Valentina Tereshkova: the sky's the limit
Before she set off on her space flight, the world’s first woman astronaut Valentina Tereshkova exclaimed: “Hey, sky, take your hat off!” She took off aboard a Vostok spaceship in June 1963 and flew around Earth 48 times in three days. Today, on the 6th of March, holder of the Hero of the Soviet Union gold star, Major-General, honorary citizen of many countries and MP Valentina Tereshkova is turning 75.
The day before the take-off, she told her family that she was going to a skydiving competition. They only learned about her space flight later when they heard it on the radio. Before the flight, Valentina underwent an intensive training programme. At that time, the training programme for cosmonauts was unnecessarily tough. The most trying test was not a centrifuge or a thermal camera but the psychological test which required the future cosmonaut to spend a week in an enclosed space which was a white completely empty room. According to Valentina, she smiled and sang songs there.
Before joining the cosmonauts’ team, Tereshkova worked at a tyre factory, did skydiving at a flying club in Yaroslavl and was a technical school apprentice, holder of two Hero of the Soviet Union titles, cosmonaut Vladimir Dzhanibekov says.
“This Russian woman has had an amazing life, she managed to overcome all the obstacles in her way. She was a factory worker to start with, then went to a flying school and went into space which brought her world fame and a lot of public work. She may have had problems in her private life, but this beautiful Russian woman endured everything with dignity.”
Informally, the Vostok-6 spaceship was called a ‘tin can’. It was so small that a cosmonaut had to assume a reclining position to fit in. She had to stay in that position for three days. Besides, there was a fault in the spaceship’s control programme, Valentina Tereshkova recalls.
“I kept this secret for 30 years. Instead of ensuring safe landing, the programme actually caused the spaceship to ascend from orbit instead of descending.”
She noticed this fault in good time and reported to the Mission Control Centre. After receiving the necessary data, Tereshkova entered it into the descent system and ensured a safe landing. At the time, both in the USSR and the US space equipment had not been rigorously tested, observer of the Space News journal Igor Lisov says.
“In those days, every space flight was a great feat, both here and in the US. There was no clear understanding of how the human system would behave in space and there were no medicines which could help the situation. Space flights were indeed very difficult and very dangerous ventures. At that time, Tereshkova was seen as someone who had done a heroic deed and this view has not changed with time.”
After completing her space flight, Tereshkova graduated from the Air Force Academy with honours. She is a professor and the author of over 50 scientific articles. She worked at the Cosmonaut Training Centre for a long time and did a lot of international public work.
Valentina Tereshkova is the only woman on Earth who has made a solo space flight. All the subsequent female astronauts only went to space as part of a crew.