Astronaut of the Month - Valentina Tereshkova

Valentina Tereshkova was born on March 16, 1937, in the Russian town of Bolshoye Masiennikovo. As a young adult, she got work in a factory, continuing her education through correspondence courses. But her true love was skydiving. She trained as a parachutist at a well-known local Aeroclub in her free time. That training, and the 90+ jumps she’d successfully completed, were going to change her life. 

Though it was a closely held state secret at the time, cosmonauts returning from space aboard the Vostok spacecraft were ejected seven kilometers above the Earth and used a parachute to land. So, when the director of cosmonaut training, Nikolai Kamanin, heard that the United States was training women astronauts and got approval for a class of five female cosmonauts, parachute skills were vital. Out of 400 potential choices, Tereshkova and four other women were chosen for training in February of 1962. 

After more than a year of training, Tereshkova was chosen to become the first woman the Russians would send to space. There were several changes to the planned mission, but ultimately, Tereshkova launched into space aboard the Vostok 6 on June 16, 1963, joining fellow cosmonaut Valery Bykovski, who’d launched two days earlier aboard Vostok 5. Tereshkova orbited the Earth 48 times, spending nearly 3 days in space, a longer time than any US astronaut at that time. Then on June 19 her Vostok re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere. She ejected at 7 kilometers and landed successfully, though slightly bruised due to rough winds. She was 26.

Tereshkova continued her education, graduating from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy several years later, and earning a doctorate in aeronautical engineering in 1977. She continued to hope for a chance to go back to space, even undergoing the medical exams to requalify when the next wave of female cosmonauts were chosen in 1978. 

She remained earthbound, but Valentina Tereshkova is still the first, and youngest, woman to go to space. She became a popular international visitor all over the world, inspiring countless women to reach for the stars.