A photograph of an astronaut floating away from a space shuttle untethered has been doing rounds on social media. The photo, taken in February 1984, shows the astronaut in a white space suit floating in the void as the blue Earth's sphere looms under him.It was clicked when Bruce McCandless II had stepped out of the Challenger space shuttle to rehearse for a satellite-repair mission. He was the first astronaut to have walked in space while being untethered from the spacecraft.
Perhaps the most-terrifying space photograph to date. Astronaut Bruce McCandless II floats completely untethered, away from the safety of the space shuttle, with nothing but his Manned Maneuvering Unit keeping him alive. The first person in history to do so.
Credit: NASA pic.twitter.com/uapVOFwS2u
— Curiosity (@Sciencenature14) June 20, 2022
Describing the photo titled Free Floating, NASA stated in its website, "Astronaut Bruce McCandless is seen floating above Earth. He is farther away from the safety of his spaceship than any astronaut had ever been."
"This was made possible by a jet pack on his back called the Manned Maneuvering Unit, or MMU. McCandless tested the MMU near the space shuttle. He then went 'free-flying' to a distance of 320 feet away from the space shuttle."
According to a New York Times report, McCandless II was 170 mile (273.5 kilometre) above Earth’s surface when this photo was taken. In fact, The Times had described McCandless as “a puffy white gingerbread man” floating above the continental United States.
While reflecting on the NASA photo, McCandless had in July 2015 told The Guardian, “My anonymity means people can imagine themselves doing the same thing. Like Neil (Armstrong) said in 1969, I was representing mankind up there.”
McCandless, a former United States Navy captain, had played a role in Neil Armstrong's famed moonwalk three years later.
“That may have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me,” McCandless had joked earlier, in reference to comments Armstrong made after taking the first human step on the moon in 1969.He died in 2017 aged 80.