The official term astronauts and scientists use is extravehicular activity or EVA; but spacewalk is not only simpler, it is also more descriptive and illustrative. It is the time when an astronaut or cosmonaut leaves a space capsule and, while tethered to it, floats or walks in space.
Spacewalks are rare – they're not only expensive, tedious and time-consuming, but most of all dangerous. Only a select few can do spacewalk, following intensive training to conduct outside repair of the spacecraft, install new pieces of equipment, or deploy and collect scientific experiments.
Here are the pioneering men and women of space exploration:
Russian cosmonaut Alexei Leonov was the first human to ‘walk in space’ on March 18, 1965. Leonov, who trained with compatriot Yuri Gagarin (the first human to travel into space), stayed outside his craft for only a little over 12 minutes. Leonov was not only the first to conduct spacewalk, he also helped bridge the US/Soviet space competition. He flew into space again in 1975, commanding the Soviet crew of the Apollo-Soyuz mission, the first US–Soviet space flight.
Three months after Leonov’s space exploit, Nasa’s Ed White became the first American astronaut to conduct a spacewalk during Gemini IV mission in June 1965. White floated in space at an altitude of 160 kilometres above the Pacific Ocean at speed exceeding 28,100 kph. His only link to the spacecraft was a 25 foot, gold-coated tether and cord that supplied him with oxygen.
It was ‘one giant leap for mankind when NASA astronauts and Apollo 11 crew Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin took the first landmark steps on the surface of the Moon on July 20, 1969. The Apollo 11 crew left on the Moon an American flag, a patch honoring the fallen Apollo 1 crew, and a plaque on one of Eagle's legs that reads, "Here men from the planet Earth first set foot upon the Moon. July 1969 A.D. We came in peace for all mankind."
Soviet cosmonaut Svetlana Savitskaya was the first woman to spacewalk on July 25, 1984, nearly 20 years after compatriot Leonov first floated in space. Savitskaya and crewmate Vladimir Dzhanibekov spent more than three hours spacewalking, doing welding experiments on the outer hull of the Salyut 7 space station.
On October 11, 1984, American astronaut Kathryn D. Sullivan stepped outside her spacecraft to do work in the payload bay of the Space Shuttle Challenger that was travelling 17,500 miles per hour about 225 kilometres above Earth. Sullivan was the first woman to wear the Shuttle-era spacesuit, the 225-pound Extravehicular Mobility Unit (EMU), to work in space.
Bernard Harris became the first African-American to perform a spacewalk on February 9, 1995. He served as the Payload Commander on STS-63, the first flight of the new joint Russian-American Space Programme. Harris dedicated his pioneering spacewalk to all African-Americans and carried the flag of the Navajo Nation into space with him to pay tribute to diverse cultures.
On October 18, 2019, Nasa astronauts Christina Koch and Jessica Meir made history by completing the first ever all-female spacewalk. The duo spent seven hours outside the International Space Station (ISS) replacing a failed power control unit. It was Meir's first spacewalk and Koch's fourth, according to Nasa.
On April 28 this year, the UAE will become only the 10th country to undertake EVA outside the ISS, and the honour of becoming the first Arab to do spacewalk goes to Sultan AlNeyadi. He and Nasa Flight Engineer Stephen Bowen will work together for more than six hours as part of ISS’s 262nd spacewalk in support of assembly, maintenance, and upgrades on the orbiting space station.
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