pressure to operate something, presumably the hatch. $\endgroup$ May 29, 2020 at 23:18
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ Good presentation on the Gemini suits here: ntrs.nasa.gov/archive/nasa/casi.ntrs.nasa.gov/20140005150.pdf $\endgroup$ May 30, 2020 at 1:58
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @OrganicMarble From the presentation: " Pressure relief valve located on left leg – 5.5-6.0 psig" $\endgroup$
    – Uwe
    May 30, 2020 at 9:27

Concur was Russian first spacewalk that had the issue and required depressing partially to get in, not the first US spacewalk - though similar problem.


  • $\begingroup$ Link-only answers are discouraged. Consider summarizing the information from the link and editing your answer to include it. If your answer is simply agreeing with other answers, it's really just a comment anyway. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2021 at 18:11
  • $\begingroup$ I agree with @OrganicMarble. Adding a link that is a minor addition to previous answers should be done as a comment, not a separate answer. $\endgroup$ Feb 23, 2021 at 20:16

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