First Woman in Space
On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
Valentina was born March 6, 1937, in the Yaroslavl Oblast in central Russia. She showed an early interest in parachuting and trained at the local Aeroclub. Valentina made her first jump in 1959. It was her parachuting experience in particular that led to her recruitment in the cosmonaut program in 1962.
Following Soviet cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin’s successful first human spaceflight and orbit of Earth in 1961, discussions began about sending the first woman into space. Out of 400 total applicants, five, including Valentina, were selected for the female cosmonaut corps. Their training, which lasted several months, included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps, and pilot training in jet fighters.
After completing her final examinations, Valentina and three others were commissioned junior lieutenants in the Soviet Air Force. The State Space Commission then nominated Valentina to pilot Vostok 6, and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev confirmed her selection.
On June 16, 1963, Vostok 6 launched flawlessly and Valentina became the first woman in space. Despite experiencing some nausea and physical discomfort for most of the flight, Valentina orbited the earth 48 times, spending almost three days in space. With this single flight, she logged more flight time than all American astronauts combined up to that time. Valentina kept a detailed flight log and took photographs of the horizon that were later used to find aerosol layers in the atmosphere.
After her return to earth, Valentina was asked how the Soviet Union should thank her for her service to the country. She requested that the government find and publish the location where her father was killed during World War II. They succeeded in finding the location and a monument now stands at the site in Lemetti.
Tereshkova was active in Soviet politics until the Soviet Union collapsed. She is still a hero in Russia. She was invited to the home of Prime Minister Putin to celebrate her 70th birthday. While there, she told Putin she volunteered to fly to Mars, even if it was a one-way trip. In 2008, she was part of the torch relay when the flame traveled through St. Petersburg, Russia. She was part of the Olympic experience again in 2014 when the winter games were held in her home country. She carried the Olympic flag at the opening ceremonies.
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