Want to stay on top of all the space news? Follow @universetoday on TwitterThe first spacewalk, also known as extravehicular activity(EVA) took place on March 18, 1965 when Alexey Leonov exited the his spacecraft during the Voskhod 2 mission.
Leonov was one of twenty Soviet pilots selected in 1960 who were part of the first cosmonaut group. The first spacewalk was originally scheduled for the Vostok11 mission, which was canceled. He was outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes and 9 seconds and drifted to the end of his 5.35 meter tether before reentering the craft. Leonov’s spacesuit inflated in the vacuum of space to the point that he could not re-enter the airlock. A valve allowed some of the suit’s pressure to bleed off and he was just barely able to get back inside the capsule.
In 1968, Leonov was selected to be commander of a circumlunar Soyuz flight. All unmanned test flights for the project failed. The multiple failures allowed Apollo 8 to reach the Moon first, so the mission was canceled. Next, he was selected to be the first Soviet to land on the Moon. The mission required a risky spacewalk between two vehicles; his spacewalk experience was a major factor in his selection. This project was also canceled. On another occasion, he was chosen to command of ill-fated Soyuz 11 mission, but his crew was replaced after fellow crew member Valery Kubasov was suspected to have tuberculosis. Several more times Leonov was to have commanded missions: once the Salyut space station was lost before launch and the next two Salyuts were lost at launch or failed soon after. Finally, in 1975, he made it back into space during the Soyuz 19 mission(the Apollo-Soyuz mission). After that mission, he became the deputy director in charge of cosmonaut training. He retired as a general in the Soviet Air Force in 1991.
Retirement did not slow Leonov down. He is an accomplished painter and author. His energies are still directed along space lines. The contributions of the Soviet cosmonauts are often overshadowed by the prestige contributed to the American space program. This is a slight that should be corrected.
We’ve also recorded an entire episode of Astronomy Cast all about Spacesuits. Listen here, Episode 121: Spacesuits.