The First Person to Ever Spacewalk, Alexei Leonov, Has Just Died

The legendary Soviet cosmonaut was a member of the First Soviet cosmonaut team.
Fabienne Lang

Today marks the day that Alexei Leonov passed away. The 85-year-old Russian cosmonaut went down in history as the first person to ever spacewalk, marking a tremendous moment for space discovery. 

On March 18, 1965, during the Voskhod 2 mission, Leonov became the first person to wear a spacesuit and leave a spacecraft. He then conducted a 12-minute-long spacewalk. 


Leonov beat his American rival to be the first to spacewalk

Three months ahead of the first American, Ed White, to ever spacewalk, Leonov marked March 1965 as a momentous month. 

As he floated outside of his Voskhod 2 capsule, Leonov described spacewalking as being "like a seagull with its wings outstretched, soaring high above the Earth."

Up until that moment, no one in the Soviet Union, not even Leonov's own family, knew that his mission included spacewalking. 

The First Person to Ever Spacewalk, Alexei Leonov, Has Just Died
Alexei Leonov. Source: NASA

Needing reminders by his then-crewmate, Pavel 'Pasha' Belyayev, to come back into the capsule, Leonov hadn't noticed the 10-or-so minutes of space floating go by. What Leonov also hadn't noticed was that his spacesuit had deformed and become more stiff, due to the lack of atmospheric pressure. 

With his feet pulled up from his boots, and his fingers closer to his sleeves than the gloves, Leonov couldn't re-enter the airlock with his feet first — not good news. 

With little choice left, Leonov had to release some oxygen from his suit, running the risk of lacking oxygen entirely, should he become stuck. After some nerve-racking minutes of figuring out how to re-enter the airlock, Leonov finally made it in and had to attempt one final and very tricky maneuver. 

By curling his body around to close the airlock, Pasha could then activate the mechanism needed to equalize the pressure between Leonov and the spacecraft. 

To make matters even more interesting, upon re-entering the capsule, Leonov soon realized that he and Pasha would have to land back on Earth off-target, around 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) away. 

Finally, the two cosmonauts triumphantly managed and survived their mission, with Leonov truly going down in history as one of the world's best astronauts, and the first man to ever spacewalk. 

Leonov's death was confirmed by Yuri A. Gagarin State Scientific Research-and-Testing Cosmonaut Training Center.

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