Iconic NASA Space Walk Photos Continue to Inspire


One of the key challenges in environmental portraiture is finding the right balance between subject and setting. Zoom in too close, and you lose the magic of location. Too wide, and it’s not a portrait anymore.

There are times, however, when you have to forget the rules. Like when you’re orbiting 150 miles above the Earth and one of your colleagues is about to take the first ever untethered space walk.

That’s what astronaut Robert Gibson realized on February 7th, 1984, when fellow Challenger crew member Bruce McCandless II suited up to become the first human to wander freely in space.

Astronaut Robert Gibson

Astronaut Robert Gibson

Using a newly designed jet pack that promised to give astronauts unprecedented mobility, McCandless floated as far as 320 feet away from the shuttle as Gibson peered through the viewfinder of his Hasselblad and captured the journey from the other side of the glass.

Speaking with Smithsonian about the photograph below, Gibson said he realized at the time that he was capturing something epic. He remembers thinking “Holy smokes, what an image this is… If I don’t mess this up, I will get an Aviation Week cover with this picture.”

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II floating a few meters away from the cabin. He eventually got as far as 320 feet away from the Orbiter.

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II floating a few meters away from the cabin. He eventually got as far as 320 feet away from the Orbiter, further than any previous astronaut had ever been.

He got two… but even more than that, Gibson’s photos from that space walk have become some of the most reprinted images in the huge NASA catalog (some of which you can now find on Instagram), especially the photo above.

Both pictures eloquently comment on mankind’s place in the universe, and have been used to adorn everything from album covers to wall clocks.

McCandless told Smithsonian that he believes the key to the second image’s enduring popularity is that you can’t tell who’s inside the spacesuit. “I have the sun visor down, so you can’t see my face, and that means it could be anybody in there,” says McCandless. “It’s sort of a representation not of Bruce McCandless, but mankind.”

Image credits: Photographs by Robert Gibson/NASA

  • Cochese

    I find it all amazing. The fact that we’ve gone to space, the moon, landed a “Buick” on Mars… This isn’t the end, obviously, but it hurts just a little to know that NASA struggles to find funding while we continue to spend more and more money on playing “Team America: World Police.”


    I agree with you that there are much better places to spend money. The sad part is though, if we ever did actually manage to colonize Mars, we’d police that too. =

    Team America: Galaxy Police

  • RMJ

    fake. no stars.

  • JoJo


  • stp

    Thank god for an expert.

  • Jaybee

    On earth with daylight you won’t see any stars either

  • RMJ

    Yes, but for a different reason.

  • Vycka

    Ball`s of steel!!!