NASA astronaut, 1st to fly untethered in space, dies at 80

Astronaut Bruce McCandless II, STS-41-B mission specialist, uses his hands to control his movement above the Earth -- just a few meters away from the space shuttle Challenger -- during the first-ever spacewalk which didn't use restrictive tethers and umbilicals. Fellow crewmembers aboard the Challenger used a 70mm camera to expose this frame on Feb. 7, 1984, through windows on the flight deck. McCandless was joined by Robert L. Stewart, one of two other mission specialists for this flight, on two sessions of EVA. (Image Credit: NASA)

HOUSTON (AP) — NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless, the first person to fly freely and untethered in space, has died. He was 80.

NASA's Johnson Space Center says McCandless died Thursday in California. No cause of death was given.

McCandless was famously photographed in 1984 flying with a hefty spacewalker's jetpack, alone in the cosmic blackness above a blue Earth. He was on a spacewalk from the space shuttle Challenger at the time.

McCandless also served as the Mission Control capsule communicator in Houston as Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon in 1969.

McCandless was selected for astronaut training during the Gemini program, and he was a backup pilot for the first manned Skylab mission in 1973.

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