Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. Source: RIA Novosti
On June 16, 1963 the Vostok-6 mission took off, launching the first woman, cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, into space. She spent three days above the Earth, orbiting the planet 48 times and covering nearly 1 million miles.
Altogether, 18 Russian women have been trained for spaceflight missions. Only three of them have flown. In addition to Valentina Tereshkova, spaceflights have been completed by Svetlana Savitskaya and Elena Kondakova. Savitskaya was the first woman to perform a space walk and Kondakova spent 170 days at the Mir space station along with Alexander Viktorenko and Valery Polyakov. A fourth female cosmonaut, Elena Serova, is expected to fly into space in 2013.
Twenty-six years earlier Tereshkova had been born into a family of Belarusian peasants in the city of Yaroslavl. She worked at the Yaroslavl tire factory and at night, attended classes at a high school for workers. After finishing the Yaroslavl Correspondence College of Light Industry, Tereshkova continued her studies at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy.
While she was at college, Tereshkova became fascinated with parachuting. She made 163 jumps at the local aero club. Following the first successful flights of Soviet cosmonauts, Sergei Korolyov came up with the idea of putting a woman in space. Then-Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev ordered him to select female applicants to join the cosmonaut corps. Recruiters visited local aero clubs and Tereshkova was selected with four others for a spot on this prestigious shortlist.
"The workload of the five girl female group was greater than that of men," Tereshkova said. The spaceflight preparation was conducted in strict secrecy, and Tereshkova’s mother learned that her daughter was in space only from the newspapers.
The spaceflight that made her world-famous almost ended in tragedy. "There was a design defect in the spaceship: it was oriented in a way so that instead of landing it was to raise the orbit. As a result, I might have never come back to Earth. Fortunately, I noticed the defect and reported it accordingly. The experts adjusted the data and I landed," Tereshkova said. "When I was ejected, I looked down and was shocked. There was a lake down there, below me. My first thought was: my God, they have sent a woman and what a bad luck for her to land right into the water!"
After her flight, Tereshkova continued to train in the cosmonaut corps, but she
never returned to space. Just like Yuri Gagarin she traveled all around the
world popularizing the achievements of the Soviet science and technology.
On June 22, 1963 the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet awarded cosmonaut
Valentina Tereshkova the title "Hero of the Soviet Union" and
decorated her with the "Gold Star" medal and the Order of Lenin for
the successful implementation of her spaceflight mission, courage and heroism.
Five months after her famous flight, Tereshkova married Andrian Nikolayev, who was a cosmonaut. At that time, he was the only person who had been in space as long as four days, and the first cosmonaut who had been allowed to unfasten his seatbelt and engage in a "free float.”
Valentina Tereshkova later received a Ph.D. in engineering; she is a professor and the author of more than 50 scientific papers. She won election to the State Duma as a member of the Communist Party in December 2011. On March 6, Russian Orthodox Patriarch Kirill awarded Tereshkova the Order of Glory and Honor. He praised "the many years of work she spent for the development of manned space exploration" as well as the fruitful governmental and public activities of the first female cosmonaut.
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