Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova

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Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova


Soviet Cosmonaut

Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman to fly in space. Although her flight was a publicity stunt staged by the Soviet Union in an effort to seize control of the space race during the Cold War, Tereshkova's flight benefited space exploration. Her orbits around Earth reinforced public awareness that space travel was possible for women as well as men. American women cited Tereshkova's successful mission as justification for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) to include women in aerospace careers.

Born on March 6, 1937, at Masslenikovo in the Yaroslavl region of the Soviet Union, Tereshkova was born to Vladimir Aksenovich and Yelena Fedorovna Tereshkova. Tereshkova grew up on a collective farm, worked at a mill, and took correspondence classes from the Yaroslavl Technical School of Light Industry to master cotton-spinning technology. Tereshkova joined the Komsomol, the Young Communist League. She also became affiliated with the mill's parachute jump club, earning a certificate for being a proficient parachutist.

After cosmonaut Gherman Titov's flight in August 1961, Tereshkova wrote the Soviet space center, asking how to become a cosmonaut. Nikolai Kamanin, who was in charge of cosmonaut training, invited Tereshkova to travel to Moscow, where she passed interviews and medical tests. In March 1962 Tereshkova and four other women moved to the Yuri A. Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center at Star City. The male cosmonauts were aloof toward the women, disdaining them for their lack of flying experience. Because the Soviet air force was the sole source of cosmonauts in the 1960s, the women were enlisted as privates then commissioned as junior lieutenants.

Tereshkova studied rocket technology, geophysics, and navigational theory. She learned to fly jets, was spun on a centrifuge, and placed in an isolation chamber to prepare for the solitude of a space capsule. Tereshkova rode in planes designed to produce temporary zero gravity conditions in order to experience the weightlessness of space. Soviet officials designed experiments to determine how females were affected by space travel. Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev decided that Tereshkova should be the first woman in space because her family consisted of workers representative of the Soviet Union's political ethic.

On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova was launched into space in Vostok 6. Most cosmonaut officials considered her mission successful. Ground controllers, however, complained that Tereshkova fell asleep often and was difficult to awaken. Tereshkova completed 48 orbits in three days. Her call name in flight was "Chaika," which means "seagull." Images of Tereshkova in space were broadcast to television viewers in the Soviet Union. Also, her conversations with Valery Bykovsky, who was orbiting at the same time in Vostok 5, were transmitted by radio. On June 19, Tereshkova ejected from the capsule and touched down at Kazakh. The Soviets feted Tereshkova at a Red Square celebration. She spoke about her flight to audiences and traveled to foreign nations. Tereshkova married cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev in November 1963 in a public ceremony. They had one daughter, Yelena, and divorced 19 years later. Citing Tereshkova's successful flight, Khrushchev criticized western countries for forbidding women the opportunity to fly in space.

From 1965 to 1966, Tereshkova trained for potential Vostok and Soyuz flights that were later canceled. She attended the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy and graduated in 1969, the same year that the female cosmonaut program ended. Tereshkova earned a technical sciences degree in 1976 and also received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. She rose to the rank of major-general before retiring in March 1997. Tereshkova held Communist Party offices, was elected to the Congress of People's Deputies, and was honored with various awards. Some countries have produced stamps and coins bearing Tereshkova's likeness and a moon crater has been named for her. In addition, Tereshkova has penned an autobiography.