Alexei Leonov, first human to walk in space, dies at 85

Cheryl Sanders
October 11, 2019

The first time a human stepped outside of a spacecraft was March 18, 1965, when cosmonaut Alexei Leonov took a leap of faith and science.

Leonov's pioneering spacewalk marked a crucial step for the development of moon landing programs and the International Space Station.

He was selected to perform the first spacewalk as the Soviet Union and United States, Cold War foes, were locked in a frantic race to conquer space.

Leonov was born in 1934 in a large peasant family in western Siberia.

During that flight, one of two he made into space in his career, Leonov became the first human to conduct a space walk, an episode that lasted 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

In this file photo taken on July 17, 1975, Commander of the Soviet crew of Soyuz, Alexei Leonov (L) and commander of the U.S. crew of Apollo, Thomas Stafford (R), shake hands after the Apollo-Soyuz docking maneuvers.

The cosmonaut was well known for his humor. They said "Happy Birthday!" to Leonov before opening the hatch and venturing out.

Spacewalks are now a routine part of space work. "I believe I never knew what the word round meant until I saw Earth from space".

"This is a loss for the whole planet", said Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko. "We all looked forward to that, always thought about it and always wanted Leonov to be the one to send us off into space".

NASA paid tribute to Leonov on Friday.

At the news of his death, tributes poured in from space organisations around the world, with NASA saying "his venture into the vacuum of space began the history of extravehicular activity that makes today's Space Station maintenance possible".

Russian space fans were bringing flowers to his monument Friday on the memorial alley in honor of Russia's cosmonauts in Moscow.

Leonov will be laid to rest at a cemetery just outside Moscow on Tuesday.

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