The First Spacewalk | Aleksei Leonov

Portrait of Aleksei Leonov

Cosmonaut Aleksei Leonov became famous on March 18, 1965, when he opened the airlock hatch of his Voskhod 2 spacecraft while in Earth orbit. He remained outside for just over 12 minutes—the world's first walk in space.

As Leonov left the spacecraft, his spacesuit ballooned in the vacuum of space. He had to vent some air from the suit to fit back through the airlock, a risky procedure. As soon as this and other problems arose, television and radio broadcasts of the event ended, which left most on Earth in the dark about Leonov's situation. The world would not learn until much later about the malfunctions that nearly killed him and mission commander Pavel Belyayev.

After his 1965 flight, Leonov became an ambassador for spaceflight and traveled throughout the world to tell the story of his historic mission.

"This is the saddest moment of my life."

The First American Spacewalk | Edward White

Ed White performing the first EVA

Nearly three months after Leonov's difficult EVA, U.S. astronaut Edward White became the second person to walk in space. On June 3, 1965, he spent over 20 minutes outside his Gemini IV spacecraft, while James McDivitt photographed him through the hatch window.

White enjoyed his spacewalk so thoroughly he had to be told several times to return to his spacecraft. He spent nearly twice as long as scheduled on his spacewalk.

Many Project Gemini activities, including White's EVA and an attempt to rendezvous with their rocket's second stage, were intended to prepare astronauts for the Apollo missions to the Moon.

"I wasn't lost in space. But I was absolutely helpless."

Near Disaster on Gemini IX-A | Eugene Cernan

Astronaut Eugene Cernan

Gene Cernan performed an arduous two-hour EVA during the Gemini IX-A mission in 1966. No one had yet realized the need for handholds and footholds to stabilize a spacewalking astronaut. The inability to gain leverage exhausted him. Without the stress of gravity, his heart rate became almost deadly—about 200 beats per minute.

Cernan's EVA was fraught with problems, including an inadequate cooling system using air that caused his visor to fog up entirely. Sweat accumulated in the lower half of his spacesuit and amounted to 13 pounds of weight lost over the three-day mission. As a result, astronauts began wearing garments with interwoven tubes to circulate cool water close to their skin.

The event also forced NASA to reevaluate EVA training and operational procedures to develop the knowledge and experience needed for the Apollo Moon landing program.

The Personal Spacecraft

Collin's Pressure Suit

Leonov, White, and Cernan required a specially constructed protective and supportive personal spacecraft—a spacesuit. The human body is not designed to be in space, where there is no oxygen to breathe, no air pressure, and the temperatures are extreme.

The first spacesuit designers drew on experience with high-altitude pressure garments for pilots, who also needed protection from harsh conditions at high altitudes.

The spacesuit is not only a complex technological development, but also an icon of the space age.

Tools of the Trade

Gemini X Checklist

In addition to life-sustaining spacesuits, astronauts need special tools to work outside the spacecraft. Time in space is limited, so checklists keep them on task, and they wear chronographs to track time. They use cameras to document nearly every step of an EVA, and headsets to maintain constant contact with their spacecraft and Mission Control. And as NASA learned during Project Gemini, tethers, handholds, and footholds are critical in order to ease physical exertion.

The right tools, along with careful coordination and monitoring by those on the ground and inside the spacecraft, make the dangerous work by astronauts outside the spacecraft possible and practical.


Keeping Track of Time

Time management during EVA work requires a reliable timepiece. Omega has produced chronographs for NASA since Project Gemini, and is still the only one certified for EVA work. The chronographs here show different models used throughout the history of EVA work, including a view of all the parts that make up a single unit.


Building a Timekeeper

During Mercury missions, astronauts bought and flew their own personal chronographs. Wally Schirra and Gordon Cooper on the last two Mercury missions used their personal Omega Speedmasters. Deke Slayton, then director of Flight Crew Operations, requested a certified wrist worn chronograph to be used to, "...accomplish time critical operations, experimental tests, and as a backup for spacecraft timing devices."

Program requirements at the time called for the manual-winding wrist worn chronograph that was water-proof, shock-proof, anti-magnetic, and able to withstand temperatures ranging from 0 to 200 degrees Fahrenheit and accelerations of 12 g's. At the completion of the qualification testing, only the Omega Speedmaster chronograph met all requirements. Omega chronographs were worn during all Gemini and Apollo EVAs. The relationship between NASA and Omega that began during Project Gemini continues to exist today, and their timepieces are still assigned for all U.S. EVA work.