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Alexei Leonov
Leonov in April 1974
Native name Алексе́й Архи́пович Лео́нов
Birth name Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov
Born (1934-05-30)30 May 1934
Died 11 October 2019(2019-10-11) (aged 85)
Place of birth Listvyanka, West Siberian Krai, Russian SFSR, Soviet Union
Place of death Moscow, Russia
Rank Major General, Soviet Air Force[1]
Awards Hero of the Soviet Union (twice)

Alexei Arkhipovich Leonov[lower-alpha 1] (30 May 1934 – 11 October 2019) was a Soviet and Russian, Air Force major general, writer, and artist. On 18 March 1965, he became the first human to conduct a spacewalk, exiting the capsule during the Voskhod 2 mission for 12 minutes and 9 seconds.

In July 1975, Leonov commanded the Soyuz capsule in the Soyuz–Apollo mission, which docked in space for two days with an American Apollo capsule.

Early life and military service

Leonov was born on 30 May 1934 in Listvyanka, West Siberian Krai, Russian SFSR.[2] His grandfather had been forced to relocate to Siberia for his role in the 1905 Russian Revolution. Alexei was the eighth of nine surviving children born to Yevdokia née Sotnikova and Arkhip.[lower-alpha 2][3] His father was an electrician and miner.[4]

In 1936, his father was arrested and declared an "enemy of the people". Leonov wrote in his autobiography: "He was not alone: many were being arrested. It was part of a conscientious drive by the authorities to eradicate anyone who showed too much independence or strength of character. These were the years of Stalin's . Many disappeared into remote gulags and were never seen again."[5] The family moved in with one of his married sisters in Kemerovo. His father rejoined the family in Kemerovo after he was released. He was compensated for his wrongful imprisonment.[3] Leonov used art as a way to provide more food for the family. He began his art career by drawing flowers on ovens and later painted landscapes on canvasses.[3]

The Soviet government encouraged its citizens to move to Soviet-occupied Prussia, so in 1948 his family relocated to Kaliningrad.[6] Leonov graduated from secondary school (No. 21) in 1953.[6] He applied to the Academy of Arts in Riga, Latvia, but decided not to attend due to the high tuition costs. Leonov decided to join a Ukrainian preparatory flying school in Kremenchug; he made his first solo flight in May 1955. While indulging in his passion for art by studying part-time in Riga, Leonov started an advanced two-year course to become a fighter pilot at the Chuguev Higher Air Force Pilots School in the .[6]

On 30 October 1957, Leonov graduated with an honours degree and was commissioned a lieutenant in the 113th Parachute Aviation Regiment, part of the 10th Engineering Aviation Division of the 69th Air Army in Kiev.[6] On 13 December 1959, he married Svetlana Pavlovna Dozenko[7] a day before he moved to East Germany to his new assignment with the 294th Reconnaissance Regiment of the 24th Air Army.[6]

Soviet space programme

Alexei Leonov (left, back row) with fellow cosmonauts in 1965


March 1965, the first space walk

He was one of the 20 Soviet Air Force pilots selected to be part of the first cosmonaut training group in 1960.[8] As most cosmonauts, Leonov was a member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union. His was originally to have taken place on the Voskhod 1 mission, but this was cancelled, and the historic event happened on the Voskhod 2 flight instead.[9] He was outside the spacecraft for 12 minutes and nine seconds on 18 March 1965, connected to the craft by a 4.8-metre (16 ft) tether.[8] At the end of the spacewalk, Leonov's spacesuit had inflated in the vacuum of space to the point where he could not re-enter the airlock.[8] He opened a valve to allow some of the suit's pressure to bleed off and was barely able to get back inside the capsule.[8][10] Leonov had spent eighteen months undergoing weightlessness training for the mission.[11]

In 1968, Leonov was selected to be commander of a circumlunar Soyuz 7K-L1 flight. This was cancelled because of delays in achieving a reliable circumlunar flight (only the later Zond 7 and Zond 8 members of the programme were successful) and the Apollo 8 mission had already achieved that step in the Space Race. He was also selected to be the first Soviet person to land on the Moon, aboard the LOK/N1 spacecraft.[9] This project was also cancelled. (The design required a spacewalk between lunar vehicles, something that contributed to his selection.) Leonov was to have been commander of the 1971 Soyuz 11 mission to Salyut 1, the first crewed space station, but his crew was replaced with the backup after one of the members, cosmonaut Valery Kubasov, was suspected to have contracted tuberculosis (the other member was Pyotr Kolodin).[12]

Leonov was to have commanded the next mission to Salyut 1, but this was scrapped after the deaths of the Soyuz 11 crew members, and the space station was lost.[13] The next two Salyuts (actually the military Almaz station) were lost at launch or failed soon after, and Leonov's crew stood by. By the time Salyut 4 reached orbit, Leonov had been switched to a more prestigious project.[14][15]

the five crew members of ASTP sitting around a miniature model of their spacecraft

Apollo-Soyuz crew in 1975

Leonov's second trip into space was as commander of Soyuz 19, the Soviet half of the 1975 Apollo-Soyuz mission – the first joint space mission between the Soviet Union and the United States.[14][16]

From 1976 to 1982, Leonov was the commander of the cosmonaut team ("Chief Cosmonaut") and deputy director of the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center, where he oversaw crew training. He also edited the cosmonaut newsletter Neptune. He retired in 1992.[9]

Later life and death

Leonov's 1967 painting Near the Moon and a screenshot from 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

Leonov was an accomplished artist whose published books include albums of his artistic works and works he did in collaboration with his friend Andrei Sokolov. Leonov took coloured pencils and paper into space, where he sketched the Earth and drew portraits of the Apollo astronauts who flew with him during the 1975 Apollo–Soyuz Test Project.[17][18] Arthur C. Clarke wrote in his notes to 2010: Odyssey Two that, after a 1968 screening of 2001: A Space Odyssey, Leonov pointed out to him that the alignment of the Moon, Earth, and Sun shown in the opening is essentially the same as that in Leonov's 1967 painting Near the Moon, although the painting's diagonal framing of the scene was not replicated in the film. Clarke kept an autographed sketch of this painting—which Leonov made after the screening—hanging on his office wall.[19] Clarke dedicated 2010: Odyssey Two to Leonov and Soviet physicist Andrei Sakharov;[20] and the fictional spaceship in the book is named Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov.[21]

Together with Valentin Selivanov, Leonov wrote the script for the 1980 science fiction film The Orion Loop.[22]

In 2001, he was a vice president of Moscow-based Alfa-Bank and an adviser to the first deputy of the Board.[23]

In 2004, Leonov and former American astronaut David Scott began work on a dual memoir covering the history of the Space Race between the United States and the Soviet Union. Titled Two Sides of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race, it was published in 2006. Neil Armstrong and Tom Hanks both wrote introductions to the book.[24]

Leonov was interviewed by Francis French for the book Into That Silent Sea by Colin Burgess and French.[25]

Leonov died on 11 October 2019 after a long illness in Moscow. His funeral took place on 15 October.[26] He was 85[27] and the last living member of the five cosmonauts in the Voskhod programme.[28]

Leonov was survived by his wife Svetlana Dozenko, a teacher, their daughter Oksana, and two grandchildren; their other daughter, Viktoria, died in 1996.[29]


Alexei Leonov (right) shares a moment with Anton Shkaplerov (left) in October 2011.

  • The Leonov crater, near Mare Moscoviense (Sea of Moscow) on the far side of the Moon, was named after Leonov in 1970.[30][31]
  • 9533 Aleksejleonov, an asteroid first observed in 1981, was named for him.[32]
  • Leonov, along with Rusty Schweickart, established the Association of Space Explorers in 1985. Membership is open to all people who have orbited the Earth.[33]
  • The 2017 film The Age of Pioneers (Russian: Vremya Pervykh) is based on Leonov's account of the Voskhod 2 mission. Leonov was portrayed by Yevgeny Mironov.[34][35] He was a technical adviser for the movie; the director cut all scenes featuring Gagarin–about 40 minutes of film–so Leonov could be the focus.[36]
  • The song "E.V.A" by Public Service Broadcasting on their 2015 album, The Race for Space, references Leonov becoming the first man to undertake extravehicular activity in space.[37]
  • In the 2019 alternate history television series, For All Mankind, Leonov is portrayed as the first person to walk on the Moon.

Russian awards and honours

Leonov receiving the Order "For Merit to the Fatherland", 3rd class, from Vladimir Putin in 2014

Leonov in 2016, wearing his two Hero of the Soviet Union medals

Foreign awards

Public organisations

Leonov, Stephen Hawking, and Brian May at the Starmus Festival, 2016

Alexei Leonov on 1965 USSR 10 kopek stamp.

  • 1975 Gold Space Medal from the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) in 1976. FAI created an exception which allowed Thomas P. Stafford to be awarded it alongside him; typically the award is restricted to one person per year.[47][48]
  • International Space Hall of Fame (1976)[49]
  • International Air & Space Hall of Fame, inducted in 2001, along with Valeri Kubasov, Vance D. Brand, Deke Slayton, and Thomas P. Stafford[50]
  • Ludwig Nobel Prize (2007)[51][52]
  • Elmer A. Sperry Award (US, 2008), with Konstantin Bushuyev, Thomas P. Stafford, and Glynn Lunney[53]
  • Order of Saint Constantine the Great (Union of the Golden Knights of the Order of St. Constantine the Great)[7]
  • Order "Golden Star" (Foundation Heroes of the Soviet Union and Heroes of the Russian Federation)[7]
  • Order the "Pride of Russia" (Foundation for the "Pride of the Fatherland", 2007)[7]
  • National Award "To the Glory of the Fatherland" in the "Glory to Russia" class (International Academy of Social Sciences and International Academy of patronage, 2008)[7]
  • Order of "the Glory of the Fatherland", 2nd class (2008)[7]

Other awards and titles

  • Commander of the Order of Saint Anna III degree (2008), by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia[54]
  • Commander of the Order of Saint Anna II degree (2011), by Grand Duchess Maria Vladimirovna of Russia[54]
  • Honorary member of the Russian Academy of Arts[55]

See also

  • Attempted assassination of Leonid Brezhnev (Moscow, 1969), in which a gunman fired 14 shots at a limousine carrying Leonov and other cosmonauts.


  1. Russian: Алексе́й Архи́пович Лео́нов
  2. Three additional children died in infancy[3]


  1. "Soyuz Crew Eager for Another Flight". 23 July 1975. p. 55. 
  2. Burgess & Hall 2009, p. 54.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Burgess & Hall 2009, p. 55.
  4. French & Burgess 2007, p. 353.
  5. Scott & Leonov 2004, p. 8.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Burgess & Hall 2009, p. 56.
  7. 7.00 7.01 7.02 7.03 7.04 7.05 7.06 7.07 7.08 7.09 7.10 7.11 7.12 7.13 7.14 7.15 "Алексей Архипович Леонов". 
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 "Alexei Leonov: First person to walk in space dies aged 85". 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019. 
  9. 9.0 9.1 9.2 Hall & Shayler 2003, pp. 332–333.
  10. McKinnon, Mika (March 18, 2015). "50 Years Ago, The First Spacewalk Nearly Ended in Tragedy". Retrieved 28 January 2018. 
  11. "Cosmonaut Leonov recalls life-threatening challenges during historical space walk". UNIS Vienna. 2015. 
  12. Evans, Ben (20 February 2014). "Valeri Kubasov, Veteran ASTP Cosmonaut, Dies Aged 79". Retrieved 11 October 2019. 
  13. Hall & Shayler 2003, p. 173.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Hall & Shayler 2003, p. 210.
  15. Harland & Catchpole 2002, p. 77.
  16. Dicati 2017, p. 61.
  17. "Alexei Leonov, the Artistic Spaceman". 4 October 2007. Retrieved 17 October 2018. 
  18. "Alexei Leonov: winner of the 2005 IAAA Lucien Rudaux Memorial Award". Archived from the original on 1 July 2007. Retrieved 2 July 2007. 
  19. Clarke, Arthur C. (1982). "Author's Note". 2010: Odyssey Two. New York: RosettaBooks. pp. xvii–xviii. ISBN 9780795324826. OCLC 846909138. Clarke describes the painting itself in Chapter 12 of the book. 
  20. Suplee, Curt (16 November 1982). "The Galactic Dreamer Returns". The Washington Post. 
  21. Broad, William J. (2 December 1984). "Science Facts Help Propel Science Fiction in the Film 2010" (in en-US). The New York Times. 
  22. Abibulaev, Valery (2 April 2009). "Алексей Леонов: 'Выбирать актеров меня просил Михалков'" (in ru). 
  23. "Aleksei Leonov and Alexander Gafin become members of the American Pushkin Academy of Art". Alfa-Bank. 23 February 2001. Retrieved 8 July 2007. 
  24. "Two Sides of the Moon | Alexei Leonov | Macmillan" (in en-US). 
  25. French & Burgess 2007, p. 396.
  26. "Soviet Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov Dies at 85". 11 October 2019. Retrieved 11 October 2019. 
  27. Leman, Jennifer (11 October 2019). "Alexei Leonov, the First Man to Walk In Space, Has Died" (in en-US). 
  28. Brown, Mark (31 August 2015). "First picture drawn in space to appear in cosmonauts show in London" (in en-GB). The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. 
  29. Alexei Leonov obituary The Guardian, 2019-10-22.
  30. Leonov, Gazetteer of Planetary Nomenclature, International Astronomical Union (IAU) Working Group for Planetary System Nomenclature (WGPSN)
  31. McElheny, Victor K. (15 August 1970). "Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins on Moon again–as Names". Boston, Massachusetts. p. 16. 
  32. "9533 Aleksejleonov (1981 SA7)". 
  33. Arthur, Allison (23 November 2010). "Fabian named distinguished member of Association of Space Explorers" (in en).,53710. 
  34. "First man to conduct spacewalk, Alexei Leonov, dies" (in en). 
  35. "Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space, has died. Relive his historic spacewalk through archival footage". 11 October 2019. 
  36. Egorov, Boris (12 April 2019). "3 biopic space films about the USSR's journey into the unknown". 
  37. Porzucki, Nina (10 April 2015). "British musical duo Public Service Broadcasting takes us on the race for space". 
  38. Bradsher, Henry S. (23 March 1965). "Moscow Gives Greatest Gala Welcome to Russia's Newest Cosmonauts". Fresno, California. p. 5. 
  39. 39.0 39.1 "Astronaut Foresees Space Shuttle Age". Hazleton, Pennsylvania. 22 July 1975. p. 2. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 Shabad, Theodore (24 March 1965). "Soviet Spacemen Get Big Welcome". Nashville, Tennessee. p. 3. 
  41. 41.0 41.1 "Биография космонавта Алексея Леонова" (in ru). 11 October 2019. 
  42. "Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 02.03.2000 г. № 457" (in Russian). 
  43. "Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 12 апреля 2011 года № 434 «О награждении орденом Дружбы»" (in Russian). 
  44. "Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 22.05.2014 г. № 357" (in Russian). 
  45. "Указ Президента Российской Федерации от 29.05.2019 № 240" (in Russian). 30 May 2019. 
  46. "УКАЗ ПРЕЗИДЕНТА УКРАЇНИ № 450/2011" (in Ukrainian). 
  47. "Edwards Commander Awarded Medals". Bakersfield, California. 1 October 1976. p. 9. 
  48. Ritchie 1984, p. 282.
  49. "Alexei A. Leonov, USSR, Inducted in 1976". 
  50. "Apollo–Soyuz Crew". 
  51. "Премию Людвига Нобеля возродили" (in ru). 
  52. Воронов, Алексей (31 March 2015). "История возрожденной российской премии Людвига Нобеля — история страны". 
  53. "The Elmer A. Sperry Award". 2008. 
  54. 54.0 54.1 "Кому и за что вручается Орден Святой Анны" (in Russian). 
  55. ""Earth and Space by Alexei Leonov." On the 80th anniversary of the legendary astronaut" (in ru). Russian Academy of Arts. 2014. 


Further reading

External links

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