Astronaut of the Month - Alexei Leonov

Alexei Leonov was born on May 30, 1934 in Listvyanka, West Siberian Krai. When his father was arrested in one of Stalin’s purges, young Leonov made money using art. After his father returned, Leonov wanted to go to art school; though he was accepted, the fees were more than he could afford. Instead he went to a preparatory flight school and attended art classes at night. In 1957, he was commissioned a lieutenant in the 69th Air Army. 

An outstanding pilot, Leonov was chosen as one of the original members of the first Cosmonaut class in 1960. He was trained to perform a spacewalk as part of the Voskhod 1, however that part of the mission was cancelled. Instead, Alexei Leonov and Pavel Bleyayev left Earth on March 18, 1965, aboard Voskhod 2. 

90 minutes into the flight, Leonov exited the Voskhod capsule via an inflatable airlock and became the first human to perform a spacewalk. He spent 12 minutes in space, attached only by a tether. Due to over-pressurization of his suit, the cosmonaut was unable to take any photos and had a difficult time re-entering the capsule. By working himself to exhaustion and manually venting much of his remaining air, he was finally able to get back to safety. 

Leonov spent the next several years training for missions that were cancelled or reassigned. His openly expressed hope was to be the first man on the moon, and he was assigned (and began training for) a soviet manned moon mission in 1968. Unfortunately, several rocket failures and a successful American moon landing meant cancellation of that mission as well. 

Despite disappointments, Leonov would go to space again. His final trip was as commander of the Soyuz 19 in 1975. A joint Apollo/Soyuz mission at the height of the Cold War, it included a handshake on July 17 between Leonov and American astronaut Thomas Stafford, and two days of joint science experiments. After this mission, Leonov led the cosmonauts and eventually led new cosmonaut training at the Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Centre before retiring in 1991.