Valentina Tereshkova: Paving the way for women in space
On this day, in 1963, Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel to outer space on a solo mission. As more and more women gear up for space expeditions in future, they can draw inspiration from Tereshkova's life and her experiences in space.
A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.
– Valentina Tereshkova
A recent study by the European Space Agency in Germany reveals that women astronauts are more efficient in space exploration, with lower water requirements, total energy expenditure, and oxygen consumption, compared to their male counterparts.
The study also moots the idea of an all-women crew for future space missions. This is great news considering that only a handful of women have been part of space explorations till date.
As of May 2023, out of 634 space travellers, only 73 have been women. However, women are likely to be the future of space travel. A case in point is NASA's Artemis mission, which aims to land the first woman on the moon by 2024.
As more and more women gear up for space expeditions, they can draw inspiration from Valentina Tereshkova–the first woman to fly into space.
Valentina Tereshkova: The first woman to enter space
On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova, a Soviet cosmonaut, boarded a spacecraft named Vostok 6. After a successful space mission comprising 48 orbits in 71 hours, she returned to Earth. At 26 years of age, Tereshkova became the first and youngest woman to go into space on a solo trip.
Tereshkova was selected for this dual space mission along with Valeriy Bykovsky, who piloted Vostok 5 launched on June 14, 1963. Both the cosmonauts communicated with each other during the space flight.
The main aim of this space flight was to evaluate the effects of a zero-gravity environment on the female body. During the mission, Tereshkova manually handled the spacecraft, took photographs, and maintained a log. Pictures captured by Valentina were later used to determine the aerosol layers in the atmosphere.
During the landing, the spacecraft’s navigation software error caused the ship to move away from Earth. However, Tereshkova handled the situation calmly. The technical issue was solved as a new landing algorithm was developed and Tereshkova was able to land on Earth safely.
Here’s what you should know about Valentina Tereshkova
- Valentina Tereshkova is the first and youngest woman to travel alone into outer space.
- Tereshkova had no pilot training and managed to enter the Soviet space programme with her parachute skills. Before joining the cosmonaut space programme, she worked in a textile company and was also an amateur parachutist.
- Tereshkova took up parachuting as a hobby in 1959 and, by 1961, she had skydived out of more than 125 aircraft.
- Tereshkova was one of the five women selected for 18 months of training to determine how female cosmonauts would react to long periods of staying alone in zero-gravity conditions. In the end, she was given the opportunity to go to space.
- She graduated from Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy in 1969, but she never went into space again.
- She directed the Soviet Women’s Committee in 1968 and served as a member of the Supreme Soviet Presidium from 1974 to 1991.
- Tereshkova was politically active before and after the collapse of the Soviet Union. In 2008, she became the deputy chair of the parliament of Yaroslavl province as a member of the United Russia party. She was elected to the Russian assembly Duma three years later.
- Tereshkova received national and international awards including the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal and earned the title 'Hero of the Soviet Union'.
Edited by Swetha Kannan