Valentina Tereshkova was the first woman cosmonaut to go into space. In 1963, she spent almost three days in space and orbited Earth 48 times in her space capsule, Vostok 6. That was her only trip into space. Tereshkova later toured the world to promote Soviet science and became involved in Soviet politics.
Along with four other women, Tereshkova received 18 months of training, which included tests to determine how she would react to long periods of time being alone, to extreme gravity conditions and to zero-gravity conditions. Of the five women, only Tereshkova went into space.
In 1963, Tereshkova was chosen to take part in the second dual flight in the Vostok program, involving spacecrafts Vostok 5 and Vostok 6. On June 14, 1963, Vostok 5 was launched into space with cosmonaut Valeri Bykovsky aboard. With Bykovsky still orbiting the earth, Tereshkova was launched into space on June 16 aboard Vostok 6.
The two spacecrafts had different orbits but at one point came within three miles of each other, allowing the two cosmonauts to exchange brief communications. Tereshkova’s spacecraft was guided by an automatic control system, and she never took manual control. On June 19, after just under three days in space, Vostok 6 reentered the atmosphere.
Tereshkova successfully parachuted to earth after ejecting at 20,000 feet. Bykovsky and Vostok 5 landed safely a few hours later. The first woman in space, Ms. Tereshkova was seen by many as a triumph for the Soviet space program, but is remembered by some colleagues as a token female who botched her flight.
She actually solved the first big problem in her flight: On the first day, the ship’s autopilot mistakenly steered her away from Earth, leaving her facing the prospect of being lost in space.
An error in the spacecraft’s automatic navigation software caused the ship to move away from Earth, according to the RT news channel. Tereshkova noticed this and Soviet scientists quickly developed a new landing algorithm. Tereshkova landed safely but received a bruise on her face.
During re-entry, also on autopilot, there was no communication between her ship and the ground, and she ended up landing in an unexpected place. She said there had been a communications equipment failure, but the team on the ground blamed her for going silent.
She landed in the Altay region near today’s Kazakhstan-Mongolia-China border. Villagers helped Tereshkova out of her spacesuit and asked her to join them for dinner. She accepted, and was later reprimanded for violating the rules and not undergoing medical tests first.
Soviet and European TV viewers saw her smiling face and her logbook floating in front of her. They did not realize that the flight almost turned into tragedy, a fact that was classified for about 40 years.
“She didn’t want to go,” Soviet space scientists told during NASA –funded raiser event, they said “At the last minute, she panicked, and they had to strap her into her seat against her will.”
Tereshkova never flew in space again. She later became a test pilot and instructor and earned a doctorate in technical sciences. On Nov. 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev
However, Tereshkova was honored with the title Hero of the Soviet Union. She received the Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal. She became a spokesperson for the Soviet Union and while fulfilling this role, she received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace.