The First Space­walk

At last hu­mans could travel to space – now it was time to take a few steps

YOU Gateway to Space - - Contents -

THE Mer­cury and Vos­tok mis­sions proved hu­mans could go to space. But sci­en­tists still had a lot to learn be­fore they could con­fi­dently send any­one to the moon. There were so many ques­tions still be an­swered. What would hap­pen when as­tro­nauts spent a few days in space? How could they safely exit the space­craft while up there? How could two space­craft dock (con­nect)?

Both the Soviet Union and Amer­ica de­vel­oped pro­grammes to re­fine these tech­niques. The Sovi­ets used the Voskhod space­craft which had space for two to three peo­ple, while the Amer­i­cans launched Project Gem­ini, where two as­tro­nauts could travel at a time.

Project Gem­ini achieved much more than the Voskhod pro­gramme and put the Amer­i­cans ahead in the Space Race.

But first they had to suf­fer the hu­mil­i­a­tion of miss­ing the op­por­tu­nity to do the first space­walk in his­tory. The Sovi­ets had heard the Amer­i­cans were plan­ning a space­walk and de­cided to beat them to it. So when Voskhod 2 reached or­bit on 18 March 1965, cos­mo­naut Alexei Leonov opened the hatch of the tiny cap­sule and floated into empti­ness, with only an 1,8 m ca­ble con­nect­ing him to the craft.

“It was so quiet I could hear my heart beat,” he told the UK’s Guardian news­pa­per last year dur­ing the 50th an­niver­sary of his walk. “I was sur­rounded by stars and was float­ing with­out much con­trol. I will never for­get the mo­ment. I also felt an in­cred­i­ble sense of re­spon­si­bil­ity. Of course, I did not know that I was about to ex­pe­ri­ence the most dif­fi­cult mo­ments of my life – get­ting back into the cap­sule . . .”

‘I’m com­ing back in, and it’s the sad­dest mo­ment of my life’ – As­tro­naut Ed White as he ended his space­walk

While he was com­plet­ing his 20minute EVA (ex­tra-ve­hic­u­lar ac­tiv­ity, as space­walks are called in as­tro­nau­tic terms) his space­suit had ex­panded be­cause of the pres­sure of the air in­side it, and he could not fit back through the cap­sule hatch! He even­tu­ally man­aged to re­lease air from in­side his suit and could get back into the Voskhod.

On 3 June of the same year, it was Amer­ica’s turn – Gem­ini 4 as­tro­naut Ed White walked in space for 21 min­utes. He en­joyed it so much he had to be or­dered back into the space­craft!

Sadly White died 18 months later in the Apollo 1 disas­ter (see page 56).

The Gem­ini project also ac­com­plished other im­por­tant firsts: spend­ing 14 days in space, two space­craft fly­ing past each other in space and prac­tis­ing dock­ing tech­niques in or­bit – Gem­ini 8 linked up with the un­manned Agena ve­hi­cle.

The home­work was done. Next stop – the moon! (Turn over)

Alexei Leonov pho­tographed while per­form­ing the first space­walk in his­tory

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