Stepping into the Unknown
by Gordon Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 2
To apply lessons from the first space walk to our everyday lives.
Preparation and materials
- Project some images of the first space walk from http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/special/2014/newsspec_9035/index.html
- And/or this short film: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xjaYSLWYOc (24”)
- Note: the Science Museum in London will be launching a major exhibition of Soviet spacecraft and artefacts in September 2015. See http://www.sciencemuseum.org.uk/. Their cosmonaut blog features more from Alexi Leonov with photographs at http://blog.sciencemuseum.org.uk/insight/tag/cosmonauts.
- Explain that, just over fifty years ago in 1965, something completely new was going to be attempted in space: Russian cosmonaut (astronaut) Alexi Leonov would become the first person in history to leave a spacecraft and ‘space walk’ protected only by an untested spacesuit.
- This is what happened (show film if you have it or use his words below):
‘It was an extraordinary sensation, I had never felt quite like it before. I was free above the planet Earth and I saw it was rotating majestically below me.’
- So the mission was a great success, but that’s not the whole story. The Soviet Union, headed by Russia, liked to present everything as a brilliant success; they never mentioned their failures.
Alexi’s spacesuit swelled up in the airless emptiness of space and he was unable to get back into the air lock after his 12-minute space walk. In desperation he let some of the air out to make the suit less bulky but then he began to go numb! He had ‘the benz’, also known as decompression sickness and well known to earth-bound divers.
He managed to struggle back in by going head first into the narrow tunnel, but then he had to turn round in the air lock to close the hatch. He was near to exhaustion when he finally made it back to his couch.
But the troubles were far from over for Alexi and fellow cosmonaut Pavel. A fault caused oxygen levels to rise in the spacecraft, risking a fire; the automatic re-entry system failed and the crew capsule didn’t separate properly from the rest of the spacecraft, sending them spinning into the burning heat of re-entry. They landed way off course in Siberia and had to spend two nights in the freezing forest with wolves and bears for company before being rescued by skiing comrades and helicopters.
But despite all the challenges, they had done it – they had faced their difficulties and beaten them.
Time for reflection
The first space walk was a success; it worked, but only just. It was the starting point and there was a great deal to learn from it to make future space exploration safer.
It took courage, good training and the ability to keep cool and find solutions to problems.
You may not walk in space, at least not today, but can you see how you can make use of those same skills: be brave, prepare, keep your cool and find a way to succeed whatever the problems you face.
Download some of the music from ‘The Space Race’ by Public broadcasting