Alexei Leonov – the Story of the First Astronaut who Walked in Space26th Apr 2022
Each event in the 60-year history of space exploration, and there were hundreds of them, was important for the development of mankind, to one degree or another, and will forever remain in history books; still, the first spacewalk from Alexei Leonov is one of those events that had the most significant impact. Today, space no longer seems something unattainable, and many space technologies are so firmly integrated into our lives that we take them for granted. In fact, behind this apparent simplicity is the titanic work of thousands of scientists, space engineers and astronauts. And today, we will talk about one of them – Alexei Leonov – who was the first to walk in space.
Space exploration requires not only knowledge, skills and abilities but also dedication, courage, mental and physical health. Alex Leonov had all those qualities. Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov went down in history as a military pilot, astronaut, engineer, scientist, and artist. His story can be an inspiration for many, so we decided to add it to our People in Space section.
Painting in the sky
Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov was born in 1934 in the Kemerovo region, USSR, in a farmer’s family. Even at school, Leonov displayed outstanding resourcefulness, diligence and determination. Alexei’s artistic talent, revealed during the creation of school posters, surprised both teacher and classmates.
Still, Leonov chose not to paint on a canvas and focused on painting in the sky instead. He graduated from an aviation school of initial training, a military aviation school, and a few years later became a class I military pilot, having recorded 278 hours of flight and 115 parachute jumps.
In 1958, Leonov, like the whole world, followed the first satellite launch with bated breath, and already in 1960, together with Yuri Gagarin and German Titov, Leonov was enlisted in the cosmonaut corps. The selection was very tough – out of 3500 candidates, only 20 were selected. This is how the career of а cosmonaut Alexei Leonov started.
Alexei Leonov – The first in outer space
In 1965, Leonov became as popular as Gagarin as the Voskhod-2 spacecraft successfully reached orbit on 18th March. In 26 hours and 2 minutes, the crew with Leonov completed the entire program of scientific research, including the experiment on manned spacewalks.
To exit the ship, cosmonaut Leonov used an inflatable airlock and a Berkut spacesuit. The supply of oxygen in the suit was designed for 30 minutes and was consumed at a rate of 30 litres per minute. Leonov spent 12 minutes 9 seconds outside the ship, and the total spacewalk time was 23 minutes 41 seconds. It was a breakthrough in the conquest of space, opening up new horizons for science.
When Alexei Leonov walked into space, the spacesuit swelled up due to the pressure difference, and the astronaut could not get back into the ship – Alexei Leonov could not fit through the hatch. But Leonov retained his composure and managed to release the air from the suit through the valve, which allowed him to return to the airlock.
No less stressful was the astronauts’ return to the Earth. Due to the failure of the automatic orientation system, the landing was carried out manually. As a result, the ship landed in the impenetrable taiga, where the helicopter could not even land. For two days, the lumberjacks prepared the landing site, to which the astronauts travelled on skis delivered by rescuers. Finally, the helicopter took the crew, so it all ended well.
Leonov showed high professional and personal qualities in the first mission, so he was chosen for a new, incredible step in space exploration – the docking of the spacecraft of the two countries as part of the Apollo-Soyuz mission. This was Alexei’s second flight and a record one in terms of duration – 7 days 32 minutes.
The historic event took place on 15th July 1975. Cosmonauts
- Alexei Leonov;
- Valery Kubasov;
- Vance Brand;
- Thomas Stafford;
- Donald Slayton
opened the hatches of their ships for a symbolic handshake of the crews. During the experiment, astronauts transferred between the ships four times.
Between life and death
Besides the case with the swollen spacesuit, which almost left Alexei forever in space, there were another two accidents when Alexei Leonov could die. In 1969, during the assassination attempt on the head of the Soviet state, Leonid Brezhnev, the car in which Leonov and his colleagues were travelling was mistakenly fired upon. Friends were wounded, but what happened to Alexei Leonov? He did not get a single scratch.
The second danger arose two years later. Leonov and two other pilots were supposed to fly to the Salut-1 orbital station, but the medical commission did not allow one of the cosmonauts, Valery Kubasov, to fly. As a result, Leonov’s crew was replaced by a backup, which died on the way back due to an emergency depressurization of the ship.
Alexei Leonov can safely be called lucky because all the projects in which he participated were successful both for science and for himself. The only failure in his career occurred when Alexei Leonov wanted to walk on the Moon. For five years, he was a member of the group getting ready for the moon flight, was training with his crew for the flight and landing, writing a letters petition to the highest authorities to allow the expedition, but did not receive a positive response. Due to the high cost of this project, the USSR never sent a single cosmonaut to the Moon, limiting itself to interplanetary stations.
Life Beyond the Space
Who was Alexei Leonov beyond the space? In addition to space flights and hundreds of hours of training, he was seriously interested in fencing, cycling, and painting. The world knows more than 200 paintings by Leonov and several collections of space-themed postage stamps, created together with artist Andrei Sokolov. Leonov is the author of four inventions and more than ten scientific papers and books, including “Pedestrian of space,” “Going out into space,” and “Solar wind.”
After his retirement, the astronaut was involved in charity work, headed an investment fund and oversaw several space programmes. His merits are marked by titles, orders and medals, prizes and certificates. Together with his wife Svetlana, Leonov raised two daughters – Victoria and Oksana.
There will be no tragic story about how Alexei Leonov died. He went through an interesting, eventful life path of 85 years. For the last eight months of his life, the astronaut suffered the consequences of diabetes and was in the hospital, where he died in the fall of 2019.
The man who made a huge contribution to the conquest of space has gone down in history forever. Streets, planetariums, schools and universities, an airport and even a crater on the moon are named after him. When Alexei Leonov died, in honour of the first person who walked in space, a cosmonaut Alexei Leonov’s memorial plaque was unveiled in Moscow, Russia.