First woman in space 50 years ago

First woman in  space 50 years ago

Moscow: 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...

Moscow: 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 then 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 (Komsomol) leader at her textile factory in the historic city of Yaroslavl, around 280 km (174 miles) from Moscow. Tereshkova was not allowed to confide even in family members, who only learnt of her exploit when Moscow announced it to the entire world. 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. On the first day, she communicated with Bykovsky and even sang him songs. Their communication was then interrupted as the two spaceships moved further away from each other. Her flight experienced numerous glitches which were only made public after the fall of the Soviet Union. "A problem appeared on the first day of the flight," Tereshkova said at a press conference in Star City, home to a cosmonaut training centre, earlier this month. "Due to a technical error, the spaceship was programmed not for a landing but for taking the ship into a higher orbit," she said, meaning that the ship was heading further and further from Earth. The error was corrected, but chief constructor Sergei Korolyov asked Tereshkova not to tell anyone. "I kept the secret for 30 years," she said. 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. 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 was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. She received the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal. She became a spokesperson for the Soviet Union and while fulfilling this role, she received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace. Tereshkova never flew in space again. She later became a test pilot and instructor and earned a doctorate in technical sciences. On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev. Their first child, a daughter named Elena, was a subject of medical interest because she was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space. Elena later went on to become a medical doctor. Tereshkova and Nikolayev divorced in 1980. In 1982, Tereshkova married Yuliy Shaposhnikov, a surgeon. She later was a deputy to the Supreme Soviet, then a people's deputy. She was also a member of the Supreme Soviet Presidium and also served on and later became head of the Soviet Women's Committee. She also was head of the International Cultural and Friendship Union and later was chairperson of the Russian Association of International Cooperation. As of 2013, Tereshkova was serving as a member of the Russian parliament and deputy chairperson of the Parliamentary Committee on International Affairs.
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