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17th Feb 2020

Interview

Politicians should be more like us, says Russian spacewalker

  • Soviet cosmonaut Leonov (l) before the launch of the Soyuz part of the Apollo-Soyuz mission in 1975. (Photo: NASA)

The first human to ever walk in space thinks politicians can learn something from the way space explorers from the US, Russia, and Europe work together.

Retired cosmonaut Alexey Leonov visited Brussels on Thursday (11 May) and spoke to EUobserver via his daughter Oksana Leonov, who translated his comments from Russian.

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  • Alexey Leonov on a visit to the Kremlin last month (Photo: kremlin.ru)

On 18 March 1965, Leonov exited his spacecraft for a 12-minute spacewalk – the first human to ever do so.

“Somebody had to make the first step in the outer space,” he said.

The spacewalk almost ended in a tragedy, when Leonov's spacesuit began to inflate in the vacuum of space, and he had trouble getting back inside the capsule.

Leonov noted that the exercise showed that spacesuits should be designed differently.

“But the main answer achieved was that a human dressed in a special space suit can leave and work in outer space. Those 12 minutes were enough to come to this conclusion.”

His place in history occurred during the Cold War, at the height of the so-called space race between the United States and the Soviet Union.

EUobserver asked how Leonov, who will turn 83 at the end of this month, sees relations between Russia on one side and Europe and the US on the other.

“He will talk just about our space relations,” said his daughter about Leonov.

“We don't have any problems in our space relations. If all the politicians would work [together] the same way as we, … the cosmonauts and astronauts, there would be never, ever any problems in the world.”

While the US space agency NASA uses the term astronauts, its Soviet/Russian counterpart speaks of cosmonauts.

But Leonov said he did not like the term space race.

“For me, it was not a race,” he said according to his daughter. Instead, Leonov preferred to speak of “Olympic space games”.

“We were working in parallel … and sometimes, unfortunately, we didn't know what the other side was doing exactly.”

But Leonov said both the US and Soviet space programmes were “correctly” done.

In 1975, Leonov went to space again, during the first joint mission between the Soviet Union and the United States. He was in charge of the Soviet side of the Apollo-Soyuz mission.

He was in Brussels to promote the Starmus festival in Trondheim.

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