Alexei-Leonov

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Человек и Вселенная (Man and the Universe) by Alexei Leonov and Andrei Sokolov, 1976. Artwork by Andrei Sokolov, whose paintings was carried into space in 1971 on Soyuz 11 and transferred to the space station Salyut I for the first orbiting art exhibition. (Sadly, the Soyuz 11 crew died on re-entry when their capsule depressurized and the Salyut I station was allowed to deorbit and crash into the Pacific while the capsules were being redesigned)

Author Alexei Leonov was the first person to “walk” in space in 1965 and led the Soviet crew on the joint Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. He is also an accomplished artist.

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The First Woman In Space Turns 80, And You Probably Never Heard Of Her

“Her flight into space, at age 26, is still the record for youngest female astronaut/cosmonaut. Aboard Vostok 6, her rendezvous with Vostok 5 cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky made them the first cosmonauts aboard different vessels to communicate in space. In cosmonaut history, only Yuri Gagarin and Alexey Leonov are more revered.”

Sally Ride was the first American woman in space, launched aboard the space shuttle Challenger in 1983 amidst controversy. At 32, she was the youngest astronaut in history, surrounded by questions such as “will it ruin her reproductive organs,” “what if she’s menstruating” and “will she weep if something goes wrong on the job?” But 20 years prior, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova proved that women had every bit as much mettle and ability as the men. Tereshkova’s 1963 flight – which she piloted, orbited Earth 48 times in, and even had the first spacecraft-to-spacecraft communication in – demonstrated that women could withstand and function in space just as well as men. She was only 26 at the time, still a global record for women in space. Her incredible life in the military, in politics and as an ambassador for space exploration continues to this day, on which she celebrates her 80th birthday.

Come get the whole story – as much as fits in 200 words – on Valentina Tereshkova as part of today’s Mostly Mute Monday.

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Spacewalking at 50 - Mankind’s first walk in space. 18 March, 1965

It’s hard to imagine spaceflight without spacewalking. Apollo astronauts needed to do it to explore the moon. Space Shuttle astronauts needed to do it to repair satellites, and the International Space Station could have never been competed without performing them.

Yet, before all this, there was a time when man had yet to leave the protective environment of his space capsule. Fifty years ago today, on 18 March, 1965, Alexei Leonov left his Voskhod 2 spacecraft to perform humanity’s first-ever extra-vehicular activity.

For 12 minutes and 9 seconds, Leonov floated free of his space capsule, connected only by his oxygen tether, a proverbial umbilical cord that kept him connected to the mothership. His view of the world was unlike one man had ever experienced before - when Leonov floated out of the airlock, the first thing he saw was the Black sea, Crimea, Romania, and all of Italy.

Leonov’s spacewalk went smoothly for the first eight minutes, when the cosmonaut began to notice signs of inflation in his suit. His Berkut space suit had stiffened considerably, making movements for Leonov difficult. Without suit dexterity, it would be difficult, if not downright impossible, to reenter the Volga airlock attached to the side of the spacecraft.

To Leonov, the only solution was to bleed a little bit of oxygen out of his suit in an attempt to make it more dexterous. He chose not to tell mission controllers in Russia as it would have only caused panic. Ultimately, only Leonov could have helped himself, as nothing on the ground could have.

Back inside the airlock, his fellow cosmonaut and Commander of Voskhod 2 Pavel Belyayev equalized air pressure and Leonov removed his suit. The mission’s return to Earth was also troublesome; difficulty in maneuvering within the cabin with pressure suits on caused Voskhod’s center of gravity not to be established at the correct time. This caused the spacecraft to land almost 250 miles off course, forcing the two men to spend two nights in the frigid Siberian Taiga.

The mission of Voskhod 2 opened the door for mankind’s future in the cosmos. It showed us, even if briefly, that an astronaut could work free of his spacecraft. Edward White’s spacewalk on Gemini 4 three months later gave the American space program a similar boost, and the art of EVA was mastered by the end of the program.

Today, crew members on board the International Space Station perform spacewalks every few months to replace a malfunctioning part, collect an experiment, or reconfigure machinery. It’s a vital aspect of station upkeep, and one that would not be possible without Leonov’s first steps 50 years ago today.