Happy Wednesday, fellow space travelers! I’ve missed a couple weeks… It’s Women’s History Month and I really want to make sure that we’ve talked about at least a couple amazing ladies, so for this last week of March I’m going to do a post every day, basically a Woman in History Crush Week. Our WCW for today is cosmonaut Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova.
Valentina Vladmirovna Tereshkova was born on March 6th, 1937 in Bolshoya Maslennikovo, Russia. Her father died fighting in World War II, so Tereshkova and her two sisters were raised by their mother, a textile mill worker. Tereshkova attended traditional school classes until she was eighteen, when she got a job at the same mill as her mother, and continued her education through correspondence courses. In her twenties, Tereshkova began parachuting as a hobby with the Yaroslavl Air Sports Club, and had successfully completed over a hundred jumps before applying to be a part of a Soviet space program specifically for women in 1962.
Beyond her intellect and physical ability, Tereshkova was chosen for the group for her parachuting skills; the Soviet space crafts used at the time required the astronaut to eject at 20,000 feet upon reentry to the atmosphere. Along with three other women selected for the program, Tereshkova soon began the eighteen-month training, which included extreme thermal, long-term isolation, and zero-gravity exercises. By June of 1963, the group was ready; Tereshkova was chosen as the best suited for space travel. On June 16th, 1963, Tereshkova launched in the Vostok 6 and completed forty-eight orbits around the earth in about seventy hours. At one point, she crossed orbits with fellow cosmonaut Valeri Bykovsky, and the two were able to communicate. Towards the end of her flight, a potential problem arose as the space craft veered too far away from Earth, but Soviet Ground Control made an adjustment to the landing algorithm and crisis was averted. Tereshkova safely landed at what is now the border of Kazakhstan, Mongolia, and China and ate dinner with local villagers before reporting for post-flight medical checks, for which she was promptly reprimanded. Despite the delay in testing, everything about her flight was deemed a success, and Tereshkova was presented with the Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin, and Gold Star Medal awards after her flight. In addition, Tereshkova was given the honor of having a crater of the moon named after her.
Tereshkova never made another space flight, nor did any other woman until the 1980s, when Svetlana Savitskaya and Sally Ride kicked off a steady era of women in space (we’ll talk more about them later in the week). For a few years after her flight, Tereshkova went on a kind of victory tour around the USSR. She married fellow Soviet astronaut Andrian Nikolayer in 1963, likely to appease Nikita Krushchev, who thought the union would be a good propaganda opportunity. The couple had one daughter in 1964. Tereshkova remarried in 1982, this time to Yuliy Shaposhnikov, a surgeon, and the two were together until his death in 1999.
After “retiring” as a cosmonaut, Tereshkova became a test pilot and instructor and in 1969 earned her doctorate in technical sciences from the Zhukovsky Military Air Academy. For the next thirty years, Tereshkova served as the head of or was an active member in the Soviet Women’s Committee, the Supreme Soviet, the International Cultural and Friendship Union, and the Russian Association of International Cooperation. Throughout the early 2000s, Tereshkova focused on her work with the Russian parliament. She was awarded the UN Gold Medal of Peace for her work with the International Cultural and Friendship Union, and is regarded as a hero for her political work as well as her space travel.
Tereshkova is still alive – most recently, in 2015, she christened the Vostok 6 capsule that she made her historic flight in at the opening of a space exhibit at the Museum of London. One of the things I find so incredible about Tereshkova is how much she loves what she did and does, and how dedicated she has been to both her political and scientific causes. It’s been fifty years since her flight, and she still refers to the Vostok 6 capsule with adoration because flying to space was her dream, and she succeeded in living it.
Thanks for reading, and stay tuned for the rest of Women in History Crush Week!