This Wednesday, NASA will celebrate the 50th anniversary of the United States' first ever extravehicular activity, or "spacewalk." In honor of that, the space agency made "Suit Up," a 30-minute documentary that revisits the numerous spacewalks that have happened since then like the Hubble repair missions, or Bruce McCandless' death-defying test of NASA's version of a jetpack, the "Manned Maneuvering Unit." The film, narrated by actor Jon Cryer, was premiered on NASA TV this morning and is now available on YouTube (above).
For some, the idea of staring down the universe while floating in the vacuum of space sounds like the thrill of a lifetime. Most astronauts will readily admit that it is, but the never let that excitement build too big before also reminding you of the dangers. But part of "Suit Up" is specifically dedicated to the terrifying story of Italian astronaut Luca Parmitano, whose suit partially filled with water during an EVA in 2013.
Parmitano had to blindly find his way back inside
Not only was Parmitano dealing with a failing suit, the decision to end the EVA and get him back inside came when the International Space Station was on the dark side of the Earth. With water filling his helmet, Parmitano had to blindly make his way to the hatch by memory, counting on the hundreds of hours spent practicing spacewalks at NASA's Neutral Buoyancy Laboratory. (Missing from Suit Up, however, is any discussion of the chain of command problems at NASA that led to the emergency in the first place.)
It's not all about the brave women and men who floated outside, freely or tethered, various orbiting spacecraft. All the spacewalking and driving done on the Moon is considered extravehicular activity, too, so NASA throws in a few anecdotes from Buzz Aldrin and Gene Cernan — the second and last men to walk on its surface, respectively. And the short doc points repeatedly to beyond-orbit targets like Mars and the Asteroid Redirect Mission as the next logical steps for the agency, though it doesn't dive into the technical and political difficulties surrounding each.
It's easy to understand why agency would shy away from some of those uglier details in such a short film, especially one that was made in service of an anniversary; this is no thorough analysis. But if you need to brush up on your spacewalk history, "Suit Up" is full of rosy remembrances of some of NASA's most bold missions, coupled with plenty of agita-inducing footage of humans dangling precariously above our planet.