First astronaut to fly untethered in space, Bruce McCandless dies

NASA officials confirm former astronaut Bruce McCandless II passed away on Thursday, at the age of 80.


McCandless is perhaps best remembered as the subject of a famous NASA photograph, flying alongside the space shuttle in the Manned Maneuvering Unit or MMU.

He was the first astronaut to fly untethered from his spacecraft and also served as the Mission Control communicator for Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin’s moonwalk on the Apollo 11 mission.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce’s family,” said acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot. “He will always be known for his iconic photo flying the MMU.”

McCandless was a retired U. S. Navy captain and one of the 19 astronauts selected by NASA in 1966. He was a member of the astronaut support crew for the Apollo 14 mission and was backup pilot for the first crewed Skylab mission. He flew as a mission specialist on two space shuttle missions where he performed the famous spacewalk and helped deploy the Hubble Space Telescope.

Of his famous spacewalk, he wrote in 2015: “My wife [Bernice] was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension. I wanted to say something similar to Neil [Armstrong] when he landed on the moon, so I said, ‘It may have been a small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.’ That loosened the tension a bit.”