Voskhod-2: 1965 (March, 18th and 19th)
During the midst of the (first) Cold War between the United States and the Soviet Union, the Space Race officially kicked off in 1957, with Russia’s launch of the first satellite: Sputnik-1! Since that time, Russia remained three steps ahead of America in a series of impressive firsts: the first dog in space (Laika), the first man in space (Yuri Gagarin), the first woman in space (Valentina Tereshkova), the first space station in space (Salyut-1), and even the first orbital EVA! (For more on ALL that check out my book, “Epic Fails: The Race to Space – Countdown to Liftoff”!)
Meanwhile, the Americans were desperately trying to keep pace throughout the late 50’s and early 60’s. Their first attempted satellite blew up on the launch pad, Alan Shepard became the first American in space (only after soiling himself in his Mercury capsule), and despite NASA’s Project Gemini plans, the Soviet Voskhod program beat them to the punch with the first two-person craft, with Voskhod-1 in 1964. (again, seriously, check out my book for more)
Then came Voskhod-2…
In 1965, Russian cosmonauts, Pavel Belyayev and Alexei Leonov made history aboard the Voskhod-2 (Voskhod meaning ‘Sunrise’). During the mission, they successfully completed the first ever spacewalk (EVA: Extra-Vehicular-Activity), a whole three months before Ed White became the first American to perform an EVA aboard Gemini 4. Unlike the Gemini capsules, which were a big step up from the antique Mercury tin cans, the Voskhod was basically a modified version of the earlier Vostok spacecraft (Vostok meaning ‘East’?), just so they could cram another whole person in there?!
Leonov later recalled how, after 10 minutes, when he was told to start heading back in, he remembered being a kid again, with his mom calling for him, “Lyosha, it’s time to come inside now.”
When he realized that the sun would soon be behind the planet, leaving them in darkness, he reluctantly began making his way back inside the ship. However, that’s when a series of problems started to arise…
During the 12-minute EVA, Alexei’s suit ballooned out and he couldn’t fit back inside the airlock! Because of the lack of air pressure outside of the space suit, his feet began to pull away from his boots and his hands from their gloves. He was supposed to reenter the Voskhod feet first, but because of the state of his suit, he was forced to attempt to dive head first in.
But just like Winnie the Pooh, he got stuck!
As the seconds ticked by, the situation got more dire, because he only had 40 minutes of oxygen left! He was forced to dangerously lower the suit’s pressure to make it back into the capsule before running out of oxygen. “Even when I at last managed to pull myself entirely into the airlock, I had to perform another almost impossible maneuver. I had to curl my body around in order to close the airlock, so Pasha could activate the mechanism to equalize pressure between it and the spacecraft.” The dangerous maneuver worked, but nearly caused him to suffer decompression sickness! During the ordeal, his suit filled up to his knees in sweat and he nearly had a heat stroke!
To make matters so much worse, during reentry, there was a malfunction that caused them to spin out of control!
“I checked our instruments and realized our automatic guidance system for reentry was not functioning correctly. We would have to switch off the automatic landing program. This meant we would have to orient the spacecraft before reentry manually, and would also have to select our landing point manually and decide on the exact timing and duration of the retro-rocket firing.” It was an emergency situation, they were low on fuel, and they only had one shot at reentry.
Then, if that’s not enough, the capsule ended up landing hundreds of miles off course, and crashed spectacularly in the middle of the Siberian tundra! The two cosmonauts found themselves lost in the woods, surrounded by hungry wolves and bears, as temperatures dropped into the negatives! But, despite everything, they were still alive.
“How soon do you think they’ll pick us up?” Pavel asked.
Alexei replied, “In three months, maybe, they’ll find us with dog sleighs.”
Luckily, after such an incredible ordeal, the two men survived the night, and were rescued the next day…
For more “Epic Fails in Space” check out our podcast episode on the topic (Episode 12), read “Epic Fails: The Race to Space”, and check out my all new sci-fi novella, “2299”!
– Erik Slader