Happy Anniversary to the First Woman in Space!
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Today is the 54th anniversary of the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, known as “Valya” to her friends. She went up in 1963, a full TWENTY YEARS before Sally Ride became the first American woman in space, and only two years after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space.
Tereshkova was raised by a single mother and she had to leave school when she was 16, continuing her education through correspondence courses while she worked full time at a tire factor and then with her mother at a mill. Though her dad was a war hero, she never joined the military, and so she actually became the first civilian in space (and at 26 years old, she’s the 2nd youngest person to ever go to space). She was selected as a cosmonaut because of her experience sky-diving, which she learned as a complete amateur just because it interested her.
At the time, cosmonauts had to parachute away from their capsules in a very risky maneuver that required a lot of skill, so that was a huge plus for her.
Tereshkova piloted the Vostok 6, which went into orbit along with the Vostok 5 that was piloted by a man. She spent more than 70 hours in space and orbited the earth 48 times, which was longer than all the American astronauts had flown combined. Later she said, “Anyone who has spent any time in space will love it for the rest of their lives. I achieved my childhood dream of the sky.” Though I imagine she may have said that in Russian.
It took 40 years before the details of her flight were declassified and the world learned that she had nearly died when the ship’s autopilot had an error that caused it to slowly move away from Earth. Luckily, she noticed and was still able to land safely (or at least, land with herself in one piece). She landed near the Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China, where villagers found her and invited her to dinner. She accepted and was later yelled at by mission control for not undergoing medical tests first, but god damn if I just crash landed a faulty capsule after spending three days in space, you’d better be damned sure I’d be enjoying a nice hot meal the second I was able.
After her trip to space, Tereshkova studied engineering and got her doctorate in 1977. She went into politics, which didn’t really last too long with the collapse of the Soviet Union. She also made time to get married twice — the first time, she married a fellow cosmonaut and gave birth to the first baby who came from two parents who had both been to space. The first space baby.
Now she’s 80 years old and still very well-respected in Russia. I hope we can increase her recognition around the world, because she did an amazing thing at a time when women simply weren’t allowed to do things like go to space. So, ??????? to a truly badass lady!