Cosmonaut Alexei Leonov trains for the Apollo-Soyuz mission in April 1975 . (Credit: NASA)

Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first
person to walk in space, has died at the age of 85 at the Burdenko Military
Hospital in Moscow. His death was announced Friday, Oct. 11, by Roscosmos,
Russia’s space agency.

Born in 1934, Leonov became the eleventh Soviet
cosmonaut and achieved major milestones of space exploration. During the
Voskhod 2 mission, on March 18, 1965, he exited his capsule for 12 minutes,
performing the first human spacewalk. Leonov barely survived the excursion,
after a malfunction with his suit forced him to drop its pressure in order to
make his way back into the capsule.

“His name is lettered in gold in the world’s
space exploration history,” Roscosmos said in a statement.

In July 1975, Leonov commanded the Soyuz
capsule, which set a standard of international cooperation in space when it
docked for two days with NASA’s Apollo capsule.

“We need heroes like him,” says Garik
Israelian, an astronomer at the Institute for Astrophysics in Tenerife, Spain,
and founder of the Starmus International Festival, an international gathering
that celebrates science and the arts. Israelian, a close friend of Leonov, says
that Leonov’s experience on the Soyuz-Apollo mission shaped his life.

He recalls Leonov telling him, “Space is a
place for freedom, not weapons. We should collaborate and work together.”

An artist as well as a cosmonaut, Leonov took
colored pencils altered for zero gravity with him on Voskhod 2, and sketched an
orbital sunrise, which is considered the first piece of art created in space.
In collaboration with Starmus, Leonov helped to create the Stephen Hawking
Medal for Science Communication, which recognizes the work of those helping to
promote public awareness of science.

Israelian recalls Leonov creating a sketch of
Hawking in his hotel room and presenting it to him. The form of the medal
itself was inspired by Leonov’s drawing, his first spacewalk and the home-built
electric guitar of Queen band member and astrophysicist Brian May. Winners
include Elon Musk, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Hans Zimmer, Brian Eno, Buzz Aldrin and
Jean-Michel Jarre.

Leonov was inducted into the International Air
and Space Hall of Fame in San Diego in 2000. He was portrayed in the 2017 film,
“Spacewalk,” which premiered at Starmus 4 in Trondheim, Norway. He and U.S.
astronaut David Scott co-authored the dual autobiography, “Two Sides of the
Moon: Our Story of the Cold War Space Race,” which explores the space race from
both sides of the Iron Curtain.

A visitation will be held in Leonov’s honor in
Moscow on Tuesday, Oct. 15.

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