First spacewalker Alexei Leonov dies

  • First spacewalker Alexei Leonov dies

First spacewalker Alexei Leonov dies

Alexei Leonov steps from his spaceship to become the first person to walk in space.

Russian cosmonauts and American astronauts join hands at a hotel in Athens, Greece, September 1965.

His spacesuit had inflated so much in the vacuum of space that he could not get back into the spacecraft. "Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov, artist, leader, spacewalker and friend, I salute you".

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 USA astronauts in space and gave TV viewers tours of their respective crafts, the first time Soviet and U.S. cosmonauts collaborated in space.

He was twice decorated with the country's top honour, the Hero of the Soviet Union. Once the US Apollo and Soviet Soyuz capsules docked in orbit around Earth on July, 17, 1975, Leonov and his Russian crewmate, Valeri Kubasov, welcomed the three US astronauts - their Cold War rivals - with canned borscht disguised as Stolichnaya vodka and suggested a toast.

"When we sat at the table, they said: 'Why, that's not possible, '" Leonov recalled in 2005. "That worked, they opened it and drank [the borscht] and were caught by surprise".

Two NASA astronauts are now outside the International Space Station on the second of several planned spacewalks to replace batteries affixed to the outside of the spacecraft.

Spacewalks are now a routine part of space work.

Their return to Earth almost ended in tragedy when Leonov and Belyayev were forced to crash land in a forest some 180 kilometres (111 miles) from the Urals city of Perm.

"This is a loss for the whole planet", said Russian cosmonaut Oleg Kononenko.

As is often the case, NASA is live streaming the entire event from start to finish, giving us a glimpse at what it takes to walk in space and perform maintenance on one of the most complex pieces of machinery ever sent into space.

NASA paid tribute to Leonov on Friday.

Leonov will be laid to rest at a cemetery just outside Moscow on Tuesday.