When astronauts venture outside of the International Space Station to go on spacewalks, the most important thing they have to do is focus.
This may sound simple, but imagine trying to focus on a memorized set of tasks while stepping out of an airlock and wearing a 300-pound spacesuit – with the glow of planet Earth and the sun and the dark void of the universe all around you. A tether connects you to the space station, and the absence of gravity keeps you from falling.
“There’s a lot of things that you really need to do, one of which is just keep your focus, even though it’s amazing out there,” said NASA astronaut Mike Fincke. “It’s really truly breathtaking. The only thing between you and the rest of the universe, seeing the whole cosmos of creation, is the glass faceplate of your visor on your helmet, and it’s just awe-inspiring.”
Depending on the orientation of the space station, which completes 16 orbits of the Earth each day while moving at 17,500 miles per hour, our planet can appear above or below the astronauts.
Fincke is a veteran of spaceflight. He’s spent 382 days in space, and he’s gone on nine spacewalks in Russian and American spacesuits. Fincke is training in Texas for his fourth spaceflight and will launch to the space station later this year on the first crewed experimental test flight of Boeing’s Starliner.
More than 550 people have been to space and about half of them have been on a spacewalk, Fincke said. Spacewalks are often referred to as EVAs, or extravehicular activities.
The first spacewalk by an American astronaut was conducted by NASA astronaut Ed White on June 3, 1965. He left the Gemini 4 capsule at 3:45 p.m. ET and remained outside of it for 23 minutes. (Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei A. Leonov completed the world’s first spacewalk on March 18 of that year.)
Gemini 4 circled the Earth 66 times in four days. During the spacewalk, White began over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and went back inside the capsule as they flew over the Gulf of Mexico.