Aleksei Leonov, First to Walk in Space, Dies at 85


Aleksei Leonov, the Russian cosmonaut who became the first person to walk in space, a thrilling feat that nearly cost him his life but raised Soviet prestige during the Cold War space race against the United States died on Friday in Moscow. He was 85.

His death was announced by Roscosmos, the Russian space agency, on its website.

The milestone achievement by Mr. Leonov, a major in the Soviet Air Force at the time, showed that men could survive in space outside the confines of their craft and presumably walk on the moon one day.

His spacewalk, in March 1965, was seen by television viewers in the Soviet Union and Europe on videotape. Later in the mission, a live telecast showed Mr. Leonov and a fellow cosmonaut strapped in their seats in the cabin.

The spacewalk enabled the Russians once again to upstage the United States in space; they had launched the first satellite, Sputnik, in October 1957 and the first manned spaceflight into orbit, with Yuri Gagarin, in April 1961.

He emerged from his two-man Voskhod 2 for his spacewalk on March 18, 1965, while the spacecraft was orbiting above Earth at some 18,000 miles an hour. He spent about 10 minutes maneuvering, tethered to it with a cord.

It returned to a tolerable level, but the cosmonauts never figured out the reason for the surge.

When it came time for the return to Earth, the spacecraft’s automatic rocket-firing system did not work, forcing the cosmonauts to conduct imprecise manual maneuvers during the descent that left them in deep snow and freezing temperatures in a remote Russian forest, far from their intended landing point.

It took several hours for a search party to find them and drop supplies from a helicopter, and they spent two nights in the forest, the first one inside their spacecraft and the second one in a small log cabin built by a ground rescue crew, until rescuers arrived on skis. They then took a 12-mile ski trek to a clearing, where a helicopter evacuated them.

Nearly four years after his spacewalk, Mr. Leonov had another brush with death.

In January 1969, a car in which he was riding with three other former cosmonauts — part of a motorcade that included the Soviet leader Leonid I. Brezhnev — was entering the Kremlin for a celebration marking the docking of two Russian spaceships when a man wielding a pistol in each hand opened fire. The car carrying Mr. Leonov was hit by 14 bullets, which shattered the windows and killed the driver.

“I looked down and saw two bullet holes on each side of my coat where the bullets passed through,” Mr. Leonov told The New York Times Magazine in 1994. “A fifth bullet passed so close to my face, I could feel it going by. When it was over, Brezhnev took me inside and told me, ‘Those bullets were not meant for you, Aleksei, they were meant for me, and for that, I apologize.’”

The gunman had apparently fired on Mr. Leonov’s car thinking Brezhnev was inside, but his car had already peeled off from the motorcade. He was quickly captured, declared insane and sentenced to a mental institution.

Mr. Leonov lived near Moscow, had business interests and spoke around the world on space travel.

Mr. Leonov is survived by his wife, Svetlana, who edited publications issued by Russia’s Cosmonaut Training Center; their daughter, Oksana; and two grandchildren. His daughter Viktoria died before him.



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