Voskhod and the Void
18, March 2k9
“He who can no longer pause to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead; his eyes are closed.” ~Albert Einstein
On 18, March 1965 Cosmonaut Alexey Leonov, pilot of the spacecraft Voskhod (Dawn) II became the first human to walk in space. Or floundering about in the Void, depending on your perspective. His EVA (Extra Vehicular Activity) lasted only 12 minutes outside of the capsule, and 20 minutes overall, but it changed manned space flight forever; and further galvanized the Space Race.
His pressure suit, which was connected to the Voskhod II by only a 5ft. tether, was designed by an engineer named Chertanovskiy. And while it did work, meaning Leonov was not killed in it, there was a nearly catastrophic problem with it during the mission. The Berkut or “Golden Eagle” was a tight, full-pressure suit with a detachable helmet. In many respects it was not unlike a diving suit; in fact, it was similar enough that the same word ‘skafandr’ was used for both types. An irony which Leonov came to grimly appreciate.
Unfortunately, during this historical spacewalk his suit over-inflated, and due to not having articulated joints it had become very stiff after exposure to vacuum. Which made it incredibly difficult to manipulate. When he tried to reenter the Voskhod II he was unable to pass through the airlock. Leonov was stuck. Outside. This is not like locking your freaking keys in the car, he was now minutes from an awful death.
Consider for a moment what it must have been like? Partially crammed in the airlock, seriously fatigued by the effort required to maneuver the frozen materials, with only a jacked-up version of a diving suit between you and sucking vacuum. Meanwhile, the very apparatus designed to protect your life is now malfunctioning. All of a sudden, rather than a noble place in history, you stand a good chance of ending up as an orbiting meatcicle.
Many a brave explorer, I suspect, would promptly dump a bowel-quaking load and suffer vapor lock on the spot. After all, there was no policy, no SOP for this…But Alexey Arkhipovich Leonov is not your usual rocket jockey. He had trained ruthlessly for his place as a Cosmonaut, and in particular for this mission. And the mere fact that he climbed out of a spacecraft, without really knowing what was about to happen, tells us this man has giant, titanium balls. Testicles so dense that they probably have their own gravity well, capturing wayward bicycles, small boulders, and unsuspecting wildlife.
So, what did he do? The most important thing, he was later quoted as saying, was that he kept his cool and relied on his training. I don’t know if that is bullshit or not, yet I am certain that he was highly motivated to get his inflated ass back in that capsule. Finally, in an act akin to playing roulette with a galactic, flesh-eating, central vacuum hose, he opened a valve on his suit and vented oxygen to squeeze himself through the airlock. A risk for sure, but it worked, and he survived.
Frank Herbert wrote that at times it is necessary to stand out against our universe…for how else will we know where we are?
Also, paraphrasing his own Litany against Fear, he advised that we should face our fears, or they will climb our back.
Leonov certainly did, and here’s to him. ~May you never be forced to remain earthbound, Alexey Arkhipovich~
In therapy with my Sensei, she urges me to continue making my own spacewalks of sorts, despite my completely rational fear of the Human Void. Facing the countless constellations of people, with all of their chaotic potential, easily provoked hostility,
and just as freely given compassion, is much like stepping out of the capsule.
Uncertain if I can reach safety or sanity again; I must turn to face the Universe, in no little awe, and listen to it whisper, “Surprise!”