Bruce McCandless, a NASA astronaut who is most well-known for a photo in which he is decked out in a spacesuit and floating freely above the Earth during a spacewalk outside the ill-fated shuttle Challenger, died on Dec. 21 at age 80, the space agency said.

The mission specialist was the first person to float around without being tethered to a spacecraft, which is part of what made the 1984 photo so iconic. Six years later, he returned to space in the shuttle Discovery to help release the Hubble Space Telescope, the prolific telescope in orbit around the Earth that has shed light on many aspects of the universe through its detailed photos.

“My wife was at mission control, and there was quite a bit of apprehension,” McCandless wrote in the Guardian a couple of years ago, as he recalled the experience. “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.”

Although he was not tethered to the spacecraft during his famous spacewalk, the astronaut had a personal propulsion system that helped him control his movement.

The space shuttle Challenger that took up McCandless and the rest of that crew on that 1984 mission was destroyed during a launch two years later.

NASA noted that in addition to his own missions to space, McCandless performed work on the ground in communications for the Apollo 11 mission, during which Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin walked on the moon.

McCandless was born in Boston on June 8, 1937, and graduated high school in Long Beach, California. He was a graduate of the United States Naval Academy and a retired captain with the U.S. Navy who later was trained in electrical engineering and business.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to Bruce’s family,” acting NASA Administrator Robert Lightfoot said in the space agency’s statement.

McCandless is survived by his wife, Ellen Shields McCandless; son Bruce McCandless III and wife Patricia; daughter Tracy McCandless; granddaughters Emma Rose and Carson Clare McCandless; brother Douglas M. McCandless; and sisters Sue M. Woodridge and Rosemary V. McCandless.

mccandless-portrait Retired NASA astronaut Bruce McCandless II died on Dec. 21, 2017. Photo: NASA