Currently, in the suburb of Greerton where I work, we have been celebrating everything Vintage and Retro. One of the staff recently added a display of technology and the movie poster for Hidden Figures. This got me thinking about the females who have done wonders in the STEM fields.
More often than not, it is the males that are recognized for their efforts in these fields rather than women. When we think of astronauts and who has gone to space – the names Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin are the ones that most people think of.
Today’s Awesome Ladies in History is Valentina Tereshkova. On March 7th, Valentina Tereshkova celebrated her 80th birthday. Who was Valentina Tereshkova? She was the first female to go into space in 1963.
Before being recruited into the Soviet Union’s Cosmonaut Corps in the 1960’s, Tereshkova was an amateur skydiver and textile factory worker. After extensive training, including weightless flights, rocket theory, spacecraft engineering, 120 parachute jumps and pilot training in jet fighters, Tereshkova, then 26, was launched into space on a solo mission aboard the Vostok 6 spacecraft on June 16, 1963. During the launch, she recited poet Vladimir Mayakovsky: “The sky! Take off your hat! I’m coming!” Tereshkova spent nearly three days in space — an extraordinary length at the time — and orbited the Earth 48 times.
Growing up the only thing that would have indicated that Valentina was destined to become the first female astronaut was her love of skydiving. Born in 1937, to a farmer and his wife in a small region 200 miles from Moscow, Valentina lived with her family and attended school up to the age of 16 when she had to leave and get a job to help support her family.
She ended up working at a textile factory just as her mother had done before her and it looked like she was going to become a replica of her mother. The one thing that stood out for Valentina and made her more daring and a risk-taker was her love of skydiving. By the age of 22, Valentina was skydiving on a regular basis, and it became part of her weekly routine.
During the Space Race in 1961-1962, the USSR caught wind that the US wanted to send a female into space. Wanting to compete with the Americans, USSR decided to put forth a proposal for a female to go into space.
Inspired by Gagarin’s flight, Tereshkova wrote to the Soviet authorities volunteering for any future training program for female cosmonauts. The authorities responded, and in early 1962 she became one of just five women accepted for cosmonaut training. Tereshkova emerged as a prime candidate to make the first spaceflight.
On June 16, 1963, Tereshkova took off, eventually circling the globe 48 times over the course of almost three days and cementing her place in history as the first woman to leave Earth’s atmosphere. She performed a series of biological experiments on plants and animals on board; took photos, film, and notes; and monitored various devices tracking both her body and the spacecraft. She also successfully steered the spaceship to orbit the Earth instead of travel away from it, which the capsule was initially doing until Tereshkova figured her way around the glitch.
Life after Tereshkova’s cosmonaut days was busy. Soon after her flight, she entered the Zhukovsky Air Force Academy, eventually earning her honorary doctorate in engineering. She later dove into the political sphere, becoming an influential, powerful member of the Communist regime in the following decade. She also became a decorated stateswoman, and even after the fall of the Soviet Union remained a respected figure.
On her 70th birthday, in 2007, she was invited to celebrate with Vladimir Putin, at which point she volunteered to go on a one-way trip to Mars.
“If I had money, I would enjoy flying to Mars,” she said. “This was the dream of the first cosmonauts. I wish I could realize it! I am ready to fly without coming back.”