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Exclusive interview with Aleksei Leonov, the first man to walk in space

EBR had the honour of interviewing, on May 11 in Brussels, the heroic cosmonaut, former Commander of the Soviet Union’s space missions and an exceptional self-taught artist Aleksei Leonov during the special launch event of Starmus IV** festival

By: EBR - Posted: Wednesday, May 17, 2017

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by Margarita Chrysaki*

EBR had the honour of interviewing, on May 11 in Brussels, the heroic cosmonaut, former Commander of the Soviet Union’s space missions and an exceptional self-taught artist Aleksei Leonov during the special launch event of Starmus IV** festival hosted by the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). He is one of the main speakers of the festival.

Leonov shared for the first time his views on different matters related to space. He was the first man to walk in outer space, stepping out of the Voskhod-2 spacecraft on March 18, 1965. The purpose of his mission was to show that man could survive in open space and therefore landing on the moon could become a viable next step. 

Moreover this pioneer was going to open the door to exploration. However, among a series of unexpected events, no one could have predicted the following. In the vacuum of space, a deformation developed in Leonov’s spacesuit. 

As a result he could not get back to the spacecraft. With only one hand available, as he was trying to keep close to the spacecraft with the other, he managed to open the pressure valve. He vented the pressure from his suit and just about managed to float into the airlock. The spacewalk may have only lasted for 12 minutes and 9 seconds but it was enough to increase Leonov’s core body temperature by 1.8°C. 

This could have caused heatstroke, which would have been a serious threat to his life. The pioneer gave more details of his experience outside the Voskhod-2 spacecraft and surprised the audience with honest statements: “The stories about living on Mars are for the media. The truth is that we don’t know how the human organism would survive in an area without the magnetic field. In our solar system, only Earth and Jupiter have got magnetic fields and only on Earth we can find intelligent life”.

Communicating science is one of the main goals of the Starmus festival and Leonov underlines how important it is for children at a very early age to gain at least the basic knowledge about space. Therefore, he believes all education systems must include it in their syllabus. “In modern cities children don’t see the night sky and they don’t know anything about stars. 

Unfortunately, schools have no such courses and now there is no possibility for a child to look at the night sky and dream”. He strongly suggests that a special subject should be introduced to every school syllabus, which teaches children about the stars and the sky. 

In this way, children will get answers to seemingly simple questions, that only a few know the answer to:

* What the stars are?

* How many are there?

* What are they like?

* What are the other solar systems apart from ours?

“They will be surprised to know that there are billions of galaxies which include more than 400 billion stars”, he concludes. He also believes that schools need to highlight to children the great progress made in the area of space research which is why people nowadays can stay in space for up to one year: “Tell them why Gagarin is the first man in space and why Armstrong is the first man on the Moon. We must bring space closer to them and make it accessible. Out of 6 billion people there are only 500 that were out in space”.

Regarding the night before the famous spacewalk where the eyes of the entire world were on Leonov, he talks about his emotional state and the procedures that needed to be followed: “The night before the launch, we were staying at the same house where Gagarin and Titov stayed and I got to sleep in the bed where Gagarin slept! 

When I was flying as a pilot, I could have all the instructions written down. Now it was different as I had to memorise every single detail in my head for the following day’s performance. This is how I finally fell asleep”. Nonetheless, he was not going to ‘sleep’ easily ‘. The night before flying into space, all astronauts were connected to a system that was monitoring their sleep. 

According to Leonov, that system caused a lot of tension, as it didn’t allow them to get proper rest. In his case, he had dreams that he was spinning and tumbling down but he woke up in the same position as he was in upon falling asleep. After that mission and having taken up the role of Commander for the next one, he was able to remove that system once for all, to the benefit of the next generations of astronauts.

For the fourth time, the Starmus festival will engage two values of our world, sciences and arts. Leonov is an exceptional example of someone who combines both, having physically encountered the laws of space and also being a gifted painter.

As painting was his primary love, EBR asked him what he would choose if he wanted only one wish to come true: to create the most beautiful painting of all time or to be the first man to land on Mars? He pondered the question for a couple of seconds and then replied, smiling: “I have some experience of seeing the landscape and colours of the Moon and Mars but”, he continues, “it will be always preferable to go there and then come back in Earth and create the most beautiful and huge painting for Mars!”

*Margarita Chrysaki is a Brussels-based Political Scientist. She has BSc and a Master in Political Sciences with special focus on Corporate Social Responsibility in Greek banks. Currently, she is making a profound research in the field of space activities and EU strategy on Space.

**Svetlana Skrynikova made the total translation of the interview with Aleksei Leonov.  

*** The Starmus IV festival will celebrate under the slogan ‘Life and The Universe’ a synthesis between science and music from June 18th till 23rd in Trondheim, Norway. The festival aims are to bring these two worlds together and make them accessible to the public through the participation of the world’s most influential and renowned scientists, Nobel Prize winners, astronomers along with superstar musicians. Highlights will include also keynote speeches from Steven Hawking, Larry King, Oliver Stone, Brian Cox, Joseph Stiglitz and many others, along with other talks and debates. For more information and booking, visit the website: starmus.com

****NTNU provides an incredibly high-level quality of science, education and innovation, it is undoubtedly one of the main reasons why this thrilling city is referred to as the science and technology capital of Norway. The Starmus IV festival in cooperation with the NTNU will bring out the best of the science and music worlds by sharing knowledge, inspiring curiosity and stimulating a knowledge-based public debate.

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