Tuesday, 17 June 2014

The First Woman In Space

On this day, 51 years and 1 day ago, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to ever fly in space, on 16 June 1963. Lieutenant Valentina Tereshkova, 26, was the fifth Russian cosmonaut to go into the Earth's orbit when her spaceship Vostok VI was launched at 1230 Moscow time. Tereshkova was a textile factory assembly worker and an amateur skydiver. before being selected from over four hundred applicants to fly in space due to her expertise in skydiving. 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 revered as a heroine in post-Soviet Russia. In 2013 she offered to go on a one-way trip to Mars if the opportunity arose, and at the opening ceremony of the 2014 Winter Olympics she was a flag-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 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.

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. However the original plan, that two women would launch into space was altered and it was decided that a male cosmonaut would join Tereshkova in June 1963 instead.

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 dissolved.Although Tereshkova experienced 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.

Due to her prominence Tereshkova was chosen for several political positions: from 1966 to 1974 she was a member of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union, from 1974 to 1989 a member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet, and from 1969 to 1991 she was in the Central Committee of the Communist Party. Tereshkova also became a well known representative of the Soviet Union abroad; in 1966 she was made a member of the World Peace Council and she was also the Soviet representative to the UN Conference for the International Women's Year in Mexico City in 1975.

She was decorated with the Hero of the Soviet Union medal, the USSR's highest award among multiple other awards. In 1990 she received an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh. Tereshkova crater on the far side of the Moon was named after her.