Voskhod 1: three men in space

Voskhod 1The Soviet Union launches the first of its next-generation manned spacecraft, the roomier Voskhod 1 capsule. Cosmonauts Dr. Boris Yegorov, Dr. Konstantin Feoktistov and Vladimir Komarov become the first three-man crew in space, though they find that the larger vehicle is still cramped for a crew of that size; the tight fit makes no allowances for spacesuits, which also makes the Voskhod 1 crew the first “shirtsleeves” space flight. Voskhod 1 spends just over one day in orbit before reentering the atmosphere; for the first time, the crew lands inside the capsule, rather than ejecting and parachuting down after reentry.

Voskhod 2: the first spacewalk

Voskhod 2Voskhod 2 is launched by the Soviet Union, this time with only a two-man crew for a very specific mission. Cosmonauts Pavel Belyaev and Alexei Leonov orbit Earth for 28 hours, but during one orbit an airlock is extended from the side of their Voskhod capsule and Leonov squeezes through the airlock tunnel in a spacesuit, becoming the first human being to exit his spacecraft in flight. He spends 10 minutes walking in space, but this Soviet space first nearly ends badly; Leonov’s suit “inflates” as a result of pressurization, making it extremely difficult to enter the vehicle again (and nearly overexerting him in the process of getting back inside). A guidance system malfunction forces Belyaev to manually control the vehicle during reentry and descent, but Voskhod 2’s crew capsule lands over 700 miles away from Moscow in a remote wilderness in the dead of winter, and the cosmonauts wait hours for a recovery team to rescue them via helicopter.

Alexei Leonov, the world’s first spacewalker, dies

Alexei LeonovCosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human being to perform extravehicular activity (or, as it has become more commonly known, a spacewalk) outside his spacecraft, dies at the age of 85. He was among the 20 Soviet Air Force pilots selected to undergo cosmonaut training in 1960, and undertook the historic first spacewalk on March 18th, 1965, aboard the Voskhod 2 mission. He remained outside the vehicle for twelve minutes, but due to his spacesuit inflating with the pressure of his breathing oxygen, he had severe difficulty climbing back into the tunnel that extended from the vehicle itself for his exit, leading mission controllers in Russia to consider the possibility that he might perish without being able to climb back in. He was able to re-enter the Voskhod capsule with considerable effort, and became a favorite among Soviet-era mission planners for the honor of being the first cosmonaut to set foot on the moon, but crewed Soviet lunar missions never came to fruition as the Apollo moon shots took the lead in the space race. Leonov was later selected to lead the Soyuz 19 mission, the Soviet half of the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project, in 1975. He was also an avid artist who drew and painted many of his own space experiences, as well as those related to him by other astronauts and cosmonauts.