You are here

Small Steps

March 18, 2015

50 years ago today, Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov went for a little stroll — 300 miles above Earth’s surface. He became the first person to walk in space — a walk he barely survived.

Alexei Leonov takes the first spacewalk, March 1965Alexei Leonov takes the first spacewalk, March 1965It was an important early step in the Space Race. It proved that a person could live and move around outside his capsule — a capability that was crucial to walking on the Moon or building a space station.

Leonov spent more than 10 minutes floating outside his Voskhod 2 capsule. But his spacesuit puffed up so much that he couldn’t get back in through the small hatch, so he had to let out air to deflate it. He also had to come in head first instead of feet first as planned, then turn around inside the tight airlock.

Leonov’s troubles didn’t end there. The landing system malfunctioned, so Voskhod 2 landed hundreds of miles off course, in deep snow inside a dense forest. Leonov and his fellow cosmonaut spent a bitterly cold night inside their capsule, surrounded by wolves.

Even so, Leonov’s accomplishments put the Soviets clearly ahead of the Americans. But the U.S. got back in the game just a few days later with the first manned flight of the two-seat Gemini spacecraft. Astronauts Gus Grissom and John Young circled Earth three times in a nearly flawless mission. They didn’t walk in space — that would come with the next mission. But they did take a small but important step in the race to the Moon.


Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2015

Known as Gemini 3, the first Gemini mission launched on March 23, 1965. Grissom and Young orbited Earth three times in less than five hours. Their capsule was nicknamed "Molly Brown" for the title character from "The Unsinkable Molly Brown," after Grissom's Liberty Bell 7 Mercury capsule sank shortly after splashdown. Mission highlights included the first orbital change by a manned spacecraft.


Get Premium Audio

Listen to today's episode of StarDate on the web the same day it airs in high-quality streaming audio without any extra ads or announcements. Choose a $8 one-month pass, or listen every day for a year for just $30.