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Death of Alexei Leonov: The Soviet Cosmonaut

Written by Science

On Friday, 11th October, the first person to perform an extravehicular activity (EVA) in outer space, Alexei Leonov, passed away in Moscow, aged 85.

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov was born in Siberia, moved to Kaliningrad and applied to Academy of Arts in Riga. He left it, however, to join The Chuguyev Air Force School in Ukraine. He was later selected to a secret programme training the first group of cosmonauts (member of which was also Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space).

His first flight took place on 18 March 1965, on Voskhod 2. During that two-man mission, with Pavel Belyayev, he became a first person to leave a spacecraft in outer space. The mission was a part of US – USSR so-called “Space Race” and Voskhod 2 was launched nearly three months before Ed White became first American to perform an extravehicular activity in space, on Gemini 4 mission in 3rd June 1965.

Leonov’s first mission was almost fatal to him. He spent 12 minutes and 9 seconds outside the spacecraft and the troubles started once he attempted to re-enter the vehicle. His spacesuit expanded making it impossible for him to bend his joints and open the airlock. Not reporting the issue, he violated the procedure by releasing the pressure from his suit risking decompression illness and heatstroke. This, however, allowed him to enter the spacecraft. After the return to the vehicle, more technical problems occurred forcing the crew to land in deep Siberia, around 360 km away from the previously planned landing site.

Belyayev never flew again and Leonov was made a commander of a Soyuz mission aiming to orbit and land on the moon. Alexei Leonov was never launched in the lunar mission because the project was cancelled by the USSR government as soon as Neil Armstrong made his first step on the moon. The Soviet cosmonaut did, indeed, eventually fly to space. It was the first US-USSR joint mission in 1975 called Apollo Soyuz Test Project.

It was his final flight, after which he continued to work for the Soviet space programme and later, due to collapse of the Soviet Union, moved to the private sector. Alexei Leonov was a very keen artist, author of the first picture drawn in space: the rise of the Sun over the Earth’s horizon. He painted the views he saw through the spacecrafts’ windows and himself performing the EVA.

He co-wrote the book “Two Sides of the Moon” with US astronaut David Scott where he documents his career including details of the unfortunate events of Voskhod mission.

The funeral took place on 15th October at the Federal Military Memorial Cemetery in Moscow.

Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia conveyed condolences: “Alexei Leonov was an outstanding person involved in Russian and global space exploration, a true pioneer and a strong-willed hero. He was always loyal to the job he chose and added exciting and legendary pages to the history of space conquest and the history of Russia. Everyone who knew and sincerely respected this wonderful person will always have good memories of him.”

 

 

Last modified: 28th October 2019

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