June 16, 1963 – first woman in space is a Russian
Russian female cosmonaut, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova becomes first woman to reach space on June 16, 1963.
“Originally it was intended that Tereshkova would launch first in Vostok 5 while Ponomaryova would follow her into orbit in Vostok 6. However, this flight plan was altered in March 1963. Vostok 5 would now carry a male cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky flying the joint mission with a woman aboard Vostok 6 in June 1963. The State Space Commission nominated Tereshkova to pilot Vostok 6 at their meeting on 21 May and this was confirmed by Nikita Khrushchev himself. At the time of her selection, Tereshkova was ten years younger than the youngest Mercury Seven astronaut, Gordon Cooper.
After watching the successful launch of Vostok 5 on 14 June Tereshkova began final preparations for her own flight. On the morning of 16 June 1963, Tereshkova and her back-up Solovyeva were both dressed in spacesuits and taken to the launchpad by bus. After completing her communication and life support checks, she was sealed inside the Vostok. After a flawless countdown, two hours later Vostok 6 launched faultlessly, and Tereshkova became the first woman and first civilian to fly into space. Her call sign in this flight was Chayka (English: Seagull). Although Tereshkova was in the state of 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 to 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 5km apart and established a radio link.
Even though there were plans for further female flights it took 19 years until the second woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, flew into space, with the pressure of impending American Space Shuttle flights with female astronauts. None of the other four in Tereshkova’s cosmonaut group ever flew.”
Valentina Tereshkova is seen with other cosmonauts; Gagarin, Titov, Nikolayev and Popovich. Image credit: ebay auction item
“It [the Earth] was breathtakingly beautiful, like something out of a fairy tale. There is no way to describe the joy of seeing the Earth. It is blue, and more beautiful than any other planet.”
- Valentina Tereshkova, cited in Into that Silent Sea (p. 315).