First Woman in Space

Who was the first woman in space?

Valentina Tereshkova was a 24-year-old textile worker when she heard that the Soviet space program was recruiting female cosmonauts. Tereshkova jumped at the chance to do what Yuri Gagarin had just accomplished.

First woman in space Valentina Tereshkova Stamp

A stamp honoring Valentina Tereshkova, the first female in space.

Normally, a textile worker wouldn't qualify for such a job. Cosmonauts were typically pilots. However, standards were relaxed for female candidates. The space program was looking for parachutists under the age of 30 who were less than 5 feet 7 inches (170 cm) in height and weighed under 154 pounds (70 kg).

Tereshkova met all the qualifications, so she went for it. More than 400 women applied and underwent a comprehensive evaluation process. On Feb. 16, 1962, officials selected five women, including Tereshkova, Tatyana Kuznetsova, Irina Solovyova, Zhanna Yorkina, and Valentina Ponomaryoya.

The cosmonaut candidates went through a rigorous training program that included 120 parachute jumps, zero gravity flights, isolation tests, centrifuge runs, pilot training in MiG-15 jet fighters and classes in rocket theory and spacecraft engineering. Yorkina failed to complete the training, but the other four women were certified to fly.

Tereshkova was chosen to become the woman in space based on her performance in training and her family background.  She came from a proletarian family. Her father was war hero Vladimir Tereshkov, a tank leader who lost his life during the Finnish Winter War when Valentina was only 2 years old.

Soviet space officials planned a space spectacular to upstage their American rivals. Two female cosmonauts --Tereshkova and Ponomaryoya -- would fly into space aboard Vostok 5 and Vostok 6, respectively. The spacecraft would be launched within days and fly near each other, feats that NASA had yet to achieve.

However, Soviet leaders were displeased with Ponomaryoya, feeling that she was too much of a feminist and didn't tow the Communist Party line in interviews. She was replaced by a male cosmonaut, Valery Bykovsky, and the order of the flights changed so that he would fly first.

Bykovsky took off aboard Vostok 5 on June 14, 1963. Two days later, Tereshkova roared off the pad. The first woman in space suffered from space sickness during much of her 3-day flight, during which she orbited the Earth 48 times. Throughout her mission, she took photographs of the Earth and perform tests to measure her body's reaction to weightlessness.

Tereshkova's spacecraft passed within 3 miles (5 km) of Bykovsky's Vostok 5. The two cosmonauts used their radios to talk to each other and Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev.

Tereshkova landed safely on June 19, 1963, parachuting from the spacecraft into violent winds and barely missing a lake. Bykovsky landed safely about four hours later.

Five months after her mission, Tershkova married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev in a ceremony at the Moscow Wedding Palace presided over by Premier Khrushchev. On June 8, 1964, she gave birth to a daughter, Elena, who became the first child to have both parents fly in space.

Tereshkova never flew in space again. Nor did any of the women selected with her. It would be 19 years before another woman flew into space.

Tereshkova went on to earn a doctorate in engineering, and she served as a member of the Supreme Soviet. Today, she is widely seen as an inspiration for women in Russia and around the world.

Link for First Woman in Space

Valentina Tereshkova's Biography


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