After the Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov conducted the first tethered spacewalk in March 1965, space agencies realized that astronauts can leave their space capsules and float freely in space. However, no one ever thought of conducting an untethered spacewalk because of the dangers associated with it.
Astronaut Bruce McCandless II took the bold step and float untethered in space in 1984. But What inspired Bruce McCandless II to experience untethered floating in space? Will space tourists ever float untethered in space in the future? Continue reading to find answers.
How Bruce McCandless II began his journey
Bruce McCandless II was one of the few astronauts that created histories that will never be forgotten in centuries to come. His historic moves could be traced back to his early age in life. Bruce was not the first name the astronaut inherited from birth. He was born with the name Bryon Willis McCandless in June 1937.
His father, Bruce McCandless, and grandfather Willis, W. Bradley, have both received medals of Honor. His mother later renamed him to Bruce McCandless II in honor of his dad in 1938. As a young boy, McCandless II was curious about science and the universe. After his basic education, he enrolled at Woodrow Wilson Senior High School, Long Beach, California, and graduated in 1954.
He later joined the United States Naval Academy and finished in 1958, where he graduated as the second-best student out of a class of 899. After McCandless II completed his training with the US Navy, he worked for the agency starting from December 1960 to February 1964.
During his career with the Navy, McCandless II recorded more than 5,200 hours of flying time, which also include 5,000 hours in jet aircraft. In 1965, he received an M.S. in electrical engineering from Stanford University. After this, McCandless II was fully prepared for the next phase of his career.
Bruce McCandless II Career with NASA
McCandless II applied to Join NASA Astronaut Group 5, and to his greatest surprise, his request was considered in April 1966, when he was just 28 years old. With his flying expertise and other scientific backgrounds, McCandless II was hopeful about the contribution he will make to the space agency.
At the beginning of his career with NASA, he was treated as a scientist-astronaut by NASA because of his scientific background. Since McCandless II was not experienced enough as a test pilot, which was a great skill highly valued by NASA, his space flight was delayed. During the launch and EVA of Apollo 11 astronauts, (Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin), McCandless worked as a mission control capsule communicator (CAPCOM).
He later joined the astronaut support crew during the Apollo 14 lunar exploration mission. After the success of the Apollo Space Program, McCandless II was reassigned to serve as a backup pilot for the SkyLab program. He worked with potential scientists as a CAPCOM for the Skylab 3 and Skylab 4 space missions. McCandless II also worked as a co-investigator on the M-509 astronaut maneuvering unit experiment, which was later flown on Skylab.
During this period, he improved his knowledge of the science behind maneuvering units. The experience he gained during this experiment enabled him to collaborate with other scientists on the design and development of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU), which was used to conduct EVAs during the space shuttle missions. McCandless II later worked on crew inputs to the design of hardware and Procedures, which were used for the Hubble Space Telescope, the International Space Stations, Inertial Upper Stage (IUS), and the Solar Maximum Repair Mission.
Why did Bruce McCandless II experience Floating in Space?
Despite his maximum effort during the Apollo missions and other space programs, McCandless II was not identified as a shuttle pilot until 1983. He was later selected for the STS-41-B space mission to work as Mission Specialist 1. McCandless II was selected alongside, Vance D. Brand as the mission commander, Robert L. Gibson as the Pilot, Robert L. Stewart as the Mission Specialist 2, and Ronald E. McNair as the Mission Specialist 3.
The STS-41-B mission was launched on 3 February 1984 as the fourth flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger and the Tenth flight of the NASA Space Shuttle Program. After the Space Shuttle successfully deployed two satellites in space, the Mission Specialist astronauts began to prepare for the EVA. On 7 February 1984, Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart emerged for their first EVA, dressing in white spacesuits.
McCandless II was the first astronaut to leave the space shuttle, having the manned maneuvering unit (MMU), carefully attached to his EVA spacesuit. The MMU was designed to give McCandless II the ability to float untethered in space without being tethered to their capsule. Steward joined him shortly afterward to conduct the untethered spacewalk, which lasted for about 5 hours, and 55 minutes.
On 9th February 1984, astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart left their capsule again to conduct their second untethered EVA in space. This second EVA lasted for about 6 hours, and 17 minutes. On 11 February 1984, the Challenger space shuttle landed at the Kennedy Space Center after spending eight days in Orbit.
After his historic spacewalk in 1984, he enrolled for an M.B.A and received the certificate from the University of Houston-Clear Lake in 1987. However, McCandless II STS-31 space mission before retiring fully as NASA astronaut in 1990.
Will space tourists ever Experience untethered floating in space in the future?
The idea of floating untethered in space was made fascinating by astronauts Bruce McCandless II and Robert L. Stewart in 1984. However, that was just the beginning of untethered spacewalks. Note that Orbital Assembly Corporation is already working on building the first artificial gravity space hotel in space before the end of this decade.
This space hotel will surely open the door of space tourism. With the birth of space tourism, more companies will look toward space and develop futuristic technologies that will give tourists the best experience in the weightless environment of space. With limited knowledge in advanced sophisticated technologies, NASA was still able to develop a Manned Maneuvering Unit for the astronauts in the 20th century.
It will only get better in the 21st century to give both astronauts and space tourists the ability to float safely in space without being attached to their space stations or capsules. However, we still have a lot of work to put in place to make this future a reality. But the progress made so far is already making the future appear more promising than ever.
The untethered spacewalk was indeed one of the most fascinating EVA anyone could experience in space. As we move closer to achieving space tourism and reaching distanced space worlds, the idea of untethered spacewalks will be reinvented to become much safer for astronauts and tourists. Technological advancement will surely make floating in space to become a great experience for everyone in the future. What do you think about the Manned Maneuvering Unit that made untethered spacewalk to become possible?