For the average person, just thinking about moving around in space without any tethers that would be anchored to the International Space Station or Space Shuttle is scary. But, for astronauts, moving through space is only part of the job.
Back in the 1980s, the idea of tetherless spacewalks was still a fairly new one. As the crew of the space shuttle Challenger prepared for a satellite repair mission, astronaut Bruce McCandless II decided to give it a shot. Equipped only with his Manned Maneuver Unit (MMU), the astronaut floated freely a few meters away from the space shuttle.
Another crew member aboard the Challenger used a 70mm camera to take pictures of the first tetherless spacewalk, NASA said. While it’s only now making headlines again, they took the photo itself back on February 7, 1984. However, science and nature-based Twitter account @Curiosity recently shared the photo again, bringing it back into the spotlight.
Extravehicular activities, or EVAs, are a common part of life in space. Astronauts often need to leave the ISS to complete repairs or just to inspect important parts of the space station.
NASA even considers spacewalks an iconic part of human space exploration. So it must have been exciting for Bruce to be able to complete the first tetherless spacewalk.
But don’t let the overall iconicity of these events be toned down. As NASA points out on its website, EVAs require extensive planning and establishment of mission profiles. That’s because these maneuvers actually take astronauts out of the confines of their shuttles.
As with the first tetherless spacewalk, there are a few other things to consider. Bruce doesn’t just have an MMU to help him navigate. However, the Challenger is also likely to be equipped with enough fuel to save the astronauts in the event of an accident.