The Nightmare of Voskhod 2
A cosmonaut remembers the exhilaration-and terror-of his first space mission.
- By Alexei Leonov
- Air & Space magazine, January 2005
In March 1965, at the age of 30, Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov made the first spacewalk in history, beating out American rival Ed White on Gemini 4 by almost three months. Floating outside his tiny Voskhod 2 capsule for 10 exhilarating minutes, Leonov felt, he writes, “like a seagull with its wings outstretched, soaring high above the Earth.” In keeping with the secrecy of the Soviet space program, few people—not even his family—knew about the spacewalk ahead of time. Even less well known was how close Leonov and his crewmate, Pavel (Pasha) Belyayev, came to dying that day. In his recently published book, Two Sides of the Moon, written with U.S. Apollo astronaut David Scott, Leonov recounts the spacewalk and its even more dramatic aftermath.
When my four-year-old daughter, Vika, saw me take my first steps in space, I later learned, she hid her face in her hands and cried.
“What is he doing? What is he doing?” she wailed. “Please tell Daddy to get back inside.”
My elderly father, too, was upset. Not understanding that the purpose of my mission was to show that man could survive in open space, he expressed his distress to journalists who had gathered at my parents’ home.
“Why is he acting like a juvenile delinquent?” he shouted in frustration. “Everyone else can complete their mission properly, inside the spacecraft. What is he doing clambering about outside? Somebody must tell him to get back inside immediately. He must be punished for this.”
His anger soon gave way to pride when he heard a live broadcast of President Leonid Brezhnev’s message of congratulations beamed up to me from the Kremlin via mission control.
“We members of the Politburo are here sitting and watching what you are doing. We are proud of you,” Brezhnev said. “We wish you success. Take care. We await your safe arrival on Earth.”
As I pulled myself back toward the airlock, I heard Pasha talking to me: “It’s time to come back in.” I realized I had been floating free in space for over 10 minutes. In that moment my mind flickered back for a second to my childhood, to my mother opening the window at home and calling to me as I played outside with my friends, “Lyosha, it’s time to come inside now.”