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Today in History

1965: First walk in space

Published : 17 Mar 2021 09:28 PM

On 18 March 1965 Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to leave a space capsule and, tethered to it, float freely in orbit – to space-walk. He was pilot of the Voskhod 2 mission, part of the Soviet Union’s attempt in competition with the US to reach the moon.

Leonov’s walk on 18 March 1965 was not without its difficulties. Although outside his craft for only a little over 12 minutes (filmed in colour for maximum propaganda effect), his suit ballooned when no longer constrained by his spacecraft’s internal atmosphere and he could not re-enter the airlock. Bleeding the suit beyond its safety limits to make it more flexible, Leonov suffered the bends from decompression. He later noted that he had perspired so much that the sweat sloshed around inside his suit. Not all seems to have gone well on the re-entry flight, either.

But it was a massive first, and one that left the US, as often in the early days of the space race, playing catch-up. But fewer than three months later, the US astronaut Ed White also took a wander in space. White later became one of the first casualties of the space race, dying in 1967 in a launch-pad fire that consumed the Apollo 1 mission, the first crewed mission of the US programme to reach the moon.