MOSCOW (Reuters) – Hundreds of Russians said goodbye to cosmonaut Alexei Leonov, the first human to walk in space, at a solemn ceremony on Tuesday that culminated in an arms salute.
Leonov's ceremony, which died on Friday at the age of 85 after a long illness, was attended by the Russian Defense Minister and prominent space exploration figures, including 89-year-old former US astronaut Thomas Stafford. .
Although less internationally known than Yuri Gagarin, the first man in space, Leonov was a household name in his homeland, Russia, and will be remembered in particular for his role in the 1965 Voskhod-2 mission.
During this flight, one of the two he created for space, Leonov became the first human to walk in space, an episode that lasted 12 minutes and 9 seconds.
A fragile Stafford gave a speech in Russian at the ceremony on the outskirts of Moscow, during which he called Leonov "my colleague and friend" and said "Alexei, we will never forget you."
In 1975 Stafford was commander of an Apollo spacecraft that docked with a Leonov-commanded Soyuz spacecraft on the first link of American and Russian space vehicles.
After several speeches, hundreds of Russians lined up to pay tribute and put flowers in Leonov's barrel.
Leonov was twice nicknamed "Hero of the Soviet Union" – one of the most prestigious awards in the Russian state – and has a small crater on the moon named after him. (Reporting by Mikhail Antonov; essay by Tom Balmforth; ed. Edmond edition)