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First person to walk in space dies aged 85

First person to walk in space dies aged 85

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The first person to walk in outer space has died more than 50 years after his incredible feat shaped the Space Race between the Soviet Union and America.

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, 85, was pronounced dead at a hospital in Moscow at 12.40pm local time on Friday, according to Russian media.

The national hero’s death was announced by the press service of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre.

The cause was not given.

Mr Leonov made history on March 18, 1965, when he became the first person to walk in outer space – but he later revealed he almost didn’t make it back to Earth.

Mr Leonov during the world’s first spacewalk in March 1965

He stepped out of the Voskhod (Sunrise) 2 spacecraft for a spacewalk that lasted just over 12 minutes, hurtling around Earth at speeds faster than a jet plane.

The two-man mission was fraught with danger and almost derailed by a series of events that read like a Hollywood script.

Within minutes Mr Leonov’s suit had inflated like a balloon, preventing him from re-entering the spacecraft.

Later, the crew – Mr Leonov and commander Pavel Belyayev – narrowly avoided being killed in a huge fireball when oxygen levels soared inside the capsule.

Mr Leonov responds to a question from a reporter in March 2015

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During their return to Earth they survived enormous G-forces and landed in a remote woodland in Siberia – home to wolves and bears – in -25C cold.

Speaking to the BBC in a rare interview in 2014, Mr Leonov said of seeing Earth from space: “You just can’t comprehend it. Only out there can you feel the greatness – the huge size of all that surrounds us.”

As he pushed himself away from the spacecraft, he went into a spin until he was pulled to a stop by a 16ft cord that was tethered to an airlock to prevent him from floating away.

But when it was time to return his suit had inflated and he was just minutes away from being plunged into total darkness in the Earth’s shadow.

Mr Leonov’s mission into space was fraught with danger

Mr Leonov told the - in 2014: “My suit was becoming deformed, my hands had slipped out of the gloves, my feet came out of the boots. The suit felt loose around my body. I had to do something.”

“I couldn’t pull myself back using the cord. And what’s more with this misshapen suit it would be impossible to fit through the airlock.”

He didn’t tell space control as he let half the air out of his suit through a valve in its lining, a move that could have starved him of oxygen, to get back inside and avoid certain death.

When it was time to return to Earth hours later, the automatic re-entry rockets failed, meaning they had to be fired manually for the first time and precisely so that the craft didn’t disintegrate.

His spacewalk was a huge victory for the USSR in the Space Race at the height of the Cold War.

Commander of the Soviet crew of Soyuz, Alexei Leonov (L) and commander of the American crew of Apollo, Thomas Stafford (R), shake hands 17 July 1975 in the space, somewhere over Western Germany

Mr Leonov, commander of the Soviet crew of Soyuz, shakes hands with Thomas Stafford, commander of the American crew of Apollo, in space in July 1975

But the real story – including the dangers the crew faced – didn’t emerge until years later.

Mr Leonov, a decorated major general in the Soviet Air Force, later became commander of the Soyuz crew and retired from service in 1992.

When he celebrated his 85th birthday in May this year he was recovering from surgery on his leg, according to Russian media.

He was born in Listvyanka, a village in Siberia, in 1934 and became a fighter pilot in his 20s.

He was among the original class of 20 cosmonauts along with Yuri Gagarin, who became the first man in space in April 1961.

A funeral is due to take place on Tuesday.

Colonel Belyayev, who commanded the first spacewalk in March 1965, died in 1970 of complications following an operation for a stomach ulcer.

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