Alexei Leonov, first person ever to spacewalk, dies aged 85

Katie Ramirez
October 12, 2019

Nasa broke into its live televised coverage of a spacewalk by two Americans outside the International Space Station to report Mr Leonov's death.

Leonov's assistant told AFP that the former cosmonaut died in Moscow after a long illness. Leonov struggled to re-enter the spacecraft because his space suit had ballooned beyond the diameter of the hatch.

The flight and spacewalk were successful on the whole, but his return to Earth almost ended in tragedy when Mr Leonov and another cosmonaut, Mr Pavel Belyayev, crash-landed in the Siberian woods.

On the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975, Leonov met with U.S. astronauts in space and gave TV viewers tours of their respective crafts, the first time Soviet and USA cosmonauts collaborated in space.

Despite the mishap, Leonov remained a cosmonaut of high regard and he was decorated as a "Hero of the Soviet Union".

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He was the commander on his second space flight on July 15, 1975, when the Soviet Soyuz-19 docked with a NASA Apollo spacecraft. However, he lost this honour when the US' Apollo crew touched down on the Earth's satellite in 1969, before the Soviet Union.

One of ESA's most experienced spacewalkers, Swedish ESA astronaut Christer Fuglesang, said, "One of the greatest icons of space travel, not only was he a true astronaut pioneer with, among other things, the first ever spacewalk, but also he was a lifelong passionate supporter of space and for collaboration there". Three months earlier, cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya became the world's first female spacewalker. A crater on the moon is also named for him.

Leonov celebrated his 85th birthday on May 30 and cosmonauts Kononenko and Alexei Ovchinin dedicated a May spacewalk to him, taking a picture of him into space and wearing spacesuits with birthday greetings written on the back.

Roscosmos said Leonov would be buried Tuesday at a military memorial cemetery outside Moscow.

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