The first woman to travel in space, who made forty-eight revolutions around the earth in a seventy-hour, fifty-minute spaceflight from June 16 to June 19, 1963.
Valentina Tereshkova’s father was a tractor driver who was killed in action during World War II. Her mother was a textile worker. In 1953, she left secondary school to work, but continued her education by correspondence course. In 1961, she earned a degree in cotton-spinning technology. In 1969, six years after her space flight, she graduated with distinction from the Zhukovsky Military Air Academy.
Tereshkova was an avid parachute jumper and made her first jump under the auspices of the Yaroslavl Aviation Club in 1959. In 1961, she became secretary of the local Komsomol (Young Communist League). The following year, she was one of five women selected for cosmonaut training, which included training in weightless flights, parachute jumps, and isolation and centrifuge tests. She excelled in physical training; however, she found rocket theory and spacecraft engineering more difficult.
In 1963, Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev selected Tereshkova for the first pioneering mission that would include a woman. Tereshkova became the first woman in space on board Vostok 6, launched on June 16, 1963. She completed three days in space, more than the total flight time of all the American astronauts at the time, orbiting the earth forty-eight times. She landed about 380 miles (612 kilometers) northeast of Qaraghandy, Kazakhstan, in central Asia, on June 19, 1963.
On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev. On June 8, 1964, her daughter, Elena Andrianovna, was born. Elena had the distinction of being the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space.
The women in space program slowed down considerably after Tereshkova’s historic flight. An all-female flight aboard a Voskhod spacecraft in 1965 was canceled after the nearly disastrous flight of Voskhod 2. In 1982, Svetlana Savitskaya became the second Russian woman in space and later flew again in 1984. A planned all-female Soyuz T-15 flight commemorating International Women’s Day in 1985 was also canceled due to problems with the Salyut 7 space station.
Tereshkova became a member of the World Peace Council in 1966. She was elected to the presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1974 and was the Soviet representative to the United Nations Conference for the International Women’s Year in Mexico City in 1975. Later, she served as vice president of the International Women’s Democratic Federation and as president of the Soviet-Algerian Friendship Society. She was honored as a Hero of the Soviet Union and received the Order of Lenin and the United Nations Gold Medal for Peace.
Lothian, A. Valentina: First Woman in Space. Edinburgh, Scotland: Pentland Press, 1993. A conversational biography of Tereshkova, with illustrations and an index. O’Neil, Bill. “Whatever Became of Valentina Tereshkova?” New Scientist 139, no. 1886 (August 14, 1993). A profile of Tereshkova. Sharpe, Mitchell R. It Is I, Sea Gull: Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space. New York: Crowell, 1975. An excellent portrayal of the Russian cosmonaut’s daring trip into space.
Astronauts and cosmonauts
Russian space program
Women and flight
Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman in space, flying the Soviet Union’sVostok 6 mission on June 16-19, 1963.