First Spacewalk (March 18, 1965)
Venturing out into space wearing nothing but a spacesuit is a daring act in itself. But over hundreds of spacewalks since 1965, there are a few that stand out because of their length, or what the astronauts did during those times “outside” the spacecraft. Here are a few of the more memorable ones.
Alexei Leonov was the first person to perform a spacewalk. The Soviet Union cosmonaut was outside for about 20 minutes and then encountered a problem getting back into the hatch because his suit had expanded. Leonov bled out some of his air to return. "It was the alpha and the omega: the first, and very nearly Leonov's last, spacewalk," said Nicholas de Monchaux, an associate design professor at the University of California, Berkeley who wrote a book called Spacesuit: Fashioning Apollo.
First U.S. Spacewalk (June 3, 1965)
Three months after the Soviet Union, NASA's Ed White did the first U.S. spacewalk and also spent about 20 minutes moving in space with the help of a gas gun. de Monchaux added that the image of a person floating alone in space was a sought-after icon for propagandists who wanted to evoke ideas of angels. As such, the White spacewalk "was also illustrative of the way in which the visual iconography of space travel was part of the battle of the Cold War."
Furthest Spacewalks from Earth (1971-72)
One astronaut on each of the Apollo 15, 16 and 17 missions dared to venture outside while the crews were on their way back to Earth – making them the furthest-flung EVAs ever performed by humans. What also was unique about these spacewalks is the role of a second crew member that acted as an observer, said Jim Oberg, a space historian who frequently comments for NBC. "On each one, a second crewman was standing up in the hatch with time to look out over the entire universe," he told Space.com.
McCandless Spacewalk in 1984
Using a kind of jetpack called the Manned Maneuvering Unit, NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless did the first untethered spacewalk during STS-41B. He first tested it out inside the payload bay of the space shuttle Challenger, then flew it 320 feet away from the space shuttle. "That was really the first time you had a human being operating like one of those angels, moving him or herself in trans-Earth space," de Monchaux said.
Shortest Spacewalk (Sept. 3, 2004)
The shortest spacewalk in history was only 14 minutes, which occurred when U.S. astronaut Michael Fincke was working on construction for the International Space Station. A pressurization problem occurred in his tank and he and his crewmate, Gennady Padalka, were forced to abort. Padalka and Fincke were using Russian Orlan suits due to cooling issues in the U.S. suits, according to the Washington Post.
Longest Spacewalk (March 11, 2001).
The longest spacewalk was 8 hours, 56 minutes and took place during STS-102 on March 11, 2001. NASA astronauts Susan Helms and Jim Voss got the Pressurized Mating Adapter ready for a move from the Unity module to clear the way for Leonardo, a temporary module that brought supplies to and from space. They also removed an antenna and moved a lab cradle assembly from space shuttle Discovery to the International Space Station.
Spacewalk with the Most People (May 13, 1992).
Part of STS-49's work in 1992 was supposed to capture an errant satellite, Intelsat VI, which was stuck in low-Earth orbit instead of the intended geostationary orbit. But the capture bar intended to grab the satellite didn't work during two EVA attempts with two astronauts. To lend an extra hand, NASA authorized a third astronaut to go outside – the first and only time so far three astronauts have worked on EVAs at the same time.
Most Dangerous Russian Suit Spacewalk (July 17, 1990)
One of the spacewalks most deserving of "needing some respect" came during a spacewalk on space station Mir with cosmonauts Anatoly Solovyev and Aleksandr Balandin, according to Oberg. The 1990 spacewalk to repair insulation on a damaged Soyuz spacecraft turned dangerous when Mir's hatch wouldn't close when the work was completed. The cosmonauts were forced to use a backup hatch at the Kvant-2 module. "Probably the closest case we know of a near-death Russian spacewalk," Oberg said.
Most Dangerous U.S. Suit Spacewalk (July 13, 1990)
Minutes after European Space Agency astronaut Luca Parmitano left the hatch for an International Space Station Expedition 36 spacewalk in July 1990, he felt water pooling at the back of his helmet. Once NASA realized the leak couldn't be contained, it ordered Parmitano and his crewmate, Chris Cassidy, back inside. By the time Parmitano was back inside the station, the water was in his ears and eyes. The leak was later traced to a problem in the backpack. Spacewalks were suspended for months while NASA investigated the situation and made changes to the suit.
Most Daring Space Station Repairs (Skylab and ISS)
There have been two difficult space station repairs that astronauts accomplished during spacewalks. One series took place in May and June 1973 when astronauts on the first Skylab mission did repairs to their station, which was damaged during launch. Among their substantial work, they deployed a solar shade to keep the overheating station cool. A second daring spacewalk, on Nov. 3, 2007, saw NASA STS-120 astronaut Scott Parazynski ride a robotic arm to an International Space Station solar array – an array that was damaged during unfurling – to do tricky repairs while the array was still powered.