During the great space race of the early 1960s the Soviet space program was looking to beat the United States to another “first” – this time the first woman in space. One of the biggest challenges for finding the right candidate was that due to the design of the Vostok capsule the cosmonaut would have to eject from the capsule at about 20,000 feet up during reentry.
As an amateur parachutist Valentina Tereshkova had logged 126 jumps and inspired by Yuri Gagarin she joined the Soviet Space program and was given a military rank in the Russian air force. Her eighteen months of candidate training included tests to determine the effects of being alone for long periods and tests made to duplicate the zero gravity weightless conditions in space.
On June 16, 1963 as the chief pilot of the Vostok VI, Tereshkova became the first woman and first civilian launched into space. She made a total of 48 orbits in a little over 70 hours, logging more time than all American astronauts total up until that date.
Upon returning she underwent testing that showed that women had the same resistance as men to the physical and psychological stresses of space travel but women could actually tolerate gravitational forces better than men. Hailed in Moscow’s Red Square upon her return she was also awarded the title of Hero of the Soviet Union at the Kremlin and was decorated with the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal.
Tereshkova toured the world as a goodwill ambassador in efforts to promote the equality of the sexes in the Soviet Union including appearances at the UN and as a guest of the Cuban Women’s Federation. On the occasion of her 70th birthday Russian President Putin held a party in her honor at which time she stated that she would like to travel to Mars – even if it was a one way trip. A year later she became a torchbearer for the 2008 Summer Olympics torch relay in Saint Petersburg, Russia
Suggested by: Courtney Wright
Written by Angela Goad