Stepping Into the Unknown
A new school/new class assembly
by Gordon Lamont
Suitable for Key Stage 3
To explore, via the first spacewalk, how to thrive in new situations.
Preparation and materials
- Find some images of the first spacewalk (such as those at: http://tinyurl.com/l7855qz) and the means to display them during the assembly.
- Have available the YouTube video First Space Walk and the means to show it during the assembly (available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xjaYSLWYOc). It is 0.24 minutes long.
- Around 50 years ago, on 18 March 1965, a major milestone in human history was reached. The first person in space, Yuri Gagarin, had flown four years earlier in 1961; Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space, had flown in 1963; on this day it was the turn of Alexei Leonov and Pavel Belyayev, but their flight would be different. Something completely new was going to be attempted.
- Alexei would become the first person in history to leave the relative safety of the two-person Voskhod (pronounced Voshkod) spacecraft and float free in space.
A special air lock had been attached to the side of the craft to allow him to leave without letting out all the oxygen and so he floated into the tunnel, closed the hatch to the spacecraft behind him, allowed the oxygen in the tunnel to escape and opened the outer hatch. Alexei Leonov floated out into the vacuum of space with only his thin spacesuit to protect him.
- Show the YouTube video First Space Walk (available at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=5xjaYSLWYOc).
As Alexei Leonov said, ‘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.
- The mission was a great success and Alexei and Pavel returned to Earth safely . . . or at least that’s how the secretive Soviet Union, as Russia was known then, reported it at the time! In fact, the mission came close to disaster several times.
- Alexei’s spacesuit ballooned in the vacuum of space and he was unable to get back into the air lock after his 12-minute spacewalk. In desperation, he let some of the air out to make the suit less bulky, but then he began to go numb! He had developed ‘the bends’, also known as decompression sickness, which is a danger deep sea divers on Earth take precautions to avoid.
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 inside the spacecraft.
Their troubles were far from over, however. A fault caused oxygen levels to rise in the spacecraft, risking a fire, and the automatic re-entry system failed, so 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.
Despite all the challenges, they had done it – they had faced their difficulties and beaten them.
Time for reflection
The two brave cosmonauts attempted something new and dangerous.
They faced many unexpected situations.
Their training, quick thinking and ability to keep calm saved the day.
We can learn from their experience when we face new challenges. We can prepare well, be ready and decide that, whatever setbacks we meet, we can find a way to succeed.