March 18, 1965 was an ordinary Thursday for the majority of people located on planet Earth. But for 30-year-old cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, one of two people who happened to be off-world at the time, it was all about making history and cheating death.
Exactly 52 years ago this Saturday, Leonov and mission commander Pavel Belyayev blasted into space aboard the Soviet spacecraft Voskhod ("Sunrise") 2. Several crews, both Russian and American, had already orbited Earth, so Voskhod 2 had been tasked with pushing the boundaries of human spaceflight to the next level—a spacewalk, or EVA (extravehicular activity). His audacious mission has since been commemorated with books, stamps, pop culture homages, and an upcoming feature-length film.
About ninety minutes after lift-off, Leonov made his way into the ship's Volga inflatable airlock, secured a 5.35-meter (17.6 foot) tether around his torso, opened the hatch, and ventured out into the unknown with only a spacesuit to protect him. It was the first time any human had left the safety of a spacecraft and free-floated in orbit. A Volga-mounted camera that Leonov had set up on his way out captured the extraordinary moment.
Footage of Leonov's 1965 spacewalk. Video: Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum/YouTube
A second camera attached to Leonov's chest did not fare so well, because Leonov's spacesuit unexpectedly puffed up in response to the atmospheric pressure shift. As a result, he was unable to reach the shutter switch on his thigh (though this didn't prevent later artistic renditions of the event from depicting him in an idealized cameraman pose).
Leonov apparently didn't worry much about his inflating spacesuit, becoming enraptured instead with his unobstructed view of Earth. He described the feeling as "like a seagull with its wings outstretched, soaring high above the Earth," in the book Two Sides of the Moon, co-written with American astronaut David Scott, the seventh man to walk on the lunar surface.
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