Bruce McCandless, former Navy Pilot and astronaut, died on Thursday, the 21st. McCandless was known primarily for being the first man to make an untethered space walk, otherwise known as “untethered free flight,” where they disconnect entirely from their spacecraft and head on out into the abyss. The image featured above is the famous picture of McCandless during this landmark experience.
McCandless has quite the family history. His father, also Bruce McCandless, was a Medal of Honor recipient for actions conducted on the U.S.S. San Francisco during WWII. His grandfather was also a Medal of Honor recipient, earned during his service in the Navy — there was an accident on the ship that wounded him, but he was able to extinguish the fire and save the vessel, thereby saving everyone on it. Another one of the McCandless family members received the Navy Cross in WWI.
His family history isn’t over.
He was the great, great-grandson of the infamous western outlaw, David C. McCanles of the McCanles Gang. This is the nine-man gang that was famously gunned down by “Wild Bill” Hickock in 1861, earning Wild Bill his nickname. This is not quite the legacy his descendants would fall in line with, and their family would change their last name from McCanles to McCandless due to the incident.
However, the family history seems to touch every corner of the American way, and the astronaut Bruce McCandless lived up to expectations in every sense of the notion.
A Boston native, born in 1937, McCandless joined the Navy and became a pilot in 1960. There, he flew the Skyray and the F-4B Phantom II, flying planes off of aircraft carriers and finding himself involved in the Cuban Missile Crisis. He became a flight instructor, and during his military career would find proficiency in numerous flight platforms, to include the Bell 47G helicopter, the T-33B Shooting Star, T-38A Talon, F-4B Phantom II, F-6A Skyray, F-11 Tiger, F-9 Cougar, T-1 Seastar, and the T-34B Mentor.
This was before he was 28 years old.
At 28, he became an astronaut with NASA — the youngest of the group at the time in 1966. From there he would fly several missions with NASA, logging just over 13 days in space. He was the first man to walk untethered away from a spacecraft, to which he commented:
I wanted to say something similar to Neil [Armstrong] when he landed on the moon, so I said, ‘It may have been a small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.’ That loosened the tension a bit.”
He told the Daily Camera in Boulder that,
I was grossly over-trained. I was just anxious to get out there and fly. I felt very comfortable … It got so cold my teeth were chattering and I was shivering, but that was a very minor thing.”
He was married to his wife Bernice for 53 years, and they had two children. She passed in 2014. He is survived by his second wife, Ellen Sheilds McCandless.
Featured image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.