Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova
“They forbade me from flying, despite all my protests and arguments. After being once in space, I was keen to go back there. But it didn’t happen.”
First woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963.(1) After 48 orbits and 71 hours, she returned to earth, having spent more time in space than all U.S. astronauts combined to that date.(2)
In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space.(1)
Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born to a peasant family in Maslennikovo, Russia, in 1937. She began work at a textile factory when she was 18, and at age 22 she made her first parachute jump under the auspices of a local aviation club. Her enthusiasm for skydiving brought her to the attention of the Soviet space program, which sought to put a woman in space in the early 1960s as a means of achieving another “space first” before the United States.(3)
The desire by Soviet Russia to send a woman into space was encapsulated in the diary of Lt General Kamami, head of the cosmonaut training programme, who wrote: “Under no circumstances should an American become the first woman in space – this would be an insult of Soviet women.” In the end Russia beat the US by 20 years.(4)
As an accomplished parachutist, Tereshkova was well equipped to handle one of the most challenging procedures of a Vostok space flight: the mandatory ejection from the capsule at about 20,000 feet during reentry. In February 1962, she was selected along with three other woman parachutists and a female pilot to begin intensive training to become a cosmonaut.
In 1963, Tereshkova was chosen to take part in the second dual flight in the Vostok program, involving spacecrafts Vostok 5 and Vostok 6. Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16 aboard Vostok 6.
During launch, Tereshkova shouted: “Hey sky, take off your hat! I’m coming to see you.”(4)
Speaking at London’s Science Museum at the launch of a new exhibition Cosmonauts: birth of the Space Age she revealed how the Soviet space agency had thought of most things, but had not remembered to pack her a toothbrush.
“Unfortunately it is a fact,” said Dr Tereshkova, 78. “But I’m very resourceful as any woman would be. I had my toothpaste, and I had my hand, and I had water.”(4)
An error in the spacecraft’s automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth, a fact that was classified for about 40 years. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. (3)
On June 19, after just under three days in space, Vostok 6 reentered the atmosphere, and Tereshkova successfully parachuted to earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet.(2) She landed safely but received a bruise on her face. She landed in the Altay region near today’s Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Tereshkova out of her spacesuit and asked her to join them for dinner. She accepted, and was later reprimanded for violating the rules and not undergoing medical tests first.(3)
After her historic space flight, Valentina Tereshkova received the Order of Lenin and Hero of the Soviet Union awards. In 1966, Tereshkova became a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR’s national parliament, and she served as the Soviet representative to numerous international women’s organizations and events. She never entered space again, and hers was the last space flight by a female cosmonaut until the 1980s.
The United States screened a group of female pilots in 1959 and 1960 for possible astronaut training but later decided to restrict astronaut qualification to men. The first American woman in space was astronaut and physicist Sally Ride, who served as mission specialist on a flight of the space shuttle Challenger in 1983.(2)
- https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Valentina_Tereshkova + Feature image