January 24, 2018

Bruce McCandless, First to Fly Untethered in Space, Dies at 80

Bruce McCandless, First to Fly Untethered in Space, Dies at 80


Photo

Bruce McCandless using the nitrogen-propelled Manned Maneuvering Unit in February 1984 for the first untethered spacewalk.

Credit
NASA

Bruce McCandless, the first person to fly untethered in space and whose journey into the dark void above Earth was preserved in an iconic photograph, died on Thursday. He was 80.

NASA announced his death in a statement on Friday but did not provide more details.

Equipped with a bulky backpack, two dozen tiny jet thrusters and two bottles of nitrogen gas to fuel them, Mr. McCandless took his maiden voyage in February 1984. It was captured in an image of a man in a white space suit floating against a backdrop of the great black abyss.

A front-page article in The New York Times called Mr. McCandless’s ascent “a spectacle of bravery and beauty.” Mr. McCandless and another astronaut, Robert L. Stewart, the article said, had effectively become “the first human satellites,” orbiting the Earth at the same velocity as the nearby shuttle — 17,500 miles an hour.

“That may have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me,” Mr. McCandless joked at the time, in reference to comments Neil Armstrong made after taking the first human step on the moon in 1969.

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II Floats Free in Space Video by NASA Video

One of 19 people selected by NASA to become astronauts in April 1966, Mr. McCandless, a former United States Navy captain, would play a role in Mr. Armstrong’s famed moonwalk only three years later.

Mr. McCandless, in mission control, was one voice the world heard communicating with Mr. Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin during their Apollo 11 mission. At one point, Mr. Armstrong remarked that their view of the moon was “really spectacular” and “worth the price of the trip.”



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