NASA is celebrating 20 years since one of its astronauts first emerged from the Quest airlock on the International Space Station into the cold void of space.
The Historic Spacewalk – or Extravehicular Activity (EVA) as it is officially known – took place on July 21, 2001 and was one of more than 240 that have taken place outside of the outpost in orbit over the years.
Previous EVAs conducted on the ISS from 1998 to early 2001 included their construction, with NASA’s space shuttle launching many pieces of the habitable satellite into orbit.
Ever since the Quest airlock was first used two decades ago, EVAs have been used regularly for maintenance and modernization work, in which astronauts from more than 10 countries have participated.
In a video (above) released by NASA this week, astronaut Mike Gernhardt, whose three ISS spacewalks 20 years ago included the first from the station’s Quest airlock, described this particular EVA as a “huge experience,” the required years of preparation.
On the anniversary of the first moonwalk, Gernhardt recalled the “big rush” he felt when he emerged from the airlock for the first time – although he said this was mainly because the experience made him feel like he was doing fall to earth 250 miles below.
The NASA astronaut said that during these early EVAs he and his crewmates developed many tools and equipment that are still used today, including a special bag to carry gear and a body restraint strap that astronauts use to quickly secure themselves when they are to a new place outside the station.
While space walks certainly pose risks for astronauts, NASA’s excellent training methods, safety procedures, and carefully designed equipment ensure that dangerous incidents are rare. Fortunately, no one died or was seriously injured during an EVA on the space station, but there have been a number of worrying events over the past 20 years.
Perhaps the most serious of these was Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, who nearly drowned while walking through space in 2013 when his helmet inexplicably filled with water. In his own amazing account of the incident, Parmitano revealed that while working outside the ISS, water droplets got into his nose, mouth and eyes, impaired his vision and, more worryingly, prevented him from breathing properly. Fortunately, through his calm reaction and extensive training, Parmitano was able to return safely to the airlock, where the problem attributed to a contaminated fan pump in the spacesuit was safely resolved.
Looking ahead to future spacewalks, Gernhardt said there will be many on the moon in the years to come when NASA sends the next man and woman to the lunar surface on its first crewed visit since 1972, much more toward science and exploration than that Kind of maintenance and upgrade work we normally see on the ISS.
The first American to march in space was Ed White in 1965. See what he looked like during the historic event and also enjoy a gallery of other stunning images showing space walks over the years.