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Flying Free: Iconic NASA Astronaut McCandless Has Died

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the MMU on February 7, 1984. (NASA)

On Feb. 7, 1984, astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he performed the first test flight of NASA’s Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled by 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the chair-like MMU allowed McCandless (who helped engineer the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space without any tethers or cords connecting him to a spacecraft. In the iconic image above, an edit of a photo captured by STS-41B pilot Hoot Gibson, McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space. Here he was just a few feet away from the bay of the space shuttle Challenger, but he would eventually reach a distance of 320 feet (98 meters) from the orbiter!

A former Navy captain and previously Capcom for the Apollo 11 lunar mission, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA in 1984. This past Thursday, Dec. 21, 2017, Bruce McCandless II passed away at the age of 80.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce’s family,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “He will always be known for his iconic photo flying the MMU.”

Read NASA’s statement about the death of Bruce McCandless, and read more about McCandless’ historic EVA here.

 

 

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Take a Ride with Alan Shepard Aboard Freedom 7

On this day in 1961, May the 5th at 9:34 a.m. Eastern time, NASA astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American to travel into space with the launch of his Freedom 7 vehicle atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Shepard reached an altitude of 116.5 miles during his 15-minute suborbital flight before splashing down in the Atlantic, setting the stage for the first orbital spaceflight by John Glenn on Feb. 20 of the next year and all future Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo lunar missions (the 14th of which Shepard was commander in 1971.)

Liftoff of the 82-foot-tall Mercury-Redstone with Freedom 7 from Cape Canaveral on May 5, 1961. (NASA)

The video above from YouTube user lunarmodule5 shows Shepard’s historic flight from liftoff to splashdown with views from the pad as well as from inside the Freedom 7 capsule, showing film footage of Shepard and renderings of the capsule in position followed by photographs from splashdown and recovery.

The date of this important event is not coincidentally shared with the newly-dedicated National Astronaut Day, which celebrates America’s brave spacefaring heroes.

Want to learn more about the inimitable Al Shepard? Check out Neal Thompson’s excellent biography Light This Candle — read my review here.

A Heck of a Leap: When Bruce McCandless Became the First Human Satellite

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) in February 1984 (NASA)

NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during his flight test of the Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU) on February 7, 1984 (NASA)

On Feb. 7, 1984, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II became the first “human satellite” when he tested the Manned Maneuvering Unit during STS-41B. Propelled via 24 small nitrogen-powered thrusters, the MMU allowed McCandless (who was instrumental in developing the Unit at Lockheed Martin) to travel freely through space. In the iconic photo above McCandless is seen floating against the blackness of space, 320 feet (98 meters) away from the Challenger orbiter…and 217 miles (350 km) above the Earth!

A former U.S. Navy captain, McCandless was 46 years old when he performed his historic tether-free EVA.

“May well have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me!”
– STS-41B Mission Specialist Bruce McCandless II, Feb. 7, 1984

Read the rest of this entry

Seeds in the Cosmic Wind: Carl Sagan on Space Exploration

Got the Monday back-to-work blues? Upset by bad news headlines? Concerned about a potential future President Trump? Take a couple of minutes and watch this.

This video, published by The Royal Institution on YouTube in Dec. 2015 and shared again on Twitter today, features an adorable animation about spaceflight with narration taken from a lecture given by Carl Sagan in 1977.

At that time it had been five years since humans had last walked on the Moon, the first Space Shuttle flight was still three and a half years away and the Voyagers had only just passed the orbit of Mars. But Sagan’s confidence and enthusiasm about the future of space exploration and human spaceflight is as inspirational now as it was then…let us continue to remember his words and pass along his message to each new generation that looks up and wonders “what’s out there” and, more importantly, “can I go?”

“Artifacts from Earth are spinning out into the cosmos. I believe the time will come when most human cultures will be engaged in an activity you might describe as a dandelion going to seed.”
— Carl Sagan, 1977

Take a Ride with Alan Shepard Aboard Freedom 7

55 years ago today, at 9:35 a.m. EST on May 5, 1961, NASA astronaut Alan B. Shepard, Jr. became the first American to travel into space with the launch of his Freedom 7 vehicle atop a Mercury-Redstone rocket. Shepard reached an altitude of 116.5 miles during his 15-minute suborbital flight before splashdown in the Atlantic, setting the stage for the first orbital spaceflight by John Glenn on Feb. 20 of the next year and all future Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo lunar missions (the 14th of which Shepard was commander of in 1971.)

The video above by Matthew Travis shows Shepard’s historic flight from liftoff to splashdown with annotated views from the pad as well as from inside the Freedom 7 capsule, showing Shepard and his instrument panel.

The date of this important event is not coincidentally shared with the newly-dedicated National Astronaut Day, which celebrates America’s brave spacefaring heroes. (Do you have a favorite astronaut story? Share it in the comments below.)

Want to learn more about the inimitable Al Shepard? Check out Neal Thompson’s excellent biography Light This Candle — read my review here.

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