The first woman in space fifty years ago

The first woman in space fifty years ago

MOSCOW - Agence France-Presse
The first woman in space fifty years ago

Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova is seen during a training session in1963. On June 16, 1963, she became the first woman to fly into space.

On June 16, 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space in a scientific feat that was a major propaganda coup for the Soviet Union. Two years after Yuri Gagarin’s historic first manned flight, Tereshkova blasted off in a Vostok-6 spaceship, becoming a national heroine at the age of 26. She remains the only woman ever to have made a solo space flight.

In April 1962, officials narrowed down the candidates for the flight to five. In a top-secret process, they picked two engineers, one school teacher, one typist and one factory worker who had performed 90 parachute jumps: this was Tereshkova.

After seven months of intensive training, they chose Tereshkova, who grew up in a peasant family and was a Communist Youth leader at her textile factory in the historic city of Yaroslavl, around 280 kilometers from Moscow.

When she blasted off from the Baikonur cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, another Soviet spaceship, Vostok-5, was already in orbit for two days, piloted by cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky.

During her three-day mission, Tereshkova circled Earth 48 times.

Tereshkova wrote in her official report that her spacesuit hurt her leg and that her helmet weighed down her shoulders and scratched her head. She also said she vomited during the flight. This information was also kept under wraps in order not to spoil the triumph of the first woman in space.

Location found two hours later

Tereshkova’s landing also prompted concerns at mission control. She had difficulty in guiding her spaceship and her communications were cut off just before descent began, Soviet general Nikolai Kamanin, who was in charge of the space sector at the time, revealed later.

Tereshkova catapulted out of her space capsule as was then standard procedure and parachuted down to land in Altai in southern Siberia. But mission control did not know Tereshkova’s location for two hours after she landed, spaceship constructor Boris Chertok admitted in his memoirs. Rescuers finally found her tens of kilometers away from the expected spot.

After her accomplishment, the second woman to go into space in 1982 was also from the Soviet Union, Svetlana Savitskaya. In 1983 the first American woman, Sally Ride, followed. Since then more than 40 women from the US have gone into space, but just one other Russian, Yelena Kondakova, in 2004 and 2007.