From left: U.S. astronaut Thomas Stafford, Yuri Gagarin's daughter Yelena, Russian cosmonauts Alexei Leonov and Viktor Gorbatko visit an exhibition dedicated to the 50th anniversary of the first man in space in Moscow, Russia, Monday, April 11, 2011.(AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko)
During the heated early days of the space race, both the Americans and Soviets strove to achieve every major first in space—including the first man to “walk” in space outside of their spacecraft.
On March 18th, 1965, the Soviet Union launched the Voskhod 2 spacecraft into orbit. The second-generation manned craft carried two crewmembers. These were Pavel Belyayev and Alexey Leonov.
The spacecraft was equipped with a special inflatable airlock to allow Leonov to exit the craft and become the first man to walk in space.
Although it was a triumph for the Soviet Union, the mission encountered numerous problems. At one point during the 12-minute excursion, Leonov’s suit became extremely stiff and pressure had to be released so that he could move enough to re-enter the spacecraft.
Difficulties in the landing procedure sent the craft off-course, and it landed in a remote area where temperatures were as cold as -30 below zero centigrade and bears and wolves were common. The cosmonauts had a pistol in case wild animals threatened, and had to wait for a rescue party to arrive.
Three months later, Edward White would become the American to walk in space as part of the Gemini 4 mission.