X-15-A3 in flight.
On July 17, 1962 Major Robert White of the US Air Force accelerated his X-15 craft (number 3) faster than anticipated, with the result that he managed to climb higher than expected. His final recorded altitude on this flight was 58.7 miles, or 314,750 feet. By exceeding 50 miles in altitude, he qualified for astronaut status (and receiving astronaut wings to wear on his uniform). To this point only the four Mercury astronauts (Armstrong, Grissom, Glenn, and Carpenter) had achieved this status. Also on this mission, the X-15 reached its original goal of achieving a 50-mile-high flight. There would be more to come!
Major Robert White, USAF. Photo credits: NASA.
Robert M. White flew fighter missions in World War 2 and the Korean War. He earned degrees in science and engineering, and became a test pilot for the US Air Force flying fighter test planes. Joining the X-15 program in 1960, White reached high altitudes and achieved several records. After the X-15 program, White flew combat missions in Vietnam and later became commander of the USAF Test Flight Center at Edwards Air Force Base. In 2006 he was inducted into the National Aviation Hall of Fame. He passed away in 2010.