Forty-eight. That represents the number times Valentina Tereshkova orbited the earth on her historic three-day trip into outer space. She holds the added distinction of being the first civilian to fly in space. In 1962, because she was already an accomplished parachutist, Valentina was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps from a group of more than four hundred applicants.
Born in central Russia, Tereshkova started school at the age of eight. By sixteen, she had left school and completed her education via correspondence classes. Following her school years, she became interested in parachuting, training in that and in skydiving. She completed her initial parachute jump at the age of 22, soon becoming an accomplished parachutist. This is the skill that opened the door for her selection as a cosmonaut. Intensive training for her space flight consisted of “weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet fighters,” for several months prior to takeoff.
She was 26 years old when chosen along with three other women to become Russian cosmonauts. Although the original plan was for Tereshkova to join the space launch of Vostok 5, the decision was later made to man that spacecraft with a male astronaut. The State Space Commission then voted for Tereshkova to man the Vostok 6 space flight in 1963. Following the successful launch of Vostok 5, she started preparations for her upcoming space journey. Of the women selected, only Tereshkova actually orbited into space. As her spacecraft took off, she shouted, “Hey sky, take off your hat. I’m on my way!”
After returning from her space flight, Tereshkova then earned a doctorate in engineering from the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy graduating with distinction as a cosmonaut engineer. In 1990 she was awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Edinburgh.
Going on to become a respected and prominent figure in the soviet political arena, her positions and appointments include:
- member of the Supreme Soviet of the Soviet Union (1966 to 1974)
- member of the World Peace Council (1966)
- member of Central Committee of the Communist Party (1969-1991)
- member of the Presidium of the Supreme Soviet (1974 to 1989)
In 2013, always thinking futuristically, Valentina volunteered for a one-way trip to Mars if the opportunity ever presented itself. Her image appears on a Hungarian postage stamp as a testament to the bravery and determination of this groundbreaking woman. On the future of space travel, Valentina says, “A bird cannot fly with one wing only. Human space flight cannot develop any further without the active participation of women.” In spite of her successful flight, no other woman was launched into space for nineteen years.
Her previous parachuting skill and expertise came into play when, at the end of her space voyage, she parachuted over 20,000 feet to return to the earth and was awarded the title, Hero of the Soviet Union. Her heroism will never be forgotten. Just like hers, your dreams can take flight.