The image of the first untethered spacewalk – a man in a spacesuit, floating at an angle above Earth – is among the most iconic of manned spaceflights. The man who made that spacewalk in 1984 was astronaut Bruce McCandless II. His son, Bruce McCandless III, has released a book called “Wonders All Around: The Incredible True Story of Astronaut Bruce McCandless II and the First Untethered Flight in Space.”
McCandless told Texas Standard that people seeing the spacewalk in 1984 had only grainy video images. Later, NASA released a high-quality image, taken of his father by his crewmate, Robert “Hoot” Gibson.
“It’s a pretty magnificent, sort of iconic, image,” McCandless said. “Terrifying and beautiful at the same time.”
Bruce McCandless II became an astronaut in the 1960s, but the 1984 spacewalk occurred on his first mission, aboard the space shuttle Challenger, 18 years after he joined the astronaut program.
“He wasn’t as polished as some of the astronauts,” McCandless said. “He was a brilliant man, capable of intense concentration and very inventive, but wasn’t always as much of a team player as he could have been.”
McCandless II was never diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder, but his son says it is conceivable that he did.
“Back then, of course, that sort of thing wasn’t discussed, or widely known about,” McCandless said. “And with my dad’s cohort of astronauts, the very last thing any one of them would have admitted is that they were different in any sense.”
In 1973, a news article questioned McCandless II’s career as an astronaut, speculating that he was a “washout” since he had not yet been assigned to a space mission. McCandless says his father didn’t discuss his feelings about the story, but kept six copies of it in his files.
“If nothing else, it motivated him,” McCandless said. “I think he worked a lot harder because of it.”
McCandless did not pursue a Naval career like his father or grandfather. It was a source of friction between father and son for a time, but he says the two eventually healed their relationship.