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NASA celebrates 50 years of spacewalking

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Ed White’s first American spacewalk, June 3, 1965 — NASA.gov

NASA astronaut Ed White left the hatch of Gemini IV fifty years ago this week.

Strapped to a tether 250 miles above Earth — he became the first American to step into space.

With millions glued to their radios and TV sets, White kept it professional. “I thought, ‘What do you say to 194 million people when you’re looking down at them from space?’ Then the solution became very obvious to me… ‘They don’t want me to talk to them. They want to hear what we’re doing up here.’ So what you heard were two test pilots conducting their mission in the best manner possible.”

From his perch high above the world, the avid photographer snapped breathtaking 35 mm images of the California coast, plus, Florida, Cuba and Puerto Rico.

“I’m very thankful in having the experience to be first,” White gushed. “This is fun!”

Then, after 23 minutes in zero gravity, the flight director ordered him back inside the spaceship. “It’s the saddest moment of my life,” he said.

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Ed White’s first American spacewalk, June 3, 1965 — NASA.gov

Soviet cosmonaut Alexey Leonov did it first. White’s mission came three months later — but it was White who proved that productive work could be done outside a spacecraft.

That paved the way for Neil Armstrong and his “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”

neil armstrong

Neil Armstrong’s moonwalk, July 20, 1969 — NASA.gov

NASA astronauts have performed hundreds of spacewalks since the moon landing. Michael Foreman has done five of them — spending more than 32 hours floating in space.

“We’ve come along way in the five decades since we started doing spacewalks,” Foreman said. “The tasks that we’re doing outside on these spacewalks are important for the goals that we have to explore space and also to learn things about living here on Earth.”

In 1973, when Skylab was damaged, repairs were made to the solar panels in space to keep it in orbit.

skylab

Astronaut Jack R. Lousma, Skylab 3 pilot, participates in the Aug. 6, 1973 spacewalk — NASA.gov

During the 1980’s, astronauts began using jet packs to fetch satellites in space and carry out repairs.

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It took five back to back spacewalks to repair and upgrade the Hubble Telescope.

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Astronauts Steven L. Smith and John M. Grunsfeld during the December 1999 Hubble servicing mission of STS-103, flown by Discovery — NASA.gov

Spacewalks are routine now, part of the building and maintenance of the International Space Station — which orbits the Earth at more than 17,000 miles an hour.

ISS

International Space Station assembly EVA made during the STS-116 mission. Robert Curbeam together with Christer Fuglesang over Cook Strait, New Zealand.

Next for NASA — plans to land on an asteroid and walk on Mars. Happy anniversary.

Written and produced by: Ben Bamsey for “CNN Newsroom.”

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Astronaut Chris Cassidy performs a spacewalk on the International Space Station on May 11, 2013 — NASA.gov

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