Revolutionary Coin Recalls First Space Walk
By Kerry Rodgers
Two years back the Cook Islands
reminded us of the launch of Sputnik. Last year
the first man in space, Yuri Gagarin, got the
nod. Most of us will have had little trouble
recalling both names. However, unless you are a
real space buff the name Alexei Arkhipovich
Leonov may well tax your long-term memory banks.
Alexei was the first guy to open the door 300
miles up and engage in some extravehicular
activity, truly boldly going where no man had
The Cook Islands have celebrated this
extraordinary feat with the latest issue in
their revolutionary Orbit and Beyond Series
coins. As with the past two issues the pictorial
reverse, that shows Alexei tethered to Voskhod
II, can revolve around a representation of the
Blue Marble as seen from space. The obverse
carries Raphael Maklouf's effigy of Queen
Elizabeth II. The legal tender coin is struck
from 1 ounce of .999 fine silver and has a
mintage of 25,000.
1965: A Veritable Space Odyssey
Alexei Leonov was 26 when he became one of 20
Soviet air force pilots selected to form the
first cosmonaut group in 1960.
He was chosen for the prestigious space walk
project for which he undertook 18 months of
intense weightlessness training. The historic
event took place on March 18, 1965. It was the
first time an airlock had been opened in space.
The craft's designer, Sergey Korolev, had
rejected the idea of depressurizing the craft,
as could happen with America's Gemini, and
insisted on using an airlock.
For 12 minutes Alexei floated connected to the
craft by a five-foot tether. He then found he
had a problem. His suit had ballooned so as to
seriously constrict his movements. Worse, his
hands and feet had been forced from his gloves
and boots. And he was far too large to fit
through the airlock.
Without consulting ground control, Leonov used a
special valve to drop the pressure inside the
suit by almost 200 percent.
"I decided I was breathing oxygen long enough to
prevent boiling nitrogen in the blood," Leonov
said. "There was some risk, but I had nothing
else to do, and once I did, everything started
He managed to squeeze into the airlock but now
found he couldn't close the hatch. While he
battled to do so, he was running out of oxygen
and his suit filled with sweat up to the ankles.
At last he managed to rejoin his somewhat
concerned co-pilot, Commander Belyaev.
But There's More!
The crew was not out of the woods. When they
jettisoned the airlock, it disabled the sun
sensor necessary for orientation on re-entry.
The craft began tumbling and the crew achieved
re-entry only by flying Voskhod manually. This
led them to head for a new landing site hundreds
of miles from the planned area. When they did
land it was in a forest and the first help
arrived 24 hours later in the shape of local
The two cosmonauts had to spend three days among
the timber before sufficient trees were felled
to enable rescue helicopters to land.
In 1968 Alexei was selected as commander of a
circumlunar Soyuz flight, but all unmanned test
flights of this project failed and then Apollo 8
beat the USSR to the draw.
Next up, he was designated to become the first
Soviet citizen to land on the moon aboard the
LOK/N1 spacecraft, but this project too was
He also missed out on commanding one of the
series of Soyuz missions to Salyut 1 in the
early 1970s, several of which were ill-fated.
Finally he got his second trip into space when
he lead the Soviet side of the Apollo-Soyuz
mission, the first joint space mission between
the Soviet Union and U.S.
From 1976 to 1982, he was the commander of the
cosmonaut team and deputy director of the Yuri
Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center. He retired in
1991 as a full general.
Sci-fi enthusiasts will be aware that Alexei is
a talented artist. He took colored pencils and
paper into space. His works include portraits of
Apollo astronauts who flew with him.
The alignment of the moon, Earth, and sun shown
at the opening of the movie 2001: A Space
Odyssey is very similar to a 1967 painting by
Alexei titled "Near the Moon." A signed version
of this painting hung on Arthur C. Clarke's
office wall. Clarke showed his gratitude when in
2010: Odyssey Two he named his fictional
spaceship Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov.
In 2006 Alexei Leonov and American astronaut
David Scott published their co-authored book
telling the story of the space race: Two Sides
of the Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space
Race. The book carries introductions by Neil
Armstrong and Tom Hanks.
If you wish to gain a remarkable memorial of
Alexei's remarkable adventure, first try your
friendly neighborhood coin dealer. If they are
unable to supply, go to www.perthmint.com.au or
write Perth Mint, 310 Hay St., East Perth, WA