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18 March
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On This Day…

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On this day in 1965, the first spacewalk took place as Soviet cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov left his Voskhod 2 capsule and remained outside the spacecraft for 20 minutes, secured by only a five-foot tether. Leonov is the first human to walk in space. Leonov was chosen from 20 air force pilots to make the first space walk on the Vostok 11 mission, this walk was cancelled though, so it took place Voskhod 2 flight instead. Voskhod 2 was a two man mission.

Leonov was almost stuck out in the endless vacuum of space. After 20-minutes of his spacewalking, Leonov’s spacesuit had ballooned in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not reenter the airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit’s pressure to bleed off, and was barely able to get back inside the capsule. The capsule is currently on display at the museum of RKK Energiya in Korolyov, near Moscow.  The space walk beginning over north-central Africa (northern Sudan/southern Egypt), and ending over eastern Siberia. Leonov reported looking down and seeing from the Straits of Gibraltar to the Caspian Sea.

Leonov’s problems didn’t end with the space walk either.  After coming back inside, there were problems with sealing the hatch properly, and this was followed by a troublesome re-entry, when the automatic landing system had malfunctioned and the manual system had to be used. Finally, the crew landed in an inhospitable and heavily-wooded part of the Ural Mountains and spent a night surrounded by wolves while waiting for their recovery team.

Fast Facts:

  • Leonov’s space suit was called the “golden eagle”
  • He only had 45 minutes of oxygen
  • three 16mm cameras — two in the airlock, one outside on a boom mounted to the upper ring — recorded the historic first spacewalk
  • Leonov said that he had a suicide pill to swallow had he been unable to re-enter the Voskhod 2

Sources:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Voskhod_2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alexey_Leonov

 Further Reading:
This New Ocean: The Story of the First Space Age (Modern Library Paperbacks)
Space Odyssey: The First Forty Years of Space Exploration

First Image: This image may be copyrighted under Russian law; however, as a unique historical document of the first spacewalk ever conducted by mankind it is being used here under the fair use doctrine to illustrate the event.

Second Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Voskhod_spacecraft_diagram.png

Third Image: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Voskhod2patch.png

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