On March 18, 1965, the Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov became the first person to walk in space. However, when he ventured from his Voskhod spacecraft, it was not without problems. He had no means to control his motion other than pulling on his tether. And his spacesuit unexpectedly expanded so much in the vacuum of space, he was unable to squeeze back inside the spacecraft. “Taking a hair-raising decision, he opened a valve on the suit to let enough air escape for him to enter the airlock,” ESA explains in a special Human Spaceflight and Exploration section of http://www.esa.int. Leonov’s time outside the spacecraft lasted but 12 hair-raising minutes. However, he had proved that astronauts could venture outside.
Less than three months later, on June 3, 1965, NASA astronaut Ed White became the first American to engage in an extravehicular activity (EVA) — now more popularly known as a spacewalk — as part of the Gemini 4 mission. White exited his Gemini capsule using a hand-held oxygen jet gun to push himself from the hatch for a 23-minute tethered walk.
It was 23 years later that the first European did a spacewalk — French spationaute Jean-Loup Chrétien, who flew to the Russian Mir space station in 1988. His sortie lasted six hours, setting a record at the time. In the 50 years since Leonov’s first walk in space, ESA reports that more than 200 astronauts from 10 countries have left their spacecraft to work outside.
This month, NASA is celebrating the 50th anniversary of White’s successful spacewalk through a number of commemorative features on NASA Television and NASA.gov, including a documentary that looks back at the past 50 years of “suiting up.”
On NASA’s Suit Up site, visitors can view a variety of special features, including:
- A Spacewalk Gallery featuring more than 100 images of spacewalks and spacesuits
- A #SuitUp Infographics and Shareables Gallery
- NASA History Video: Stepping into the Void: 1965 Gemini 4
- Why are we Suiting Up?
- ‘Suit Up’ Documentary on 50 Years of Spacewalks
- #SuitUp with NASA for the #JourneytoMars Video
- Show NASA How You #SuitUp
- @AstroTerry commemorated 50 years of spacewalking (mp3)
- Suiting Up: Behind the Scenes — spacewalk record holder Michael Lopez-Alegria
- NASA’s Documentary Film: Hubble 25
- EVA 50th Anniversary Monthly Themes — Hubble Space Telescope
As part of the larger celebration, NASA premiered the film Suit Up, a documentary narrated by actor and fan of space exploration Jon Cryer on the history and future of humans working on a tether in space, on June 1. Marking five decades of spacewalks, it features interviews with NASA Administrator and astronaut, Charles Bolden, NASA Deputy Administrator and spacesuit designer, Dava Newman, as well as other astronauts, engineers, technicians, managers and luminaries of spacewalk history. They share personal stories covering the full extravehicular activity experience — from the early spacewalking experiences, to spacesuit manufacturing, to modern day spacewalks aboard the International Space Station, as well as what the future holds for humans working on a tether in space — all brought to life through historical and HD footage.