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Stepping into Space

Posted in Adventure, Exploration, Geography, Space, Technology on Thursday, 26 April 2007

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Alexei Leonov's Space walk

Almost 480 kilometres above the Earth’s surface the spacecraft Voskhod 2, launched from Kazakhstan and commanded by Colonel Pavel Belyaev, hurtled through space at a speed of approximately 29,000 km/h.

Belyaev’s only companion was 30-year-old Lieutenant-Colonel Alexei Leonov — the man who was poised to add another distinguished chapter to space history. Born in Altai, Siberia, the Soviet cosmonaut had been selected to become the first man actually to leave a spacecraft and “walk” alone in outer space.

A special suit had been created for the occasion. It comprised a metal helmet with a transparent visor, a hermetic suit consisting of five layers, and special shoes and gloves. The suit also contained its own electrical circuit for communications and for monitoring Leonov’s physiological reactions. On 18 March 1965, as the spaceship entered its second orbit of the Earth, Leonov emerged slowly from the craft, carefully handling his lifeline. For a while he clung to the handrail on the hatch. Then he started to back away from it. The next moment he was floating alone in the vacuum of space!

Propelling himself with a swimming motion, he made slow somersaults through space, and was at times as far as five metres from the craft. Before facing the more difficult task of returning to it, he took photographs with a cine-camera, and also performed brief experiments to test man’s ability to handle tools in space. For 10 of the 20 minutes during which Leonov was out of the ship, he was protected only by his lifeline and spacesuit — and, during the whole time, he travelled something like 4,800 kilometres. After 26 hours and 719,000 kilometres in space, Voskhod 2 came down in a remote forest region of North Russia.

This feat, claimed by the USSR as being the first space “walk”, is not unreservedly accepted. However, many Western experts accept it and NASA has not been known to challenge it.

5 comments on “Stepping into Space”

  1. 1. selgor says:

    Since we know who holds the land speed record and the water speed record, I wonder what the space speed record is? A simple bit of maths says that Leonov was traveling at an average 14,400 kph during his spacewalk in 1965. So who took the record from him? What about the assisted speed record (i.e. in a rocket or shuttle)? Anyone?

  2. 2. countrybumpkin says:

    That seems awfully fast! The article does not say what the lifeline was made of. It must have been pretty strong to pull a man at 14,400 kmph–or perhaps with no friction/resistance in outer space that’s not the case? We need a physicist here.

  3. 3. docdelete says:

    The lifeline doesn’t have to be especially strong as there’s no acceleration involved here – the capsule, the lifeline and the cosmonaut are all moving at the same speed – so there’s no “pull” relative to each item in the chain. I believe the lifeline was simply that – carrying air etc. to a suit which had no independent supply, not a tether.

    In theory an astronaut with an independent suit could simply step away from the craft and zoom along in parallel. He’d need a way to get back though, difficult with nothing to push against! Throwing something in a direction opposite to the way desired would work, as would using a small jet thruster. Pulling back via a tether would be simpler 😉

    Being in a near-vacuum simply stops the participants being burnt to a cinder due to friction at these speeds!

  4. 4. BobEmerson says:

    “Throwing something in the direction opposite” is the usual sci-fi way of moving around in space (and I use the term ‘sci-fi’ deliberately) but surely you would need something of reasonable mass if you were going to push yourself back into a spacecraft if you’d lost your tether. Throwing a spanner or a screwdriver wouldn’t move you very quickly because their mass is so small. Would it be enough to get you back to the hatch before your oxygen ran out?

    Mind you, I’ve only got “schoolboy physics” to work with and I’ve forgotten most of that in the last thirty years.

  5. 5. brianhluk says:

    [quote comment=”38″]Since we know who holds the land speed record and the water speed record, I wonder what the space speed record is? A simple bit of maths says that Leonov was traveling at an average 14,400 kph during his spacewalk in 1965. So who took the record from him? What about the assisted speed record (i.e. in a rocket or shuttle)? Anyone?[/quote]

    Its not the fastest, but NASA’s Atlas V-551 rocket, (NASA’s biggest, with five solid rocket boosters strapped to it) can get probes such as the New Horizons mission to Pluto moving at btweeen 28,000 and 30,000 miles per hour. Now here’s the big “BUT”! Now New Horizons reaches Jupiter it is hoped it will get a gravity boost to take it up to 47,000 mph…

    As far as I know, the Voyager space probes are the fastest at the moment, with Voyager 1 reaching a top speeed of 38,000 mph.

    In 2010 it is planned to launch a solar sail probe that (if all goes as planned) will reach a speed of ten times that of Voyager 1…

    As far as manned spaceflight is concerned, the Space Shuttle, due to residual speed from when it was in orbit, hits 17,500 miles per hour during re-entry.

    But if you want to know something amazing, its the fact that you are currently travelling at about 66,600 miles per hour. That is the speed that the Earth is travelling through space – 18.5 miles per second. And its taking all of us with it at that breakneck speed!

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