Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova is the first woman to have flown in space, having been selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6 on 16 June 1963. In order to join the Cosmonaut Corps, Tereshkova was only honorarily inducted into the Soviet Air Force and thus she also became the first civilian to fly in space.
Before her recruitment as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova was a
textile-factory assembly worker and an amateur skydiver. After the
dissolution of the first group of female cosmonauts in 1969, she became a
prominent member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, holding various political offices. She remained politically active following the collapse of the Soviet Union and is still regarded as a hero in post-Soviet Russia.
In 2013 she offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars if the opportunity arose. At the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics, she was a carrier of the Olympic flag.
After the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961, Sergey Korolyov,
the chief Soviet rocket engineer, came up with the idea of putting a
woman in space. On 16 February 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected
to join the female cosmonaut corps. Out of more than four hundred
applicants, five were selected: Tatyana Kuznetsova, Irina Solovyova, Zhanna Yorkina, Valentina Ponomaryova,
and Tereshkova. Qualifications included that they be parachutists under
30 years of age, under 170 cm (5 feet 7 inches) tall, and under 70 kg
(154 lbs.) in weight.
Tereshkova was considered a particularly worthy candidate, partly due to her "proletarian" background, and because her father, tank leader sergeant Vladimir Tereshkov, was a war hero. He died in the Finnish Winter War during World War II in the Lemetti area in Finnish Karelia
when Tereshkova was two years old. After her mission she was asked how
the Soviet Union should thank her for her service to the country.
Tereshkova asked that the government search for, and publish, the
location where her father was killed in action. This was done, and a
monument now stands at the site in Lemetti—now on the Russian side of
the border. Tereshkova has since visited Finland several times.
Training included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge
tests, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps and
pilot training in MiG-15UTI
jet fighters. The group spent several months in intensive training,
concluding with examinations in November 1962, after which four
remaining candidates were commissioned Junior Lieutenants in the Soviet
Air Force. Tereshkova, Solovyova and Ponomaryova were the leading
candidates, and a joint mission profile was developed that would see two
women launched into space, on solo Vostok flights on consecutive days
in March or April 1963.
Originally it was intended that Tereshkova would launch first in
Vostok 5 while Ponomaryova would follow her into orbit in Vostok 6.
However, this flight plan was altered in March 1963. Vostok 5 would now
carry a male cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky
flying the joint mission with a woman aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963. The
State Space Commission nominated Tereshkova to pilot Vostok 6 at their
meeting on 21 May and this was confirmed by Nikita Khrushchev himself. Tereshkova was exactly ten years younger than the youngest Mercury Seven astronaut, Gordon Cooper.
After watching the successful launch of Vostok 5
on 14 June, Tereshkova began final preparations for her own flight. She
was 26 at the time. On the morning of 16 June 1963, Tereshkova and her
back-up Solovyova were both dressed in spacesuits and taken to the launch pad
by bus. After completing her communication and life support checks, she
was sealed inside the Vostok. After a two-hour countdown, Vostok 6 launched faultlessly, and Tereshkova became the first woman in space. Her call sign in this flight was Chaika (English: Seagull; Russian: Ча́йка), later commemorated as the name of an asteroid, 1671 Chaika.
nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight,
she orbited the earth 48 times and spent almost three days in space.
With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined
times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date.
Tereshkova also maintained a flight log and took photographs of the
horizon, which were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere.
Vostok 6 was the final Vostok flight and was launched two days after Vostok 5 which carried Valery Bykovsky
into a similar orbit for five days, landing three hours after
Tereshkova. The two vessels approached each other within 5 kilometers
(3.1 mi) at one point, and Tereshkova communicated with Bykovsky and
with Khrushchev by radio.
Even though there were plans for further flights by women, it took 19 years until the second woman, Svetlana Savitskaya,
flew into space. None of the other four in Tereshkova's early group
flew, and in October 1969 the pioneering female cosmonaut group was