how humans conquered airless space – Moscow 24, 03/18/2015

Alexey Leonov. Photo: TASS

50 years ago, on March 18, 1965, a man stepped out of a spaceship and found himself face to face with the infinity of the universe. This first step was taken by Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov. tells how it all began and how cosmonauts are now preparing for spacewalks.


The first spacewalk took just over 20 minutes. It was an experiment where it was planned to determine if a person could navigate and work outside the ship. Cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Pavel Belyaev were selected for this mission.

The launch was planned for March 18. The day before, an analogue ship was launched which exploded on landing. Then Sergei Korolev suggested converting the device that Leonov and Belyaev would fly on into a drone in order to recalculate the flight schedule. But then the flight would have to be postponed for nine months – until the construction of the new ship was finished. The astronauts decided to fly.

“There were seven serious emergencies during my flight, three or four of them were fatal,” Alexei Leonov recalled after returning to Earth.

Break instructions

The first spacewalk lasted 23 minutes and 41 seconds, of which Leonov spent 12 minutes in open space.

Problems arose when returning – due to the space suit swelling in a vacuum, the astronaut could not enter the ship as expected. And then Leonov decided to violate all instructions, to act without a report: “If I had reported to Earth, I would have had to gather a commission there, choose a chairman, listen to me, confer. I would have died during this time. “

Memoirs of Aleksey Leonov. From the book “World Manned Astronautics”:

I tightened all the straps, but the suit was so swollen that my hands came out of the gloves when I grabbed the rail, and my legs out of my boots. In this condition, of course, I couldn’t squeeze into the airlock hatch. A critical situation arose and there was no time to consult with the Earth. Pasha Belyaev saw this, but could do nothing to help.

If I violate all instructions and do not inform Earth, I will switch to a pressure of 0.27 atmospheres. This is the second mode of operation of the space suit. If by that time the nitrogen had not been washed out of my blood, then the nitrogen would have boiled – and that’s it … death. I thought I had been under pure oxygen for an hour and there would be no boiling. After I switched to the second mode, everything “settled” into place. Nervously, he inserted a film camera into the airlock and, contrary to instructions, entered the airlock not with his feet but with his head forward.

I grabbed the handrail and pushed myself forward. Then I closed the outer hatch and started to turn around, since you still need to enter the ship with your feet. Otherwise I wouldn’t have been able to, because the lid, which opens inwards, took up 30 percent of the compartment’s volume. Therefore, I had to turn around (the inner diameter of the airlock is 1 meter, the width of the suit at the shoulders is 68 cm). Here was the biggest load, my heart rate reached 190.


Once in outer space, Alexei Leonov took the first steps along this abyss – he walked five times from the ship by five meters and returned.

“I went out, looked – in front of the Black Sea, Romania, Italy, raised my head – the Baltic Sea and the Curonian spit. And quiet, quiet. I hear my heart beat, I hear my breathing. ! The man went out into open spaces and is in free floating. “My first thought is, ‘Who is this about?'” the astronaut recalls.


Now people can work in space for hours. The astronauts repair the station, install equipment. All actions are known and worked out many times on Earth and ISS. Reports that a person has gone off the ship are not perceived as something strange.

Step into the Abyss:

Yuri Malenchenko


When you are at the station you feel protected, the field of vision is always limited by the cabin valve, and there you see all this infinity, an endless abyss. This is a completely different look. On earth we are used to seeing the sky. In space you see the same sky, only you look at it not from below, but as if from within. It seems that this is such a huge abyss that it is difficult to imagine what happens next.

Before going to the ISS and embarking on a spacewalk, the astronauts carefully practice all operations on Earth. Training takes place in a special pool, because swimming is like moving in an airless space, and diving underwater is similar to a state of weightlessness.

At the Cosmonaut Training Center named after Yu.A. Gagarin, there is a hydroelectric laboratory, where they work on the main business. Astronauts are lowered into a tank that is 12 meters deep. The difference from real conditions is that they wear spacesuits connected to an external air source and in case of emergency they are accompanied by divers.

The preparations for the exit to the station take two to three weeks, it takes place in parallel with other experiments on the ISS. Behind the fact that from Earth it seems almost like a fantastic film lies a long and precise development of all actions.


“Observers on Earth see the following picture: the hatches opened, two clumsy bear cubs in spacesuits pushing and supporting each other, went into space and slowly but surely crawled somewhere in a given direction, clinging to handrails with falls and trying to do something important, but not very clear to the audience. In fact, every spacewalk is the result of long and painstaking work,” says cosmonaut Oleg Kotov.

Prepare carefully – check the suit, airlock and docking bay, collect necessary tools and equipment. The cosmonauts figure out the order of action: they decide who follows who, who wears what, and returns it. All future spacewalks are scheduled years in advance, each with its own serial number.

To date, one of the most unusual exits from the Russian segment of the station has become the 36th. It took place on November 9, 2013. Then Oleg Kotov and Sergei Ryazansky carried the Olympic torch into space.


In numbers

  • Astronauts have completed 729 spacewalks since 1965.
  • 210 people went overboard on the space station
  • Russian Anatoly Solovyov went into outer space the most times – he made 16 spacewalks and spent a total of 3 days 7 hours 2 minutes in outer space
  • The longest spacewalk took place on March 11, 2001, lasting 8 hours and 56 minutes.
  • The first female cosmonaut to go into space – Svetlana Savitskaya, July 25, 1984
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