alexei leonov

On a rainy October morning, late in the second decade of the new century, I was deeply saddened to hear of the death of one of the great figures of the last, Alexei Leonov.

Leonov has always been my personal favorite character in the true story of the space race, and a major figure in the alternate history backstory of my comics universe.  Plus I’ve always been sure he was a pretty great guy.  How could you not love that face?

You probably know at least a little about Alexei Leonov, even if you don’t quite recognize his name.  He was the last of the original Soviet cosmonauts, and in 1965 he was the first human being to conduct an extravehicular activity (EVA), when he left the Voshkhod 2 capsule to walk in space for 12 minutes.

Ten years later, in 1975, he commanded the Soyuz capsule in the Apollo/Soyuz joint mission with the Americans.

And yes, that is his drawing of one of the American astronauts.  Leonov was a keen artist all his life and was noted for his colorful paintings of space travel and astronomical subjects.  “Over The Black Sea” is one of my favorites.

Alexei Leonov was close friends with Yuri Gagarin, his cosmonaut classmate and the first person to orbit the Earth.  Gagarin was one of the epic popular heroes of his time, movie star handsome and rock star famous; any time you see a photograph of Gagarin, look for Leonov, he is almost always nearby.

And of course Leonov is honored by alternate historians, because if the Soviet Union had won the very closely contested last lap of the space race in 1968 and 1969, he may very well have been the first person on the Moon.  The Soviet Moon landing plans featured a one person lander, and Leonov was widely regarded as the primary candidate for the mission.  Somewhere out there is a whole cluster of timelines where Alexei Leonov was the star of all those 50th anniversary documentaries last summer.  I’ve often wondered what he would have thought about that.

Hot jets  General Leonov.

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