50 Years of Walking in Space: Spacewalking’s Greatest Hits [Slide Show]
Wednesday is the 50th anniversary of the world’s first spacewalk, by cosmonaut Alexei Leonov. Since then astronauts have accomplished many milestones beyond the confines of a spacecraft
The First Spacewalk March 18, 1965 - Soviet cosmonaut Alexi Leonov became the first person to float outside a spacecraft during a 10-minute excursion on the Voskhod 2 mission. His spacesuit deformed in the vacuum of space, forcing Leonov to vent oxygen out of his suit to squeeze himself back inside.
The First American Spacewalk June 3, 1965 - NASA astronaut Edward H. White, II, doubled Leonov’s time when he made the U.S.’s first spacewalk less than three months later. White floated outside his Gemini 4 capsule for 21 minutes, using a “zip gun” that ejected pressurized oxygen to maneuver himself around in space. White enjoyed using the gun, but subsequent spacewalkers reported that it was difficult to operate, so it was rarely used after the Gemini program.
The First Untethered Spacewalk February 7, 1984 - Until the space shuttle Challenger’s STS-41B mission, spacewalkers were tethered to their spaceships by a long cord. These tethers also limited their movements, however, and sometimes made maneuvering difficult. Astronaut Bruce McCandless II was the first to test out the Manned Maneuvering Unit—a type of jetpack that he wore on his back to steer himself around. Unchecked by a tether, McCandless flew 100 meters out from the shuttle’s cargo bay—the farthest a spacewalker had ever been before.
Hubble Repair Spacewalks December 5-9, 1993 - The Hubble Space Telescope was launched to much fanfare in April 1990, but soon after it became apparent that the observatory’s optics were flawed. To save the $2.5 billion telescope, NASA sent seven astronauts on a rescue mission onboard the shuttle Endeavour. Four of the STS-61 crew— F. Story Musgrave, Jeffrey A. Hoffman, Kathryn C. Thornton and Thomas D. Akers—completed five spacewalks in five days to install a new primary camera and corrective optics package for the telescope. Their efforts paid off—the telescope delivered on its promise to reveal the cosmos in brand new ways—and four more servicing missions followed in the coming years to upgrade the observatory, which could operate through 2020.
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First International Space Station Assembly Spacewalk December 7, 1998 - Endeavour’s STS-88 mission carried the first U.S. contribution to the International Space Station—the Unity node. During the flight, NASA astronauts Jerry Ross and Jim Newman made a spacewalk to connect Unity to the Russian piece in orbit, the Zarya module, by hooking up 40 cables and connectors between the structures to form the heart of the nascent space station. To date there have been 187 spacewalks outside the orbiting laboratory, including assembly, maintenance and repair.
First Chinese Spacewalk September 27, 2008 - China staked its claim as a top tier spacefaring nation when its “taikonaut” Zhai Zhigang floated outside the Shenzhou 7 spacecraft for 20 minutes to retrieve a pack of lubricant gel that had been stored there before launch. Zhai wore a Chinese-made spacesuit and waved the red flag of the People’s Republic of China to celebrate the occasion.
Longest Spacewalk March 11, 2001 - NASA astronauts Susan J. Helms and James S. Voss spent the longest time outside the confines of a spacecraft during the STS-102 mission of the shuttle Discovery. During their eight hours and 56 minutes out in space, Helms and Voss worked on the exterior of the International Space Station to prepare it for the attachment of the Leonardo cargo canister, which had launched along with the crew on Discovery.
Near-Drowning Spacewalk July 16, 2013 - What was supposed to be a run-of-the-mill spacewalk to work on cables outside the International Space Station nearly cost Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano his life when water leaked into his spacesuit’s helmet, ultimately adhering in blobs that obscured his vision, covered his nose and mouth and made it difficult for him to hear. Parmitano kept his cool, and NASA quickly called off the spacewalk and sent the astronauts back inside. Still, Parmitano had to navigate by feeling toward the air lock to get himself to safety and could have drowned, NASA officials said. The leak was later traced to a failure in a water separator system inside the suit—a rare and unexpected anomaly. “Space is a harsh, inhospitable frontier and we are explorers, not colonizers,” he wrote on a European Space Agency blog. “The skills of our engineers and the technology surrounding us make things appear simple when they are not, and perhaps we forget this sometimes.”
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