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The First Spacewalk

In addition to Einstein’s birthday, March also marks the occasion of the first spacewalk, completed by Soviet astronaut Alexey Leonov. Leonov beat the American space program to the punch by 3 months as he floated outside his Voskhod 2 capsule for more than 10 minutes. Learn more about the spacewalk and how to incorporate the event into a spectacular science related Studentreasures book.


The Story of the Spacewalk

The first spacewalk was the result of the Voskhod program, the 2nd Soviet spaceflight project intended to allow humans to travel into space. The Voskhod program had two successful manned space missions, the Voskhod 1, in October of 1964 that marked the first time multiple people were on a spacecraft, and the Voskhod 2, the first spacewalk. The Voskhod program was followed by the Soyuz program, which intended to put a man on the moon (but did not).

Leonov, a qualified Air Force pilot, was one of 20 original Soviet cosmonauts. His spacewalk was originally planned for the Vostok 11 mission, but this was cancelled in the spring of 1964. Leonov got his shot at a spacewalk a year later.

Floating out of the Voskhod 2, Alexey Leonov was in space, connected by a 17.5 foot tether to the craft. Transmissions from the craft were being broadcast on Soviet radio and television, and watched by Leonov’s anxious family. While Leonov recalled feeling like a seagull during this extraordinary experience, but it quickly became as dangerous as it was sublime. During his spacewalk, Leonov’s suit had become deformed due to the lack of atmospheric pressure. His feet had come out of his boots, and his fingers had come out of his sleeves. Leonov was unable to reenter the craft feet first, as was intended.

To get back into the craft, Leonov had to let oxygen out of suit through a valve. The exertion of getting back into the craft brought Leonov’s body up to dangerously high temperatures, but he did make his return. This was not the end of his adventure, however, as the landing module Leonov and his fellow astronaut, Pavel Belyayev, were thrown off their expected landing course and landed in 6 feet of snow in Siberia. The two men spent two nights in the wilderness, with very little assistance, before they were rescued.

The remarkable story of the spacewalk illustrates the struggles people experience in trying to make history. As part of your elementary school curriculum, ask students what they think constitutes the most remarkable history making achievement. For middle school student writing programs, perhaps ask them to illustrate the story of the spacewalk, and what it meant for the pilots, for Russia, for the US (which had its first spacewalk a few months later), and for science. Let us know what you come up with in the comments below!

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