1984: Bruce McCandless takes man’s first untethered flight in space

space photo

ON 12 February 1984, Bruce McCandless waved farewell to the Challenger Space Shuttle and floated off into space. His only power was his Manned Maneuvering Unit or MMU, a nitrogen jet-propelled backpack. It was humankind’s first untethered flight in space.



Photo: Lt. Bruce McCandless, II, a flight instructor with the United States Navy and NASA’s new astronaut, is shown in 1966. 


Lockheed Martin says this of its backpack:

The MMU was designed to permit astronauts to perform a variety of extravehicular activities, such as satellite retrieval, science investigations and observations, in-space construction, and rescue operations.

The MMU has been flown during three separate Space Shuttle missions. It was flight tested in February 1984 during Space Shuttle flight 41-B by astronauts Bruce McCandless and Robert Stewart. Over two days of extravehicular activity, McCandless and Stewart recorded five hours, 10 minutes of flying time on the two on-board MMUs.




Photo: The crew for the Space Shuttle challenger leaves for Pad 39A and their scheduled 8 am liftoff at the Kennedy Space Center on Friday, Feb. 3, 1984. In front is Commander Vance D. Brand. He is followed by from left, Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless; Mission Specialist Robert L. Stewart; Mission Specialist Robert E. McNair and Pilot Robert L. Gibson. 

The Smithsonian adds:

The MMU had 24 small gaseous nitrogen thrusters and was operated with hand controllers on the arms of the unit.

On February 7, 1984, on Space Shuttle mission STS 41-B, astronaut Bruce McCandless tested this MMU, serial number 3. He made the first untethered spacewalk as he flew some 300 feet from the Shuttle.

Spotter: Great Images in NASA

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