Astronaut Bruce McCandless offers his thoughts on an iconic photo in his last-ever interview with National Geographic.
Photos of a dummy named Starman casually taking a luxury car on a spin through space may have captivated Earthlings yesterday, but 34 years ago, a similarly surreal photo of an actual astronaut commanded attention.
On February 7, 1984, Bruce McCandless became the first human to float free from any earthly anchor when he stepped out of the space shuttle Challenger and flew away from the ship. In a still-startling NASA image from that mission, untethered McCandless hangs 320 feet from Challenger, suspended above our impossibly blue planet and appearing paradoxically powerful and fragile against the yawning vastness of the cosmos.
McCandless, who died on December 21, 2017, had a long and storied history in NASA’s space program. Before his famous spacewalks, he was mission control communicator during 1969’s Apollo 11 moonwalk. That experience left him famously grumpy with Neil Armstrong for not revealing ahead of time what Armstrong planned to say when his boots first hit moon dust. He later helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope into orbit from the space shuttle Discovery in 1990.