Story Behind 'Most Terrifying Photo' Ever Taken In Space Is Chilling

By Abdul Rafay in Science and Technology On 30th November 2023

In a situation when most people would have been appropriately terrified, the astronaut at the center of the "most terrifying photo" ever taken in space has described how liberated he felt.

Although everyone has occasionally taken a scary picture—a horrible fall, a Halloween photo, or something else entirely—NASA has asserted that its image remains the "most terrifying photo" ever taken in space.


It depicts an astronaut in space, floating above Earth, disconnected from everything, which is a fairly depressing image and what many dreams are built on.

The historic image was shot on February 7, 1984, from the space shuttle Challenger by astronaut Bruce McCandless II.

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McCandless clarified that he didn't feel quite like that at what would have been a terrifying moment for anyone who likes to have their feet firmly planted on the ground.

Nevertheless, he acknowledged that there was a great deal of stress at NASA at the time.


He and colleague astronaut Bob Stewart strapped themselves into Manned Maneuvering Units (MMUs) and exited the spacecraft on the day the picture was shot.

This allowed them to travel freely in open space while the Challenger spacecraft and they both traveled at a speed of around 28,900 kilometers per hour.

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In reference to the 2015 event, McCandless recollected the NASA environment during the spacewalk in an interview with The Guardian.

"My wife was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension,” he said.

"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."

McCandless had even made a joke about having heard of the quiet vacuum of space before, but with so many people on his radio asking endless questions, it was anything from serene.


He said that he was moving at such high speeds during the spacewalk that he was hardly aware of them.

“My walk lasted six hours 45 minutes, and I stayed alongside the shuttle the whole time, moving 100 yards one way, 100 yards back," he explained.

"I was traveling at more than 18,000 miles an hour, but wasn’t aware of it, because the shuttle was going at the same speed.”

“It was only when I looked at the Earth that I could tell we were moving fairly rapidly. At one point, I noticed we were over the Florida peninsula: it was reassuring to see something I recognized.”


Astronaut Vance D. Brand said on NASA's website, "It was supposed to be an early-day Buck Rogers flying belt, if you know what I mean, except it didn't have the person zooming... real fast."

“It was a huge device on your back that was very well designed [and] redundant so that it was very safe, but [it] move[d] along at about one to two or three miles per hour. It used cold nitrogen gas coming out in spurts to thrust you around and everything.”


"I don’t like those overused lines 'slipped the surly bonds of Earth; but when I was free from the shuttle, they felt accurate," McCandless wrote in the Guardian. "It was a wonderful feeling, a mix of personal elation and professional pride: it had taken many years to get to that point."

I'm sure McCandless has told the story at parties throughout the years, although to be fair, it probably beats out the typical tales of holiday travel.