Russia: First Woman in Space Turns 75 Years Old

Just days before the world celebrated International Women's Day last week, Valentina Tereshkova – the first woman to enter space – celebrated her 75th birthday.

Although the Space Race had its origins in the years following WWII, when the United States and the Soviet Union began cultivating rocket-based missile technology, it did not officially commence until the Soviet Union launched an artificial satellite called Sputnik in 1957. Yuri Gagarin became the first human to enter space in 1961, when he piloted the ship Vostok 1 (the Russian word for East). A few years later, Vostok 6 was launched and Ms. Tereshkova became the first woman to journey into space.

Engineering Pathway Blog marked the anniversary of Ms. Tereshkova's space flight last year, and in doing so highlighted the fact that upon her re-entry into Earth's atmosphere, she had logged more flight time than all of her American counterparts combined:

Today in History – June 16, 1963,  Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman in space aboard the Soviet Union’s Vostok 6. At the time, Tereshkova had completed three days in space, more than the flight time of all the American astronauts put together. […]

Tereshkova has received a number of medals and distinctions, including two Orders of Lenin; recognition as a Hero of the Soviet Union; the United Nation Gold Medal of Peace; the Simba International Women’s Movement Award; and the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal. In 2000, she was named “Greatest Woman Achiever of the Century” award by the International Women of the Year Association.


Woman of the Week Blog – a publication dedicated to honoring those who have made significant contributions to engineering or science – provided insight into Ms. Tereshkova's background:

Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova was born March 6th, 1937 in Bolshoye Maslennikovo in the Yaroslavl Oblast of the Soviet Union. Her father, Vladimir Aksyenovich Tereshkov was a tractor driver, and her mother, Elena Fedorovna, worked in a textile plant. She had a younger brother and an older sister. Valentina's father Vladimir went missing in action in the Finno-Russian War of 1939-1940, and so Valentina and her siblings were raised by their mother.

Due to World War II, Valentina didn't begin attending school until she was 8 years old. At 17 she had to leave school to work at a textile mill in order to help support her family; however, she continued her education through a correspondence course. Valentina learned to sky dive through an auxiliary organization of the Soviet Air Force located in her town (Yaroslavl). She made her first jump in 1959 and created a Parachute Club at the textile mill where she worked. […]


My user Irina quoted [ru] General Lieutenant Nikolai Kamanin as he provided his account of Ms. Tereshkova's flight:

“I spoke with Tereshkova a few times. It seemed that she was tired but she didn't want to admit it. […] We looked at the television camera and saw that she was asleep. I woke her up and talked to her about the landing she was going to have to make by hand. [There were difficulties with the orientation of the ship and we were all very worried]. […]”


Irina then provided commentary about Ms. Tereshkova's time in space as well as her landing in Russia:

Despite the nausea and physical discomfort, she completed 48 revolutions around the earth and spent almost 3 days in space. She kept a journal and took photographs of the horizon which were used later to detect aerosol layers in the atmosphere.

The Vostok 6 landed safely in the Baevski region of the Altai territory, about 620 kilometers northeast of Karaganda. […]


Ms. Tershkova herself was then quoted as she discussed what it felt like to see the planet Earth fade into the distance:

“When I catapulted I thought to myself in silent horror, – which I finally admitted 44 years later – I saw the lake below me and my first thought was, “The lord has sent one woman who will be reclaimed into the water!”


Woman of the Week Blog elaborated on the physical and mental demands of Ms. Tereshkova's three days in orbit:

The flight was not without difficulty; the orbiter was oriented incorrectly and needed to be corrected, unfortunately it took her a day to convince ground control. Valentina became queasy during the flight and became sick. To reduce what ground control perceived as space sickness, Valentina was told to stay strapped into her chair for the three day duration of the flight. When she finally landed, she suffered a blow to her nose that resulted in a dark bruise. In the propaganda tours that followed, she had to wear heavy makeup to conceal the bruise.


Polly's Piece of Peace Blog discussed in a 2011 post Ms. Tereshkova's life journey following the historic flight:

After her pioneering flight, she was honoured as a Hero of the Soviet Union and received the Order of Lenin. She studied at the Zhukovskiy Military Air Academy, graduating in 1969. Tereshkova also held several positions in the Soviet government and the Communist Party. As a spokesperson for the USSR, she received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace, among other international awards, including the Order of Friendship from Russian President Medvedev this past April. Briefly married to a fellow cosmonaut, she gave birth to the first child of parents who had traveled in space: a daughter, who later became a doctor.


Member of the first squad of cosmonauts Valentina Tereshkova was awarded the Order of Friendship. April 12, 2011. Photo credit: (CC BY 3.0)

Russell Phillips’ Blog concluded a 2011 post about Ms. Tereshkova by providing a brief summary of her life, including her continuing wish to journey to Mars:

When Tereshkova left school to start work at the age of 16, she continued her education via correspondence courses. She graduated with distinction from Zhukovskiy Military Air Academy in 1969, and earned a doctorate in engineering in 1977. During her 70th birthday celebrations, she said that she’d like to fly to Mars, even if it was a one-way trip.


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