Valentina Tereshkova (1937 – ) was born in a small village in the Yaroslavl Oblast in western Russia. Tereshkova’s father was a tractor driver and her mother worked in a textile plant. She became interested in parachuting from a young age, and trained in parachuting at the local Aeroclub, making her first jump at age 22 on May 21 1959. It was her expertise in parachute jumping that led to her selection as a cosmonaut.
Tereshkova was a textile-factory assembly worker and an amateur parachutist when she was recruited into the cosmonaut program. In 1961 she became secretary of the local Komsomol (Young Communist League) and later joined the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.
After the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961, Sergey Korolyov, the chief Soviet rocket engineer, decide to put 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 (5 feet 7 inches) tall, and under 70 kg (154 lbs.) in weight.
Training included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet fighters. 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.
On the morning of 16 June 1963, Tereshkova and her back-up Solovyova were both dressed in spacesuits and taken to the launch pad by bus. After completing her communication and life support checks, she was sealed inside the Vostok. After a flawless two-hour countdown, Vostok 6 launched faultlessly, and Tereshkova became the first woman to fly into space. Her call sign in this flight was Chaika (English: Seagull), later commemorated as the name of an asteroid, 1671 Chaika.
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. Vostok 6 was the final Vostok flight and was launched only two days after Vostok 5 which carried Valery Bykovsky into orbit for five days, landing only three hours after Tereshkova. The two vessels were at one point only 5 km apart, and communicated by radio.
Even though there were plans for further flights by women, it took 19 years until the second woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, flew into space, in response to the pressure of impending American Space Shuttle flights with female astronauts. None of the other four in Tereshkova’s cosmonaut group ever flew.