'Suit Up': NASA Documentary Hails 50 Years of Spacewalk History

NASA is celebrating the first U.S. spacewalk 50 years ago with a new documentary on the history of humans working in their own private human-shaped spacecraft.

Astronaut Ed White became the first American to step into space on June 3, 1965, during NASA's Gemini 4 mission. The pictures and video of White on that first U.S. spacewalk, floating above Earth in a white spacesuit with tethers tumbling behind him, are still widely published today.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made history on March 18, 1965 when he made the first spacewalk in history. See how that first spacewalk worked in our full infographic. (Image credit: By Karl Tate, Infographics Artist)

In the years since, astronauts have used spacewalks to explore the moon, perform vital repairs to the crippled Skylab space station, build the International Space Station, and snag satellites — including the Hubble Space Telescope, which had five servicing missions. [The Evolution of the Spacesuit in Photos]

The new NASA documentary, called "Suit Up," is narrated by Jon Cryer, who is best known for starring as Alan Harper in the TV sitcom "Two and a Half Men." You can see the full video on NASA's YouTube channel here. Over the last 50 years, NASA astronauts have performed 264 spacewalks, 184 of them dedicated to building the space station.

Spacewalking is considered a critical part of space exploration because humans are still best able to do the delicate repair and renovation jobs required to keep spacecraft healthy. This year, for example, astronauts are doing a series of spacewalks to add new docking ports to the International Space Station for commercial spacecraft.

"The documentary features interviews with NASA Administrator and astronaut, Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator and spacesuit designer, Dava Newman, as well as other astronauts, engineers, technicians, managers and luminaries of spacewalk history," NASA wrote in a statement.

"They share their personal stories that cover the full EVA experience — from spacesuit manufacturing to spacewalk maneuvering — all brought to life through historical and HD footage."

The documentary ran on NASA Television yesterday (June 1) and will also be available on the agency's YouTube channel.

The agency has a website for "Suit Up" that includes a spacewalk gallery and a history of spacewalking, among many other features. On the website, NASA invites the public to show how they "suit up" for their own jobs, be it firefighting or dancing or something else using the Twitter hashtag #SuitUp.

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Elizabeth Howell
Staff Writer, Spaceflight

Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace