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Ex-NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless, first to fly untethered in space, dies

By Sam Howard
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Ex-NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless, first to fly untethered in space, dies
On Feb. 12, 1984, astronaut Bruce McCandless, ventured further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut had ever been. This space first was made possible by a nitrogen jet propelled backpack, previously known at NASA as the Manned Manuevering Unit or MMU. After a series of test maneuvers inside and above Challenger's payload bay, McCandless went "free-flying" to a distance of 320 feet away from the Orbiter. This orbital panorama view shows McCandless out there amongst the black and blue of Earth and space. File photo by UPI/NASA | License Photo

Dec. 22 (UPI) -- Former NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless, the first person to fly untethered in space, died this week at 80 years old, the agency said Friday.

McCandless, who died Thursday, became the first astronaut to fly in space without being harnessed to a space vessel on Feb. 7, 1984, while on a mission aboard the space shuttle Challenger. Other astronauts on the mission used a 70mm camera to capture the moment in a now-iconic photograph, NASA said in a release.

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"I don't like those overused lines 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth', but when I was free from the shuttle, they felt accurate," McCandless wrote in an article for The Guardian in July 2015. "It was a wonderful feeling, a mix of personal elation and professional pride: it had taken many years to get to that point."

NASA chose McCandless as an astronaut in 1966. He previously served as a captain in the U.S. Navy and went on to take part as the Mission Control Communicator during the Apollo 11 mission that brought Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the moon in 1969. McCandless also served in the 1990 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery that launched the Hubble Space Telescope.

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He finished his NASA career with more than 312 hours in space.

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