Valentina Tereshkova, the story of the first woman in space

Valentina Tereshkova in January 1969.
Credit: RIA Novosti archive, image #612748 / Alexander Mokletsov / CC-BY-SA 3.0
Valentina Tereshkova in January 1969.
  • Valentina Tereshkova in January 1969.
  • Left to right: cosmonauts Pavel Popovich, Yuri Gagarin and Valentina Tereshkova in January 1964.
  • Valentina Tereshkova meets Pierre Elliott Trudeau
Valentina Tereshkova, the story of the first woman in space

Two years after the flight of Yuri Gagarin, the Soviets wrote another page in the history of aerospace by sending the first woman into orbit. In June 1963, Valentina Tereshkova carried out a space flight of close to three days aboard the craft Vostok 6.

A determined young woman

Valentina Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937,in the village of Maslennikovo, 270 kilometers from Moscow. She lost her father in 1941 during the Second World War. Her mother then moved to Yaroslavl to work in the cotton mill there. She insisted on her three children continuing their studies, and Valentina would do so until the age of 17. She then began work in a tire factory, before joining her mother and sister at the textile mill.

In the late 1950s she began her political involvement, joining the Communist Youth League. That allowed her to take correspondence courses at the Light Industry Technical School and to graduate in 1960.

At the same time, she began to train in skydiving at the local Aeroclub, even becoming a parachuting teacher after two years.

Valentina was fascinated by the space flight of Yuri Gagarin (in April 1961). She was recruited along with four other women to be part of the second group of Soviet cosmonauts in 1962. She began rigorous training designed to select the first woman to go into space. Her proletarian origins and her involvement in the Communist Party worked in Tereshkova’s favor.

A victim of space sickness

Tereshkova took off into space on June 16, 1963, at 12:29 p.m., local time, under the call sign Chaika (seagull in English). Two days earlier, cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky (call sign Yastreb, hawk in English) was put into orbit aboard the capsule Vostok 5. The two craft got close enough in every orbit to communicate with each other by radio, which would lead Valentina to say during the flight: “The seagull is in sight of the hawk.”

Soviet authorities quickly sent out a propaganda message boasting of the gender equality in the socialist system.

Valentina was dazzled by the beauty of the Earth, but rapidly started feeling symptoms connected to space sickness (nausea, vomiting, dizziness). That illness, still unknown at the time, had also befallen Gherman Titov during the second cosmonaut’s flight in 1961. She felt very tired during the flight, and slept a lot.

Valentina’s Vostok also experienced problems when the controls took her farther from the Earth. Corrections would be sent from the control center to ensure the craft’s safe return to Earth. Happily the maneuver worked, and Valentina got back to Earth without a hitch after finishing 48 orbits in over 70 hours of flight.

A number of directors of the Soviet space program would consider Tereshkova’s flight a failure because of her recurring physical discomfort. However, none of them had had anything bad to say about Titov when he experienced the same problems during his flight.

An involved woman

On her return to Earth, Tereshkova became a symbol of communism and would be decorated with the Order of Lenin and awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal.

Valentina Tereshkova would not fly in space again. She’s been actively involved in politics to this day, when at the age of 84 she’s a deputy in the State Duma as a member of the party of President Putin.

It wasn’t until 19 years later, in 1982, that another woman would return to space (Svetlana Savitskaya). To this day, Valentina Tereshkova remains the youngest woman to have traveled in space and the only one to have carried out a solo flight.

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