On This Day: The first person to enter space twice

On 22 August, 1963, Joseph A. Walker made history as the first person to enter space twice.

For Walker, though, it was just another day.

It was only a month earlier, on 19 July, 1963, that he had reached space for the first time in the X-15 aircraft.

Test pilot Joseph A. Walker smiles as he stands beside an X-15 rocket plane in which he flew at a record breaking altitude of 165,000 feet and a speed of 2,590 miles an hour. California.
Joseph A. Walker stands beside an X-15 rocket plane in which he entered space twice in summer 1963. (Getty Images)

Walker, as NASA’s chief research pilot during the early 1960s, flew the X-15 24 times between 1960 and 1963 as part of its hypersonic research programme.

It was the 19 July and 22 August flights in which he surpassed the Karman line, 62 miles above the earth’s surface, which is considered to be the boundary of outer space.

Yuri Gagarin, from the Soviet Union, had become the first person to enter space in April 1961.

Walker's 22 August flight on this day 58 years ago saw him achieve the X-15’s highest ever altitude – 67 miles – of all its 199 flights between 1959 and 1968.

President John F Kennedy meeting a group of X-15 pilots; (L-R) A Scott Crossfield, Joseph A Walker and Major Robert M White, with the Harmon Trophy Award in Washington DC, December 1st 1961. (Photo by Keystone/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Walker, second right, meeting John F Kennedy with other X-15 pilots in 1961. (Getty Images)

He never flew it again after setting the record. According to the New Mexico Museum of Space History, the Second World War fighter pilot veteran left NASA for the Air Force that very day.

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Despite the scale of Walker’s achievement, however, NASA appears to play it down on its website. In a 2014 article telling the history of the X-15 mission, it said the overall study of hypersonic performance was “more important than records”.

Walker, incidentally, was in good company on the X-15 programme. Among its 12 pilots was Neil Armstrong, who went on to become the first human to set foot on the moon in 1969.

Portrait of Joseph Albert Walker, an American World War II pilot, NASA test pilot, and astronaut from Washington, Pennsylvania, 1956. Image courtesy National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)
Joseph A. Walker died aged 45 in 1966. (Getty Images)

Walker died three years after setting the record.

In June 1966, he was killed in a mid-air collision near Bristow, California. It occurred during a tight formation flight to allow publicity pictures to be taken by a General Electric photographer flying in a civilian jet. Walker was 45.

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