Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova (1937) Soviet cosmonaut
Two years and two months after Yuri Gagarin became the first man in space, the Soviet space programme scored another triumph when it put the first woman cosmonaut into orbit. Lieutenant Valentina Tereshkova (26 years old) achieved this on June 16, 1963, when the spacecraft Vostok 6 joined predecessor Vostok 5 in its course around the earth.
Feminist groups in the US immediately claimed that the Soviet Union was demonstrating a more enlightened attitude to women than their own country. NASA however showed little enthusiasm for this new challenge, in contrast to their efforts following Gagarin's achievement in 1961.
Valentina Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937 in a western Russian village called Maslennikovo, near Yaroslavl. She started working in a textile mill when she was 18 years old, where she became an active member of the Young Communist League. She became interested in parachuting as a hobby, making more than 125 jumps before volunteering for space-flight training school. Under the direction of Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev, four women were selected to be trained for a special woman-in-space program. Only Valentina Tereshkova would complete a space mission. She was also the first space traveller without any experience as a test pilot.
In November 1963, she married cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev. Soon she left the Soviet space program for more down to earth occupations. She was president of the Committee of Soviet Women (1968-86) and a member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union (1971). Andrian and Valentina's first child, a daughter named Elena, was a topic of medical interest: she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space. Elena later went on to become a medical doctor herself. Tereshkova and Nikolayev divorced in 1980. mkb adds: There is a song about her by a band called Komputer called Valentina.
During her Vostok 6 flight, Tereshkova made 45 revolutions around the earth. This took her nearly 71 hours, from June 16 to 19. Operating the spaceship by manual controls, she orbited earth once every 88 minutes. The historic journey ended 600 kilometres northeast of Karaganda (in the Soviet Republic of Kazakhstan).