Remembering astronaut Bruce McCandless: The first man to walk freely in space

Bruce McCandless II, a former NASA astronaut, who was the first person to fly in space untethered from his space shuttle, breathed his last on December 21, at the age of 80. He worked as the mission specialist on the STS-31 mission in 1990 and the STS-41B mission in 1984.

While McCandless has achieved several feats in his lifetime, he offered us some of the most historic space pictures as well. He will always be remembered as the man in this famous NASA photograph, where he can be seen flying beside the spacecraft in the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). He performed the famous spacewalk during the historic STS-41B mission, where he helped positioning the iconic Hubble Space Telescope.

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, STS-41B mission specialist, uses his hands to control his movement above the Earth - and just few meters away from the space shuttle Challenger - during the first-ever spacewalk which didn't use restrictive tethers and umbilicals. NASA

However, he was much more than just a picture. McCandless had worked as the Mission Control communicator on the famous Apollo 11 moon mission, for Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, according to NASA. Later, he also became a member of the Apollo 14's astronaut support crew.

"Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce's family. He will always be known for his iconic photo flying the MMU," stated Robert Lightfoot, the acting NASA Administrator, while remembering McCandless.

Early life

Bruce McCandless was one of the 19 astronauts that the American space agency had selected in 1966. Apart from being a retired captain of the US Navy, he was also the backup pilot in the first Skylab mission with a crew.

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"My wife [Bernice] was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension. I wanted to say something similar to Neil [Armstrong] when he landed on the moon, so I said, 'It may have been a small step for Neil, but it's a heck of a big leap for me.' That loosened the tension a bit," wrote the legendary astronaut in 2015 about his famous spacewalk that is curved in gold in the history of spaceflights.

As per the NASA logs, McCandless had spent over 312 hours in space.

This article was first published on December 23, 2017