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NASA's First Untethered Spacewalk: 40 Years Of Thrilling Photos

The pictures of this historic mission remain iconic to this day.

Holly Large - Editorial Assistant

Holly Large

Holly Large - Editorial Assistant

Holly Large

Jr Copy Editor & Staff Writer

Holly is a graduate medical biochemist with an enthusiasm for making science interesting, fun and accessible.

Jr Copy Editor & Staff Writer

Edited by Johannes Van Zijl

Johannes has a MSci in Neuroscience from King’s College London and serves as the Managing Director at IFLScience.

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NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless is in the midst of the first "field" tryout of a nitrogen-propelled backpack device called the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU).

“It may have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.” – Bruce McCandless II, pictured. 

Image credit: NASA

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.

The “cherry-picker”

Bruce McCandless attached to the MFR.
Bruce McCandless attached to the "cherry picker".
Image credit: NASA


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.

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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.

Challenger

Image of Challenger space shuttle in space with Earth seen below.
The Challenger space shuttle.
Image credit: NASA


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.


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