Alexei Leonov, hero of the Soviet space programme

The first man to walk in space, Comrade Leonov was on the cutting edge of space exploration.

A hero of the Soviet space programme died on 11 October 2019, aged 85.

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov was born in Listvyanka, Siberia, on 30 May 1934, one of 12 children.

As a young man, Alexei trained as an air force pilot in the Soviet air force, and in 1960, at the age of 26, he was chosen to take part in the cosmonaut training programme.

Alexei was a friend and comrade of the legendary Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, and his own major contribution was to be the first person to walk in space.

This feat was achieved in 1965 when Leonov was 30 years old. It took place 311 miles above the earth’s surface, while orbiting at about 19,000 miles an hour.

Leonov exited his spacecraft, the Voskhod 2, and was plunged into the void, albeit at the end of a 5m-long tether. He remained outside the craft for 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

At the time, his actions seemed effortless, but that was very far from being the case. He in fact faced huge dangers, as pioneers in exploration so often do.

In Leonov’s case, what had not been foreseen is that the absence of air pressure in space would cause his space suit to expand like a balloon, forcing his hands out of his gloves so that he could not grasp the tether to pull himself back inside the spacecraft – or even fit inside the craft’s airlock.

His only option was to deflate his suit by dangerously releasing and letting out most of his oxygen supply, enabling him to scramble back inside just in time.

Even then, he and Pavel Belyayev, his fellow cosmonaut on the voyage, were not out of danger. Oxygen levels within the spacecraft were inexplicably rising, creating the possibility of an explosion if even a single spark should be engendered.

Worse was to follow when the automatic re-entry guidance system malfunctioned and then the landing module failed to separate from the orbital module as quickly as it should have done, with the result that the craft went into such a forceful spin that blood vessels burst in the men’s eyes.

Somehow, however, the resourceful cosmonauts were able to avert disaster.

All this had put the spacecraft off course for its landing, which took place in the midst of the dense, freezing Siberian forest, 2,000 miles away from the projected landing site. It took several hours for the craft and its two crewmen to be located and rescued, and the cosmonauts were left wondering whether wolves or the rescue party would arrive first.

Notwithstanding the dangers he had faced on his first visit to space, Comrade Leonov continued his work as a cosmonaut, making another trip into space in 1975 as commander of the Soviet crew for the US-Soviet Apollo-Soyuz test project. He later went on to become the deputy director of the Yuri Gagarin cosmonaut training centre.

Alexei Leonov married Svetlana Pavolovna in 1959, with whom he had two daughters, Oksana and Viktoria. He died after a long illness and is survived by his wife and his daughter Oksana.