Beautiful Photos from NASA Mission STS-41B: the First Untethered Spacewalk

We just marked the 40th anniversary of an important NASA mission. What does that have to do with photography? A LOT! Photos from NASA Mission STS-41B are some of the greatest in history!

During the space mission, which took place February 3-11, 1984, astronauts completed the first untethered space walks. Even if you’ve never heard of this specific mission, you’ve definitely seen (some of) the photos!

In talking about the greatest photos of all time, the image from this mission of NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II often enters the conversation. Watch my video below to learn the who, what, where, when, why and how the photography from this mission was created!

Unseen photos from STS-41B

There are so many incredible photos from STS-41B that most people have never seen! Not because they’re hidden. They exist on the National Archives for anyone to view & download, but I’m betting most people don’t spend much time combing archives for photos. That’s why you have me!

Here are some of my personal favorites…

“It may have been one small step for Neil, but it’s a heck of a big leap for me.”

– NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II during the first-ever untethered space walk on February 7, 1984

Hasselblad’s NASA Astronaut’s Photography Manual

Hasselblad produced this NASA Astronaut's Photography Manual in 1984

Originally published in 1984, this manual gave astronauts practical advice on general photography along with tips specific to photographing in space.

My favorite part are the illustrations of astronauts and the space shuttle to demonstrate basic photography principles like depth of field.

I have the full manual available as a PDF for you to see! Since the fundamentals of photography never change, you can use this today to learn the basics!

View the full Manual Here!

Editing Photos from NASA Mission STS-41B

On the National Archive website, they have high-resolution scans of the images from this mission. Many of them are scanned at low contrast to retain as much visual data in the images as possible. So several of these photos I’ve edited myself from those files. See some examples here…

If you click here, you’ll go to the National Archives search with the photos from this mission. Take a look around and download some photos yourself!

All images are public domain since they were taken by a government agency. That means you can even make your own prints if you want to!

Hasselblad’s Custom Cameras for NASA

A lot of people want to know about the cameras and film used, so here’s what I found out…

Gear used included the NASA-modified Hasselblad 500EL/M 70-mm cameras. They were equipped with Zeiss 50-m CF Distagon 4.0, 100-mm CF Planar 3.5, and 250-mm CF Sonfar 5.6 lenses. Kodak Ektachrome 64 Professional 5017 film was used in the two Hasselblad cameras.

Even More photos


Here are more resources that I used when creating this video…

Press kit from 1984 for the mission
View the original photos on the National Archive
NASA webpage on the photography of STS-41B
Full interview with Robert “Hoot” Gibson, who took the most famous of the photos. 22 January 2016
US Black Engineer magazine article on Dr. Ronald McNair and the filming of The Space Shuttle: An American Adventure.
Hasselblad in Space

Author: Zach Dobson

Zach Dobson is a documentary and commercial photographer based in Indianapolis. He holds a degree in journalism from Indiana University with a concentration in photography. Since starting his business in 2006, Zach has focused on documenting people’s lives and businesses in action. Zach’s client list includes the Indiana Pacers, Coca-Cola, the AARP, ZipCar, Indiana University, Visit Bloomington, Hamilton County Tourism, Land O’Lakes, RIOT LA Comedy Festival, Indianapolis Public Schools, Indiana High School Athletic Association. Zach is a Professional Member of the American Society of Media Photographers [ASMP]. He resides in Carmel, Ind. with his wife and business partner, Courtney, and their five children.

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