WALKING ON AIR
A short history of Spacewalking on Stamps
By Jeff Dugdale
So today, spacewalking is taken for granted as a part of almost every space mission and is quite unnewsworthy – unless something goes wrong – but the very first man to walk in space was front page news for months when he entered the history books.
The Russian, Alexei Leonov, who is himself an artist and postage stamp designer, had this honour within hours of being launched into space on the 18th March 1965. His method of egress into space (via an inflated airlock) was kept a secret for many years, as were so many aspects of early Soviet space achievement.
One particular reason for this may be that it wasn’t all that efficient as he spent much longer getting into space and then back into his craft than he actually did in space where he was for a brief ten minutes.
As explained in an article in the last issue of Orbit this event is very fancifully depicted on a Soviet stamp (SG 3105) issued next day showing a spacecraft which looked nothing like the Voskhod craft whose design was revealed some years later. The open door of the craft purporting to show his Commander (Pavel Belyayev) is also fantasy, as you can appreciate when you look at the design of the Cuban issue of 1985 which is actually based on a space painting by Leonov.
The Russians themselves put the matter right in 1980 with a minisheet marking the 15th Anniversary of the first spacewalk (SG MS 4979) which represents the event authentically.
Of course, the Americans were disappointed to have been beaten to it again in the Space Race. NASA had been due to launch its first two man Gemini flight in late March, but it was not until the second flight in the series (Gemini 4 in early June 1965) that an astronaut emulated the Russian achievement as Ed White floated into space for twenty minutes on the end of a 25 foot “umbilical” tether.
A detail of his achievement is faithfully recorded on the se-tenant pair from the United States, and many other stamps. (Unfortunately White was to become more famous as one of the astronauts who perished the Apollo 1 fire on the ground in January 1967, than as the second man in to walk in space.)
Space walking became a feature of later Gemini flights, notably of Gemini 10 from which Michael Collins, (later to be command module pilot of the first moon landing crew) space walked across to an Agena rocket which he and his Commander John Young had rendezvoused with in July 1966.
The event depicted in a Paraguay stamp, is also graphically described in Chapter Eight of Collins’ wonderful book Carrying the Fire (Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1974) in which the reader can share the high drama of two walks or EVAs (Extra Vehicular Activities) as they are now termed……