Deceptively difficult

Here’s how astronauts learned to walk in space

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NASA astronauts have just completed the 8th spacewalk so far this year. The mission: affix new solar panels to the International Space Station.

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The fact that astronauts are able to do work like this is a huge feat of technology and human ability.

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Walking through space is a notoriously difficult task.

But over time we’ve learned how to train our bodies and build devices that help us withstand the zero-gravity environment.

These six seminal spacewalks helped us find our footing...

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1965: Stepping Out

Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov conducted the first spacewalk in 1965.

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He drifted in space for a little more than 12 weightless minutes while attached to his spacecraft.

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Just a few months later in 1965, American astronaut Edward H. White did the same thing — this time for 36 minutes.

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Despite making it look effortless, early spacewalkers found it too difficult physically to perform any work outside the spacecraft.

1969: Men on the Moon

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong took the first steps on the lunar surface in what is perhaps the most memorable spacewalk in history.

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This time, the astronauts were prepared for the zero-gravity setting of space.

They trained in underwater environments on Earth to simulate the sensations they’d feel on the lunar surface.

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Many Apollo-era astronauts were able to spend more than seven hours spacewalking on the Moon’s surface, thanks to physical training and upgrades to their spacesuits.

1973: Saving Skylab

When the first U.S. space station lost its micrometeoroid shield after launch, a crew of savvy astronauts flew up to repair it.

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They postponed their original launch date by 10 days to practice the repair procedures in space-simulated environments on Earth.

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The successful repair marked the first time this kind of maintenance work was done in space — a practice that is now common onboard the ISS.

1984: Welding in Zero-G

In the 1980s, a Soviet team created a tool to enable spacewalking astronauts weld in space.

This tool, as well as other construction techniques, was used to build the USSR space station Salyut 7.

Though the space station was short-lived, the USSR used the same construction techniques to build Mir, a space station that orbited Earth for 15 years.

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These projects ushered in an era of modular space stations, which could not be built or maintained without spacewalking.

1998: Building the ISS

This ambitious international project was assembled in low-Earth orbit over the course of 10 years.

NASA via Wikimedia Commons

NASA

Astronauts have spacewalked to assemble, build and maintain parts aboard the station many times since.

Since 1998, there have been 240 spacewalks at the ISS.

NASA

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We’ve come a long way from the early days of spacewalks.

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Future advances in technology and our understanding of space could enable us to complete even more complex tasks off-Earth — and even on other worlds.

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