Learning to Spacewalk

A cosmonaut remembers the exhilaration-and terror-of his first space mission

Voskhod 2 was Leonov's first spaceflight. Before becoming a cosmonaut, he flew MiGs. (NASA )
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The next morning we woke to the sound of an airplane circling overhead. Above the roar of the engines we could just hear voices in the distance. I took a signal gun and fired a flare. Slowly, a small group of men on skis came into view. Led by local guides, the rescue party included two doctors, a fellow cosmonaut, and a cameraman, who began filming as soon as he saw us.

It was to be another 24 hours before another team of rescuers could chop down enough trees to make a clearing big enough for a helicopter to land. We would have to survive another night in the wild, but this night was a great deal more comfortable than the first. The advance party chopped wood and built a small log cabin and an enormous fire. They heated water for us to wash in a large tank flown in especially by helicopter from Perm. And they laid out a supper of cheese, sausage, and bread. After three days with little food, It seemed like a feast.

By the next morning, we were ready to ski nine kilometers to a clearing where a helicopter was standing by to fly us to Perm. From there we were flown to our launch site at Baikonur, where we disembarked to find a large group waiting for us, headed by Sergei Korolev, our chief, and Yuri Gagarin. At first they looked serious, and seemed confused by our heavy jackets, polar hats, and wolf-skin boots. But as we approached, their faces suddenly broke into broad smiles. We hugged each other, laughed, and joked.

We were then driven in an open-top jeep to the town of Leninsk, followed by a motorcade that stretched for several kilometers. A government committee was awaiting our arrival, ready with many questions about our 26-hour spaceflight. We had to deliver reports on how our mission had gone. Mine was brief and to the point: “Provided with a special suit, man can survive and work in open space. Thank you for your attention.”


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