The first one outside the spaceship...
At 8:34:51 UTC on 18 March 1965 Alexey Leonov saw something that no human had seen before - for the first time he saw the earth not through the window of a spacecraft's capsule. He was about to take another of the great steps on the road to the conquest of space - he was about to become the first person to walk in space...
Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov was born on 30 May 1934 in Listvyanka as the eighth of eleven children. During the Stalinist purges his father had been falsely accused and imprisoned. After he had proven his innocence and had been released, the entire family moved to Kemerov. Here young Alexey started to attend primary school, and the teachers discovered his talent for art. At that time Alexey met a military pilot whose bearing and uniform enthralled him. In 1947 the Leonovs were on the move again, this time to Kaliningrad. Here Alexey decided to study at an academy of arts in Riga. Unfortunately the costs of study and accommodation far exceeded the possibilities of the Leonovs. And so the disappointed Alexey returned to his childhood dreams and decided on a career as a pilot. But he never lost his love of art - it has stayed with him through his entire life.
In 1953 he was accepted for the first year of flight training in Kremenchuk. He performed his first flight here with an instructor in January 1955 and in May he performed his first solo flight. In the same year he began two years of training on the MIG-15 jet fighter in Chuguev. On 30 October 1957 he completed training with honours and joined the 10th Guards Division based in Kremenchuk. Thanks to his abilities when dealing with crisis situations, in the autumn of 1957 he was invited to the Central Institute of Aviation Medicine for tests for the future cosmonaut squad. Here he met Yuri Gagarin, and they struck up a friendship which was to last many years. Leonov and Gagarin passed the tests along with eighteen other successful candidates, and then they were told the real reason for the tests - the conquest of space.
In March 1960 training commenced for the squad of future cosmonauts. The training was highly demanding both in terms of the massive amount of information and the practical application of knowledge. Great emphasis was also placed on physical fitness. In May 1960 Leonov became one of 14 pilots to be shifted from the programme to the "side track" (the reason was that he was too tall for the Vostok ejector seat). In spite of this Alexey participated in the first flight - from a station on the Kamchatka Peninsula he ensured communication with Gagarin during the flight when he was in range of ultra-short radio waves.
In September 1961 Alexey started study at the Zhukov Academy. At the end of 1961 he and other graduates took partial tests and could start to use the title cosmonaut. At the start of 1964 all the planned Vostok flights were cancelled, as were the missions of the new Soyuz craft, which Leonov was to have participated in. The reason was the planned American Gemini programme, which would have given the Americans a great lead over the Soviets in the Space Race. On 3 March 1964 the Voskhod programme was officially initiated which was intended to allow flights of three-member crews with the possibility of spacewalks.
The original Vostok capsule was rebuilt, the cosmonauts' seats were rotated through 90°, a backup braking rocket was fitted and in view of the lack of space for ejector seats, a system was designed to ensure that the entire capsule got a soft landing. In reality this meant that if there were problems during blast off, it would be impossible to save the cosmonauts. Enterprise No 918 (later NPP Zvezda) developed the Volga airlock consisting of inflatable segments. This solution made it possible to have the airlock folded up during blast off and to inflate it in orbit. The same company made the spacesuit for extravehicular activity - Berkut. At the start of 1965 the crew was chosen for the flight which was to see the first spacewalk. The flight commander was Pavel Belyayev and the second cosmonaut Alexey Leonov. The test of the unmanned Voskhod did not go wholly according to plan, and during the flight it was not possible to test the jettisoning of the airlock. This meant either a delay of the manned flight by approximately a year until a new Voskhod could be readied for testing or a flight without testing the jettisoning of the airlock. The second possibility won out.
On 18 March 1965 at noon local time the legendary Semyorka rocket blasted off from the Gagarin launch pad carrying Voskhod-2 on its nose. A few minutes later, the craft was in orbit. The spacewalk was planned for the second orbit, so there was no time to lose. After careful preparations, Leonov's big moment arrived. At 8:34:51 UTC he got permission to open the outer hatch. He climbed out of the airlock and became the first man to walk in space. But time passed quickly, and after a few minutes he had to return to the craft. But the task which had been so straightforward and simple on earth was all of a sudden a massive problem in space. Leonov discovered that his spacesuit had inflated slightly so his fingers didn't reach the end of his gloves, and he had become very clumsy. What's more, he couldn't crawl back into the airlock. He had to take a risk and reduce the pressure in his spacesuit, and only then did Leonov managed to float in (headfirst, against regulations), do a somersault so that he would enter the capsule feet first, and then close the outer hatch. And so the first ever EVA ended - it had lasted 23 minutes and 41 seconds in a vacuum, and 12 minutes and 9 seconds of this had been outside the craft. Leonov was exhausted, and according to doctors he was near to collapse (after landing, he poured several litres of sweat from his spacesuit). There then followed a whole series of problems. The separation of the airlock caused the craft to spin faster than the designers had anticipated. Then there was an increase in the partial oxygen cabin pressure and overall cabin pressure. Fortunately the situation stabilised by itself, but that wasn't the end of the problems. As a result of an orientation system failure, the retrofire had to be performed manually, and the re-entry sequence had to be delayed for another orbit. As a result of another delay during the manual initiation of the retrofire, Voskhod-2 missed the planned landing site by 368 kilometres. Following a dramatic re-entry, Belyayev and Leonov landed near the city of Perm on 19 March at 9:02 UTC. So ended the flight lasting 26 hours and 2 minutes. The cosmonauts had landed in a dense forest and deep snow. It took three days for the rescue units to extract them. Thanks to the first ever spacewalk, Alexey Leonov became a legend at the age of 30 and hoped that he would soon return to space.
It was ten long years before Leonov returned to space. These were years full of work, but also cancelled projects and ruined plans and, unfortunately, the deaths of his closest friends. In January 1966 Sergei Pavlovich Korolev died. On 23 April 1967 Vladimir Komarov died during the first manned test flight of the Soyuz spacecraft, and on 27 March 1968 Yuri Gagarin died during a training flight in a MIG15-UTI. On 10 January 1970 Pavel Belyayev died following complications arising from a stomach ulcer.
In 1973 Leonov’s wait came to an end: Alexey was appointed commander of the Soyuz flight for the international Soyuz/Apollo mission, and his flight engineer was to be Valeri Kubasov. On 15 July 1975, after many years of waiting and misfortune, Alexey Leonov was once again on a journey to space. Two days later the hatches of the Soyuz and Apollo craft opened, and for the first time ever the hitherto rivals shook hands in space...
General Leonov is a living legend, and although he can't go into space any more, he still uses his brush to bring the tales of his cosmic journeys to life on canvas.