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Alexei Leonov
Aleksey Leonov ASTP - cropped.jpg
Alexei Leonov in April 1974
Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov

(1934-05-30)30 May 1934
Listvyanka, West Siberian Krai, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Died 11 October 2019(2019-10-11) (aged 85)
Moscow, Russia
Nationality Russian
Occupation Fighter pilot, Cosmonaut
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union (twice)
Space career
Soviet cosmonaut
Rank Major General, Soviet Air Force
Time in space
7d 00h 32 m
Selection Air Force Group 1
Total EVAs
Total EVA time
12 minutes, 9 seconds
Missions Voskhod 2, Soyuz 19 (ASTP)
Mission insignia
Voskhod2 patch.jpg ASTP patch.png ASTPpatch.svg

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov (30 May 1934 – 11 October 2019) was a Soviet/Russian cosmonaut, Air Force Major general, writer, and artist. On 18 March 1965, he became the first human to conduct a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for the 12-minute extravehicular activity (EVA).

In July 1975, Leonov commanded the Soyuz capsule in the Soyuz-Apollo mission, which docked in space for two days with an American Apollo capsule.

Early life and education

Leonov was born in Listvyanka, West Siberian Krai, Russian SFSR. In 1936, his father Arkhip was arrested and declared an "enemy of the people". Leonov wrote in his autobiography: "He was not alone: many were being arrested. It was part of a conscientious drive by the authorities to eradicate anyone who showed too much independence or strength of character. These were the years of Stalin's purges. Many disappeared into remote gulags and were never seen again." In 1948 his family moved to Kaliningrad. In 1957 Leonov graduated from the Chuguev military pilots' academy in the Ukrainian SSR.

Soviet space programme

RIAN archive 888102 Soviet cosmonauts
Alexei Leonov (left, back row) with fellow cosmonauts in 1965

He was one of the 20 Soviet Air Force pilots selected to be part of the first cosmonaut training group in 1960. Leonov was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (the only cosmonaut who was not was Konstantin Feoktistov). His walk in space was originally to have taken place on the Voskhod 1 mission, but this was cancelled, and the historic event happened on the Voskhod 2 flight instead. He was outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes and nine seconds on 18 March 1965, connected to the craft by a 4.8-metre (16 ft) tether. At the end of the spacewalk, Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not re-enter the airlock. He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off and was barely able to get back inside the capsule. Leonov had spent eighteen months undergoing intensive weightlessness training for the mission.

In 1968, Leonov was selected to be commander of a circumlunar Soyuz 7K-L1 flight. This was cancelled because of delays in achieving a reliable circumlunar flight (only the later Zond 7 and Zond 8 members of the programme were successful) and the Apollo 8 mission had already achieved that step in the Space Race. He was also selected to be the first Soviet person to land on the Moon, aboard the LOK/N1 spacecraft. This project was also cancelled. (The design required a spacewalk between lunar vehicles, something that contributed to his selection.) Leonov was to have been commander of the 1971 Soyuz 11 mission to Salyut 1, the first crewed space station, but his crew was replaced with the backup after one of the members, cosmonaut Valery Kubasov, was suspected to have contracted tuberculosis (the other member was Pyotr Kolodin).

Leonov was to have commanded the next mission to Salyut 1, but this was scrapped after the deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew members, and the space station was lost. The next two Salyuts (actually the military Almaz station) were lost at launch or failed soon after, and Leonov's crew stood by. By the time Salyut 4 reached orbit, Leonov had been switched to a more prestigious project.

Leonov's second trip into space was similarly significant: he commanded the Soviet half of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission  – Soyuz 19 – the first joint space mission between the Soviet Union and the United States.

From 1976 to 1982, Leonov was the commander of the cosmonaut team ("Chief Cosmonaut") and deputy director of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, where he oversaw crew training. He also edited the cosmonaut newsletter Neptune. He retired in 1992.

Later life and death

Aleksei Leonov - Near the Moon
Leonov's painting Near the Moon (1967)

Leonov was an accomplished artist whose published books include albums of his artistic works and works he did in collaboration with his friend Andrei Sokolov. Leonov took coloured pencils and paper into space, where he sketched the Earth and drew portraits of the Apollo astronauts who flew with him during the Apollo–Soyuz Test Project. Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his notes to 2010: Odyssey Two that, after a 1968 screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Leonov pointed out to him that the alignment of the Moon, Earth, and Sun shown in the opening is essentially the same as that in Leonov's 1967 painting Near the Moon, although the painting's diagonal framing of the scene was not replicated in the film. Clarke kept an autographed sketch of this painting—which Leonov made after the screening—hanging on his office wall.

Together with Valentin Selivanov, Leonov wrote the script for the 1980 science fiction film The Orion Loop.

In 2001, he was a vice president of Moscow-based Alfa-Bank and an adviser to the first deputy of the Board.

In 2004, Leonov and former American astronaut David Scott began work on a dual biography/history of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Titled Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race, it was published in 2006. Neil Armstrong and Tom Hanks both wrote introductions to the book.

Leonov was also a contributor to the 2007 book Into That Silent Sea by Colin Burgess and Francis French, which describes his life and career in space exploration.

Leonov died on 11 October 2019 after a long illness. He was 85 and the last survivor of the cosmonauts in the Voskhod programme.


Anton Shkaplerov and Alexei Leonov October 2011
Alexei Leonov (right) shares a moment with Anton Shkaplerov (left) in October 2011.
Soviet Union-1965-Stamp-0.10. Voskhod-2. First Spacewalk
Alexei Leonov on 1965 USSR 10 kopek stamp.
  • The Leonov crater, near Mare Moscoviense (Sea of Moscow) on the far side of the Moon was named after Leonov in 1970.
  • Arthur C. Clarke's 1982 novel 2010: Odyssey Two was dedicated to Leonov and Andrei Sakharov; and the fictional spaceship in the book, the Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, was named after him.
  • Leonov, along with Rusty Schweickart, Vitaly Sevastyanov, and Georgy Grechko established the Association of Space Explorers in 1984. Membership is open to all people who have flown in outer space.
  • In the Star Trek novel Destiny: Gods of Night there is a ship named the U.S.S. Alexei Leonov, which is sacrificed to save the planet Korvat from the Borg.
  • Leonov is featured as a character in the 2013 Doctor Who comic book story "Space Oddity", published by IDW Publishing.
  • The film The Age of Pioneers (2017) is based on Leonov's account about the Voskhod-2 mission. Leonov was portrayed by Yevgeny Mironov.
  • The song "E.V.A" by Public Service Broadcasting on their 2015 album The Race for Space references Leonov becoming the first man to undertake Extra-Vehicular Activity in space.
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