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Who was the First Person to Float Freely in Space?

Although he was most known for a NASA photograph depicting him soaring unrestrained in space, Bruce McCandless has partaken in various space missions other than that. Receiving many awards, such as the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, McCandless served his country in many ways, even representing humankind in space. 

Using the Manned Maneuvering Unit, Astronaut Bruce McCandless became the first person to float freely in space with an unnoticed traveling speed of 18,000 miles per hour. 

Who is Astronaut Bruce McCandless?

Astronaut Bruce McCandless, most recognized in a NASA photograph that portrays him soaring near his space shuttle equipped in a Manned Maneuvering Unit or an MMU, is the first individual to fly unrestrained in space. The MMU is a propulsion unit that gives him the freedom to maneuver himself in an untethered manner in space. (Source: NASA)

I don’t like those overused lines ‘slipped the surly bonds of Earth’, but when I was free from the shuttle, they felt accurate. It was a wonderful feeling, a mix of personal elation and professional pride: it had taken many years to get to that point.

Bruce McCandless

(Source: The Guardian)

Born in Boston on June 8, 1937, McCandless earned a bachelor of science degree from the United States Naval Academy after finishing his high school education in Woodrow Wilson Senior High School. He then attained both a master of science degree in Electrical Engineering and Business Administration.

McCandless devoted much of his life to playing a significant role in the growth of space programs, becoming an investigator in the M-509 astronaut maneuvering unit experiment while collaborating on the MMU’s advancement. Moreover, he also aided in the development of procedures and hardware for numerous space missions.

McCandless established his legacy in the various awards he accepted throughout his lifetime. The Legion of Merit, the American Expeditionary Service Medal, the NASA Exceptional Service Medal, and the NASA Exceptional Engineering Achievement Medal are only a few of the many honors he received. (Source: NASA

The Story Behind the Famous Image

With the more than 300 hours McCandless spent in space, with a few of these hours including his flight time using the MMU. Alongside astronaut Robert Stewart, they introduced the usage of MMU. (Source: NASA

Their space mission on the Challenger space shuttle lasted a total of nine days, with their goal to deploy two communications satellites. McCandless expresses his thoughts with the MMU in an interview with Hannah Booth, stating that weeks before the mission, the MMU was still under the process of refinement.

McCandless’ famous photographed walk was only a snippet of the six hours and 45 minutes he spent untethered in space, remaining near the Challenger. He was unaware of the 18,000 miles per hour speed he used during the venture due to the shuttle’s same pace.

It was only when I looked at the Earth that I could tell we were moving fairly rapidly. At one point, I noticed we were over the Florida peninsula: it was reassuring to see something I recognized.

Bruce McCandless

McCandless then communicates his happiness with his most famous photograph of flying in space, stating that he represented mankind in his journey. (Source: The Guardian)

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