This Day in Tech History

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Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Alexei A. Leonov

Alexei A. Leonov

March 18, 1965: Man Walks in Outer Space

Imagine what it would be like to float in space… tethered to your capsule… hovering in the dark over the earth below. On this day in 1965, March 18, Alexei Leonov became the first human to “walk” in space.

The Soviets stunned the world again as they had with the first satellite and first man in space by sending Leonov in his spacecraft the Voskhod 12, into orbit around planet earth.

He was outside for 12 minutes, 9 seconds connected to his spacecraft by a 5.35 meter tether (17.5 feet). When he needed to come back in he had one small problem, he couldn’t fit in the airlock. His spacesuit had inflated so much from the vacuum of space that he just couldn’t fit. He went to plan B, which was to open an air valve to bleed off some pressure to deflate the suit. He was just barely able to get back into the capsule.

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Leanov’s only means of control was to pull on his tether, claiming it was easy. But the suit had ballooned and stiffened so much he wasn’t even able to activate the shutter of his chest mounted camera.

The image is a still from the external movie camera attached to his vessel

The image is a still from the external movie camera attached to his vessel

Leonov, who is an accomplished artist, took colored pencils and paper into space, where he sketched the Earth and drew portraits of the Apollo astronauts who flew with him during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project. His published books include albums of his artistic works and works he did in collaboration with his friend Andrei Sokolov.

A painting by Alexei Leonov of his own spacewalk

A painting by Alexei Leonov of his own spacewalk

Alexei Leonov, First Spacewalk

Alexei Leonov, First Spacewalk

Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his notes of 2010: Odyssey Two that after a 1968 screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Leonov pointed out to him that the alignment of the Moon, Earth, and Sun shown in the opening is essentially the same as that in Leonov’s 1967 painting, Near the Moon, although the painting’s diagonal framing of the scene was not replicated in the film. Clarke kept an autographed sketch of this painting, which Leonov made after the screening, hanging on his office wall.

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Clarke’s Opening shot

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Leonov’s 1967 painting, Near the Moon

In 2004, Leonov and former American astronaut David Scott began work on a dual biography / history of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Titled Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race, it was published in 2006. Neil Armstrong and Tom Hanks both wrote introductions to the book.

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“Leonov and Scott have gone to extra lengths to explain the inexplicable in Two Sides of the Moon. And thank goodness they have. Theirs was a gamble taken voluntarily and eagerly with the single-minded pursuit of earning the assignment and then getting the job done. Sometimes they were first. Often they were best. Always they were colorful. And yet each time they returned, neither man claimed to have come back a changed man who had gone into space and seen the spirit of the universe. They came back from their missions in space having seen the spirit of themselves as even more of the human beings they were before leaving our world of air, land, and water…. Leonov, the artist and Scott, the engineer/dreamer. The two of them-the Cheaters of Death.”

– Tom Hanks, from the Introduction

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2 thoughts on “Take a Walk on the Wild Side

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