Jim McDivitt 2006 -- Charity Signing

at Novaspace Gallery

This will be our first signing with Jim McDivitt, and the first signing in our new shop. It's not far from our 16-year location, but is much cozier. Jim had freely signed through the mail until he turned 72 in 2001, when he "retired from autographs" and stopped signing altogether. We've written him yearly, to no avail, but he spends winters in Tucson, so that was an edge. Finally, not long after our move, he called. He said he'd sign, but like Frank Borman, wants all proceeds to go to charities here in Tucson, and in Michigan, his home state and where he spends the summers.

General McDivitt was chosen in the second astronaut group. He was such a fine pilot of uncommon cool and intelligence he was chosen as the first rookie commander for the second manned Gemini mission, Gemini 4; the first four day space mission, with a memorable first American spacewalk by Ed White.

McDivitt also flew as commander of Apollo 9, the shakedown cruise of the LM, in Earth orbit for a lunar-landing length 10-day flight. Apollo 9 was largely overlooked and under-documented because Apollo 8 had already gone to the moon, minus the LM, four months before. Shortly afterward, he became Manager of Lunar Landing Operations, and then Manager of the Apollo Spacecraft Program for all subsequent landings except 17. He retired from NASA and the USAF as Brigadier General in June 1972 at age 43. Never looking back, he became successful in the business world as an executive for a consumer power company, Pullman Railcar and finally Rockwell Aerospace. He also serves on many boards of directors.


Jim McDivitt visited Novaspace for a private signing at the end of May, 2006. He spends October through May at his Tucson residence in the foothills of the Catalina mountains, about five miles away. He heads to his home state of Michigan for the summer, and left right after our signing. At nearly 77, he is the picture of health and happiness. He was easily the friendliest first-time astronaut we've had for a signing here. He has a great memory, remembering everyone's name, warm, always joking and with a great laugh.

He was reminded of stories when looking at the items to sign, and fired off so many great anecdotes that we couldn't capture them all on video. The proceeds from this signing were to go to charity, and although he earned nearly six times our guarantee (we seriously underestimated demand,) he was still going to donate all the monies to charity, though he would "reallocate" to fund additional charities.

He explained why he signs in his trademark green ink, not only is he a devout Irish Catholic, but he wrote most of his NASA memos in green ink so folks would know immediately that it was from McDivitt, and commanded attention. Jim was the decision maker for lunar in-flight problems (and there were many) and was the architect of the lunar landing missions as Apollo program manager for all but the final mission, Apollo 17.

He was very adamant about his mission patch for Gemini, which was a simple American flag, not the "ugly" red patch attributed to the flight. "Someone came up with that later" and put "first American spacewalk" on it. In reality, the spacewalk wasn't added until about six weeks before flight, two weeks after the USSR's Leonov made his first-ever spacewalk. McDivitt much preferred the design of Gemini IV's Robbins medallion. As for the "red D" on the Apollo 9 patch, that was designed into the patch from the beginning, as Apollo 9 was the "D" mission.

Another pet peeve is the nomenclature of the Gemini and Apollo flights. "Gemini used Roman numerals and Apollo used Arabic."

Apollo's premature ending he pereceived as a "lack of courage" from NASA upper management, who thought they might be pressing their good luck.

It became apparent that Gemini IV, like Apollo 12, was a "buddy" mission, Jim and Ed White went to college together, lived in the same neighborhood, and was his best friend.

When the subject got to food, he said his whole family was genetically addicted to ice cream, which is a daily favorite, except during Lent (see video.)

It was interesting to see him transition from the jokester to the steely-eyed missile man when he spoke of his two space commands, and his direction and mission design of the Apollo moon landings.

There is no McDivitt book in the works, though the following videos show such a book would be good reading.


Click on thumbnail to see larger image