On June 16, 1963, Valentina Vladimirovna Tereshkova, now a retired Soviet cosmonaut and engineer, became the first woman and civilian to fly in space after being selected from more than four hundred applicants and five finalists to pilot Vostok 6.
Tereshkova was born on March 6, 1937 in the village of Maslennikovo in central Russia. She began school in 1945 at the age of eight, but left school in 1953 and continued her education by correspondence courses. She became interested in parachuting at a young age, and trained in skydiving at the local Aeroclub, making her first jump at age 22 on May 21, 1959. At the time, she was employed as a textile worker in a local factory.
On February 16, 1962, Valentina Tereshkova was selected to join the female cosmonaut corps. Training included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps, and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet fighters. Tereshkova spent several months in intensive training, concluding with examinations in November 1962.
Originally, it was intended that Tereshkova would launch first in Vostok 5, but 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.
On the morning of June 16, 1963, Tereshkova was dressed in a spacesuit and taken to the launch pad. After a two-hour countdown, Vostok 6 launched faultlessly, and Tereshkova became the first woman in space.
During her mission, she performed various tests on herself to collect data on the female body’s reaction to spaceflight. Tereshkova experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight; she orbited the Earth 48 times and spent 2 days, 23 hours, and 12 minutes in space. In 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.
After her flight, Tereshkova studied at the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy and graduated with distinction as a cosmonaut engineer. In 1977, she earned a doctorate in engineering.
After the dissolution of the first group of female cosmonauts in 1969, she became a well-known member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, holding various political offices. She remained politically active following the fall down of the Soviet Union and is still revered as a heroine in post-Soviet Russia.
In 2013, she volunteered to go on a one-way trip to Mars, if such a mission were to occur.