Far Above the World

Astronaut Bruce McCandless untethered above the Earth on Feb. 12, 1984. (NASA)
Astronaut Bruce McCandless untethered above the Earth on Feb. 12, 1984. (NASA)


28 years ago today, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless left the relative safety of Challenger’s payload bay and went untethered into orbit around Earth, venturing farther than anyone ever before.

The historic photo above was taken when McCandless was 320 feet from the orbiter — about the length of an American football field, or just shy of the width of the International Space Station.

The free-flying endeavor was possible because of McCandless’ nitrogen-powered jet-propelled backpack, called a Manned Maneuvering Unit (MMU). It attached to the space suit’s life-support system and was operated by hand controls, allowing untethered access to otherwise inaccessible areas of the orbiter and was also used in the deployment, service and retrieval of satellites.

Astronaut Dale Gardner using the MMU during STS-51A in Nov. 1984 to travel to the Westar VI satellite. (NASA)

The MMU used a non-contaminating nitrogen propellant that could be recharged in the orbiter. It weighed 140 kg (308 lbs) and has a built-in 35mm camera.

After the Challenger disaster, the MMU was deemed too risky and was discontinued. But for a brief period of time in the early ’80s, humans had the means for really “soaring to new heights”.

Image credits: NASA

Astronaut Becomes Dad While in Space

Rebecca Bresnik, the wife of STS-129 Mission Specialist Randy Bresnik, gave birth to their new daughter on Saturday night, making Randy the second astronaut ever to become a father while out in space. Bresnik reported this morning that his wife and new daughter, Abigail, are doing fine, and thanked the flight control team for their assistance.

Abigail was born in Houston on Saturday at 11:04 p.m. CST. The STS and ISS crews were awoken by the song “Butterfly Kisses” this morning, which was chosen by Rebecca for Randy, and contains the lyrics “There’s two things I know for sure/She was sent here from heaven and she’s daddy’s little girl.”

Becoming a new father is just a series of first for Bresnik on this mission: STS-129 is the first mission for Bresnik, and this was his first spacewalk. Bresnik installed antennas and other equipment on the ISS Saturday while awaiting the birth of his daughter. He will do another spacewalk Monday, before returning to Earth with the rest of the STS crew on Friday.

Bresnik and his wife adopted a Ukrainian orphan last year, who is now three years old, but this is the first child born to the couple. Mrs. Bresnik, who is an attorney that specializes in international law at Johnson Space Center, said in a pre-flight interview with NASA:

I’m a little disappointed that he won’t be able to be there but understanding that we don’t choose the timing and excited for him that he’s doing what he’s doing. He’s trained one year for this mission but really he’s been here five, almost six years, and I’m just real excited for him and excited for us and just to be gone basically a week beyond her being born. So, I’m excited for him to come home safely.

Bresnik is the second astronaut to become a father while in space. The first was astronaut Mike Fincke, whose wife gave birth while he was working at the International Space Station in 2004. If you would like to view the entire pre-flight interview with Rebecca and Randy, it’s available from NASA here.

Source: NPR, NASA