Alexei Leonov, the first person to spacewalk, dies aged 85

Alexei Leonov pictured during the Voskhod 2 mission that saw him become the first person to perform a spacewalk. Credit: Getty Images / SVF2 / Contributor

Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first person to perform a spacewalk, has passed away aged 85, according to the Russian space agency Roscosmos. He is reported to have died at Burdenko Hospital in Moscow after a long illness.

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Leonov made history on 18 March 1965 during the USSR’s Voskhod 2 mission when he spent 12 minutes outside his space capsule, becoming the first human being to do so.

He and pilot Pavel Belyayev’s mission didn’t go entirely to plan, however, as during the spacewalk Leonov’s spacesuit inflated due to lack of atmospheric pressure, meaning he had to open a valve to let air out in order to fit back into the capsule.

On their return to Earth, the cosmonauts’ capsule went into an uncontrollable spin, and to make matters worse they realised their automatic re-entry system had failed.

Re-entering Earth’s atmosphere manually, Leonov and Belyayev landed safely, but it wasn’t long before they realised they were miles off course in the middle of the Siberian wilderness populated by wolves and bears.

A rescue team eventually picked up cosmonauts the following day and transferred them back to civilisation.

High levels of secrecy within the Soviet Union at the time meant the full story of their mission was not widely known until relatively recently.

Leonov was born in Siberia in 1934 and became a fighter pilot in his early 20s.

He was part of the class of cosmonauts that included Yuri Gagarin, the first person to fly into space.

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According to Roscosmos, Leonov will be buried at the Federal Military Memorial cemetery in Moscow on 15 October.