The first human to walk in space celebrates 50 years since his historic spacewalk.
On March 18, 1965 at 4:35 a.m. EDT, cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to perform a spacewalk when he exited his Voskhod 2 spacecraft and entered the vacuum of space.
The spacewalk, which lasted only 12 minutes, was conducted to demonstrate that humans could survive in spacesuits outside of their spacecraft. It also allowed the Soviet Union to maintain their early lead in the Space Race, which began with the first artificial satellite, Sputnik 1, and was followed by the first human in space, cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin.
While the demonstration was successful, proving that humans could indeed live and function in space in only a spacesuit, the spacewalk nearly ended in disaster. Leonov, who was 30 at the time, noticed that his spacesuit had expanded 8 minutes into the spacewalk, making it difficult for him to maneuver and keeping him from reentering the spacecraft.
The only thing preventing Leonov from becoming lost in space was a 5.5 meter umbilical cord that tethered him to the spacecraft. As he approached the Earth’s shadow, where he’d be shrouded in darkness, Leonov made the daring decision to open a valve on his spacesuit to relieve the pressure. With his spacesuit deflated, Leonov was able to make his way back into the spacecraft and return safely to Earth.
However, the entire spacewalk wasn’t as hair-raising as its final minutes. It was also awe-inspiring. Upon entering the void of space, Leonov was able to view Earth from the orbital perspective like no one else before him. “You just can’t comprehend it,” Leonov told the BBC recalling his historic spacewalk. “Only out there can you feel the greatness – the huge size of all that surrounds us.”