The International Space Station is a big, important object orbiting the Earth so it needs lots of love and care. Astronauts who are living aboard the station frequently head outside and do repairs and other maintenance on the equipment. The extravehicular activities, also known as spacewalks, have the astronauts hanging over the Earth and against the black background of outer space, making for spectacular views.
Although astronauts on spacewalks these days are always out there doing work on the International Space Station, the first spacewalks weren’t that way. Ed White was the first American to venture out into extravehicular activity. That happened on June 3, 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission on which he was a pilot. He orbited Earth for four days and spent some time floating outside, while attached to the spacecraft via a cord that reached almost 50 feet, NASA says. He controlled where he moved with a unit in his right hand. Astronaut Jim McDivitt was inside the spacecraft.
“The spacewalk started at 3:45 p.m. EDT on the third orbit when White opened the hatch and used the hand-held maneuvering oxygen-jet gun to push himself out of the capsule,” according to NASA. “The EVA started over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and lasted 23 minutes, ending over the Gulf of Mexico. … After the first three minutes the fuel ran out and White maneuvered by twisting his body and pulling on the tether.”
When the scientists and engineers aboard the International Space Station go outside for a spacewalk, there is always someone who remains inside. This image from a few years ago shows a view through the window of Russian cosmonaut and flight engineer Alexander Misurkin, who was on a nearly six-hour mission with fellow cosmonaut Fyodor Yurchikhin.
Although astronauts get amazing views of the Earth during their spacewalks — and as they orbit the planet aboard the International Space Station — they are floating in the middle of nowhere, and that becomes apparent when the camera is pointed in other directions. In this photo, astronaut Dave Wolf hangs in front of the great void as he works on the ISS during a spacewalk in 2009, one of five in a row that took place in a single week. His spacewalk partner, Tom Marshburn, is out of frame.
This photo of Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kotov gives a good view of what astronauts see when their spacewalk partner snaps a picture of them during their floating work. Kotov, a flight engineer, was assisting in maintenance work on the International Space Station with fellow cosmonaut Sergey Ryazanskiy in 2013. The spacewalk lasted almost six hours.
As a bonus, Ryazanskiy is aboard the space station again now and he is the cosmonaut who shared the first panoramic video taken in space.
In the video, up and down get twisted around during some shots as astronauts move around outside the station in orbit above the Earth.
Another view of the same six-hour spacewalk for Kotov and Ryazanskiy shows the Russian cosmonauts floating above the Earth as they perform an installation and maintenance work on the International Space Station in 2013. “Earth’s horizon and the blackness of space provide the backdrop for the scene,” NASA says.
Astronauts aboard the International Space Station already get breathtaking views of the Earth every day, but during spacewalks there is nothing but a visor between them and their home planet. This photo of Mike Hopkins demonstrates just how it can appear. Hopkins was switching out a “faulty water pump” on the ISS along with his spacewalk partner, Rick Mastracchio, who took this photo. Mastracchio’s reflection can be seen at the center of Hopkins’ visor holding the camera.
Astronaut John Grunsfeld has spent a total of about 2.5 days on spacewalks, including this mission to do work on the Hubble Space Telescope in 2009. As he was floating in space, his spacewalk partner Andrew Feustel took this photo, as NASA says he was “perched on the end of the Canadian-built remote manipulator system arm.” Feustel is visible in the reflection of Grunsfeld’s helmet, as is the Earth they call home. The pair would team up again another two times for extravehicular activity.