First American Spacewalk
On June 3, 1965, astronaut Ed White became the first American to perform a spacewalk … although ‘spacewalk’ isn’t quite the right word for it, since he was floating. White circled the Gemini IV spacecraft several times using an air gun to propel himself. When that ran out of fuel, he got around by tugging on the shiny gold tether connecting him to the spacecraft.
One Small Step
“It’s absolutely no trouble to walk around,” said Neil Armstrong during the most epic spacewalk of all time. He and Buzz Aldrin became the first men to walk on the moon on July 21, 1969. (And yes, a moonwalk is a type of spacewalk.)
Why Spacewalk When You Can Drive?
Astronaut Jim Irwin loads supplies into the lunar rover during 1971’s Apollo 15 mission.
With Earth in the background, Apollo 17 mission commander Eugene Cernan poses for a patriotic picture.
Harrison Schmitt, lunar module pilot for Apollo 17, scoops up lunar soil samples. Pressurized space suits make it hard for astronauts to bend their knees, fingers, or other body parts, so the adjustable shovel is a big help.
You Go, Girl
Kathryn Sullivan became the first American woman to perform a spacewalk in 1984. She and crewmate David Leestma left the space shuttle for three and a half hours to test out a new way of refueling satellites in orbit.
For decades, astronauts in orbit had to be tied to their spacecraft when stepping outside. In 1984, Bruce McCandless performed the first untethered spacewalk using a Manned Maneuvering Unit—a handheld device that shoots out nitrogen gas for propulsion.
In 1990, a giant 4.5-ton Intelsat communications satellite failed to reach its intended orbit. Two years later, a crew of astronauts went up to install a new motor that would get the satellite to where it needed to be. The complicated mission, which was a success, broke several records for NASA, including:
>the first (and only, to date) spacewalk involving three astronauts; first shuttle mission to feature four spacewalks; first shuttle mission requiring three rendezvous with an orbiting spacecraft; first attachment of a live rocket motor to an orbiting satellite and first use of a drag chute during a shuttle landing.
Putting together the International Space Station took 13 years, dozens of launches, and many spacewalks. In this photo, taken in 2002, astronaut David Wolf is installing a camera on the space station’s exterior.
STS-116 astronauts installed part of the space station’s main backbone in 2006.
Hubble wasn’t in great shape back in 2009. It’s orbit was sinking back toward Earth, its cameras were breaking, batteries dying. With NASA preparing to mothball the Space Shuttle, the astronauts on mission STS-125 knew that this would be the last chance to whip Hubble back into shape. During a grueling five days of spacewalks, they repaired the telescope and installed new instruments. Because of their hard work, the telescope continues to return incredible space images to this day.
With its Asteroid Redirect Mission, NASA plans to capture a boulder from a nearby asteroid and bring it into orbit around the Moon in 2025. Then, astronauts will rendezvous with the asteroid chunk to study it and perhaps practice spacewalking. This drawing shows what that spacewalk might look like, though the real boulder will likely be smaller—more on the order of 13 feet in diameter.
NASA hopes to put human footprints on Mars sometime in the 2030s. The red planet is cold and not terribly hospitable, so future Mars explorers will venture out in space suits such as this one. The Z2 space suit is designed to be easier for astronauts to move around in.