Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to ever walk in space died on Friday at the age of 85 in Moscow.
On March 18, 1965, Leonov created history after he exited the Voskhod 2 spacecraft capsule, tethered by a 16 feet long cable, and floated in space for a duration of 12 minutes and 9 seconds.
In a statement, Russia’s space agency said Leonov, who was forever devoted to his country and work, has inscribed himself in golden letters in the world history of astronautics. Such was his feat, that NASA (once Soviet’s staunch rival in space race) interrupted its live feed of a spacewalk outside the International Space Station by two American astronauts to report about Leonov’s demise.
The Voskhod 2 mission
In the 1960s, Leonov was amongst the 20 Soviet Air Force pilots chosen to be a part of the first cosmonaut training group. His walk-in space was originally planned to have been part of the first mission of the Voskhod series, but it was later shifted to the Voskhod 2 spacecraft instead.
The mission came four years after Yuri Gagarin became the first human to ever journey into space, a major milestone in the space race between the US and the Soviets.
The Voskhod 2 spacecraft, with a capacity of carrying two cosmonauts, had an extended inflatable airlock name ‘Volga’, which was detachable.
The spacecraft took off on March 18, 1965.
“For the first eighteen seconds after lift-off, if anything had gone wrong with the rocket we would not have survived,” Leonov writes in his autobiography Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race, co-authored with an American astronaut named David Scott.
“Ten minutes into the flight, at an altitude of almost 500 km, our capsule separated from the rocket with a loud flap. We were flying far beyond the confines of the Earth’s atmosphere. When we separated from the booster and the roar of its engine stopped, we reached a state of weightlessness. Our first orbit of the Earth had begun,” he writes.
On reaching Earth’s orbit, a white metal Extra-Vehicular Activity (EVA) backpack was attached to Leonov’s spacesuit. The suit was designed to provide oxygen for up to 45 minutes.
Belyayev remained in the cabin, wearing a suit identical to his partner’s, in case a rescue like situation emerges.
“I’m feeling perfect,” Leonov reported to its Mission Control just moments after he was given permission to begin his sortie in space.
The Soviet astronaut described his 12-minute long sortie in space to numerous media outlets.
“It was so quiet I could even hear my heartbeat. I was surrounded by stars and was floating without much control. I will never forget the moment. I also felt an incredible sense of responsibility. Of course, I did not know that I was about to experience the most difficult moments of my life – getting back into the capsule,” Leonov had told the Observer.
All did not go well
Just eight minutes after making history, Leonov’s spacewalk took a life-threatening turn, according to details of the exploit that only became public decades later.
His special spacesuit had inflated to a point that he could not move or get back into the spacecraft. Due to the entire commotion. Leonov’s body temperature took a flight, pushing him close to heatstroke.
It was only after he decided, after much calculation, to open a valve of his spacesuit to let the oxygen out of his suit that he got back through the hatch of the airlock.
He and Belyayev returned to Earth the next day.