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Stepping into the Unknown – A New School/New Class Assembly

by Gordon Lamont

Suitable for Key Stage 3


To use the story of the first space walk to explore how to thrive when we find ourselves in new situations

Preparation and materials


  1. Explain that, just over fifty years ago on 18 March 1965, a major milestone in human history was passed. 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, now it was the turn of Alexi Leonov and Pavel Belyayev, but their flight would be different. Something completely new was going to be attempted.

  2. Alexi would become the first person in history to leave the relative safety of the two-person Voskhod spacecraft and float free in space. 

  3. 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. Alexi Leonov floated out into the vacuum of space with only his thin spacesuit to protect him.

  4. 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.’

  5. The mission was a great success and Alexi and Pavel returned to Earth safely . . . or that’s how the secretive Soviet Union reported it at the time! In fact the mission came close to disaster several times.

    Alexi’s spacesuit ballooned in the vacuum of space and he was unable to get back into the air lock after his twelve 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, 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 their troubles were far from over. 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

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 through to success.


‘Thus Spake Zarathustra’ – a bit corny, but awe inspiring

Publication date: September 2015   (Vol.17 No.9)    Published by SPCK, London, UK.
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