SPACE CENTER, Houston -- Buck Rogers could have captured Killer Kane in short order with one of NASA's new jet backpacks, which performed flawlessly Tuesday for man's first walk in space without safety tethers.
'It looks like we sure have a nice flying machine here,' astronaut Bruce McCandless bragged as he flew the $10 million backpack up and away from the shuttle Challenger without a lifeline.
'This is neat,' he said.
The breathtaking show provided proof of the U.S. space program's capability to work in space, and brought back memories of an old space flier who defended justice in the comics.
'Now you have a tool that enables the structural act of building space stations,' said Bill Bollendonk of Martin Marietta Aerospace, builder of the devices that NASA calls manned maneuvering units but most people are getting to know as the 'Buck Rogers' jetpacks.
'When you consider both crewmen flew it without any unknowns and no problems, that's an outstanding achievement ... We're certainly thrilled at the performance of the system,' he said.
NASA flight director John Cox said the backpacks exceeded expectations.
'It was better than we ever hoped for,' Cox said.
Americans sat spellbound Tuesday morning watching live coverage of the historic spacewalks via the four major television networks.
Had viewers gotten a glimpse of the shuttle from a distance, they would have seen Challenger's tail pointed toward Earth, with its belly facing its direction of travel. The spacewalkers trailed behind the shuttle's open cargo bay.
Taking turns using one of two jetpacks stowed aboard the Challenger, McCandless and Robert Stewart at times stood out starkly against the darkness of space in their white pressurized spacesuits.
At other times, the astronauts -- with white lights flashing like airplane beacons from the top and bottom of the jetpack -- were silhouetted against the bluish-white Earth.
'What a view!' McCandless exclaimed during his 1 -hour free flight in space. 'Is this Africa I'm coming over? It sure is!'
Flying alongside Challenger as it circled the Earth at 17,000 mph, commander Vance Brand told McCandless, 'You may get the name of the world's fastest human being going along there at 4 miles per second.'
Before he took off his jetpack, McCandless offered to do some down-to-earth chores.
'You going to want the windows washed or anything while I'm out here?' he joked.