I met Bruce McCandless when he was a guest at the Autographica event held at the Birmingham Hilton in April 2009.
He talked to a small group of us all about his famous untethered space walk. I asked him if he was worried about being in space without being attached to the spacecraft. He told me that they had so many back-up plans if anything went wrong that he was completely confident that he would be alright!
Bruce McCandless was born in 1937, in Boston, Massachusetts. His father was a Rear Admiral in the US navy. Bruce went to high school in Long Beach, California, and then on to the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland, leaving in 1958 with a BSc degree.
He received flight training from the Naval Aviation Training Command, and saw duty aboard the aircraft carrier Enterprise when it took part in the American blockade of Cuba in 1962. In 1965, he graduated from Stanford University with a degree in electrical engineering. During his career he has logged more than 5,200 hours flying time, mostly in jet aircraft.
McCandless was chosen by NASA for astronaut training in 1966, but it was to be eighteen years before he undertook his first trip into space. He was assigned to the fourth flight of the Space Shuttle Challenger (Mission 41
41-B), which lifted off on an eight-day trip on February 3, 1984. Others on the flight were Vance Brand (commander), Robert Gibson (pilot), and fellow mission specialists, Dr. Ronald
Ronald McNair, and Lt. Col. Robert Stewart. The crew launched two communications satellites, but unfortunately they failed to reach their intended orbits because of engine problems. Then came the moment when McCandless made history by carrying out the first, untethered, free flight on each of the two Manned Manoeuvring Units carried on board. MMUs were jet-powered back packs designed to allow an astronaut to walk and work in space without being tethered to his ship.
Space Shuttle Mission 41-B insignia
41-B Crew l-r Robert Stewart, Vance Brand, Ron McNair,
Robert 'Hoot' Gibson & Bruce McCandless
This was to be their first real test. McCandless went "free-flying" to a distance of 320 feet away from the spacecraft. He controlled the MMU using joy sticks positioned at the end of the arm rests. By moving the joy sticks left or right, or pulling on them, nitrogen jet thrusters were fired which propelled him in any direction he chose. He spent nearly four hours flying the
the jet pack through space and remarked, "It may have been one small step for Neil, but it's a
a heck of a big leap for me!"
Fellow space walker Robert Stewart filmed McCandless from the cargo bay, and sent back amazing Television images showing McCandless against the black of space
and the blue of the Earth as he turned somersaults to test the new device. Two days later, both McCandless and Stewart conducted further MMU tests before taking a telephone call from President Ronald Reagan, who asked th
them what it was like working in space without tethers. McCandless told him,"The view is simply spectacular, and we're literally opening up a new frontier in what man can do in space."
In 1990, McCandless flew on another historic flight when Shuttle Mission STS-31 saw Discovery lift off on April 24. This was to successfully launch the Hubble Space Telescope, which has since returned the
The Hubble Space Telescope in orbit
NASA photograph of Bruce McCandless
Space Shuttle Discovery lifts off with the
Hubble Space Telescope in 1990
the clearest images of the most distant objects ever observed by human beings.
Bruce McCandless wearing the MMU
for his untethered space walk
By the time McCandless left NASA in 1990, (and the Navy as a captain), he had logged more than 312 hours in space on two separate missions aboard the space shuttles. He became the chief scientist with Lockheed Martin's Advanced Space Transportation office in Denver, Colorado.
Bruce McCandless was inducted into the U.S. Astronaut Hall of Fame on April 30, 2005.
Bruce McCandless is married and has two grown up children.
Bruce McCandless making his historic untethered space walk
McCandless is 320' from the Challenger shuttle
Click on a name below to take you to that page
The MMU was used on a later shuttle mission to retrieve the two malfunctioning communication satellites, Westar VI and Palapa B2, that had been launched by Mission 41-B.