February 7, 1984. That’s when astronaut Bruce McCandless II performed the first-ever untethered spacewalk. This iconic moment in history was thankfully captured in a set of equally iconic photographs which, 40 years later, remind us just how extraordinary (and mildly terrifying) a feat this mission was.
Fellow astronaut Robert Lee “Hoot” Gibson snapped a picture of McCandless carrying out another part of the mission – testing out the Remote Manipulator System (RMS). “What I did was I shifted the camera so that he wasn’t right in the center of the picture. I put him on the edge and the orbiter’s rudder on the other edge of the picture. That made a really cool photo, Gibson said to NASA.
The RMS was designed to allow astronauts to work outside the space vehicle but remain anchored via the Manipulator Foot Restraint, nicknamed the cherry. Pictured here with McCandless, the restraint featured a small platform that could allow whoever was working from it to carry out activities such as satellite repair.
Taken by a camera attached to the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), the propulsion unit that allowed the astronauts to spacewalk untethered, this image captures the Challenger space shuttle on its tenth flight. Less than two years later, Challenger broke apart just over a minute after launch, resulting in the first fatal accident involving an American spacecraft in flight.
Featured on the cover of magazine Aviation Week & Space Technology, the above image from the STS-41B mission shows the payload bay within the shuttle, the Shuttle Pallet Satellite, and if you squint a bit, astronaut Robert Stewart standing beneath the RMS.
To find out more about mission STS-41B, check out the story behind the "most terrifying photo" ever taken in space.