March 18, 2014

The Voskhod 2 spacecraft carrying Pavel Belyayev and Alexei Leonov was launched at 07:00 UT from Baikonur and put into a 169-473 km orbit at 64.8 degree inclination and a period of 90.9 minutes. It had an inflatable airlock extended in orbit. Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov donned a space suit and left the spacecraft while the other cosmonaut, Pavel Belyayev, remained inside. Leonov began his spacewalk 90 minutes into the mission at the end of the first orbit.

Though Leonov was able to complete his spacewalk successfully, both that task and the overall mission were plagued with problems. After his 12 minutes and 9 seconds outside the Voskhod, Leonov found that his suit had stiffened to the point where he could not re-enter the airlock. He was forced to bleed off some of his suit’s pressure, in order to be able to bend the joints. Leonov did not report his action on the radio to avoid alarming others, but Soviet state radio and television had earlier stopped their live broadcasts from the spacecraft when the mission experienced difficulties. The two crewmembers subsequently experienced difficulty in sealing the hatch properly, followed by a troublesome re-entry in which malfunction of the automatic landing system forced the use of its manual backup. The spacecraft was so cramped that the two cosmonauts, both wearing spacesuits, could not return to their seats to restore the ship’s center of mass for 46 seconds after orienting the ship for reentry and a landing in Perm Krai. The orbital module did not properly disconnect from the landing module, causing the spacecraft to spin wildly until the modules disconnected at 100 km.

The delay of 46 seconds caused the spacecraft to land 386 km from the intended landing zone, in the inhospitable forests of Upper Kama Upland, somewhere west of Solikamsk. Although mission control had no idea where the spacecraft had landed or whether Leonov and Belyayev had survived, their families were told that they were resting after having been recovered. The two men were both familiar with the harsh climate and knew that bears and wolves, made aggressive by mating season, lived in the taiga; the spacecraft carried a pistol and “plenty of ammunition”. Although aircraft quickly located the cosmonauts, the area was so heavily forested that helicopters could not land. Night arrived, the temperature fell to below −30°C, and the spacecraft’s hatch had been blown open by explosive bolts. Leonov and Belyayev had to strip naked, wring out the sweat from their underwear, and re-don it and the inner linings of their spacesuits to stay warm. A rescue party arrived on skis the next day with food and hot water, and chopped wood for a fire and a log cabin. After a more comfortable second night in the forest, the cosmonauts skied to a waiting helicopter several kilometers away and flew to Perm, then Baikonur.

Image – Artwork of Alexey Leonov, the World’s first ever spacewalker

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