Image of untethered US astronaut in space altered to add mountain landscape

An image of astronaut Bruce McCandless II floating untethered in space was edited to add snow-capped mountains visible on Earth and shared in Facebook posts that falsely claimed it was a real photo published by NASA. The original NASA photo of McCandless' 1984 spacewalk, however, does not show mountain ranges beneath him.

"NASA published a chilling photo," read a Korean-language Facebook post that shared the edited image on April 25.

The picture appears to show an astronaut floating in space above snow-capped mountain ranges.

The astronaut "ventured away from the safety of the space shuttle and performed an untethered spacewalk," the post added.

<span>Screenshot of the Facebook post, taken on May 22, 2024</span>
Screenshot of the Facebook post, taken on May 22, 2024

The altered image was shared elsewhere on Facebook, as well as on South Korean sites NewsPic, Gezip, Naver Cafe and Naver Blog.

Some social media users appeared to believe the picture was real.

"Light is reflected without any loss in space," one user commented. "That's why colours are extremely vibrant."

"It's freaking awesome!" another wrote.

The picture, however, has been edited to add mountains below the astronaut.

Manipulated image

A reverse image search on Google found the doctored image was first shared on image-sharing site Flickr on February 4, 2011 by Toronto-based photographer Tianxiao Zhang (archived here and here).

"I shot the Earth part in this photo," the image description read in part.

In the caption, Zhang said he created the image in tribute to the 27th anniversary of the STS-41B mission. He said the upper half of the image was taken from a 1984 photo by NASA.

That photo is available on NASA's website (archived link).

Below is a screenshot comparison between the doctored image (left) and the original NASA photo (right):

<span>Screenshot comparison between the doctored image (L) and the original NASA photo (R)</span>
Screenshot comparison between the doctored image (L) and the original NASA photo (R)

The photo caption read: "On Feb. 12, 1984, astronaut Bruce McCandless, ventured further away from the confines and safety of his ship than any previous astronaut had ever been."

According to NASA, Bruce McCandless II's stunt was the first-ever untethered spacewalk (archived link).

NASA added that he travelled 320 feet (98 metres) away from the Orbiter spacecraft using a jet-propelled backpack known as the Manned Maneuvering Unit.