It was a high time for the Soviet Union just as soon as Yuri Gagrin came back from space in his Vostok 1 Spacecraft on 12th April 1963 successfully. Sergey Korolyov, the chief Rocket Engineer imagined the idea of putting women which was sounding as undoable as putting a spacecraft around Moon. The Americans too were secretly training women like Jerrie Cobb to put her into space but couldn’t, Cobb would have probably be the first woman in Space if it weren’t for sexism at NASA and Congress. Jerrie fought hard for her right to be involved in the missions to space, but still lost as Congress strictly followed a rule, that only military jet pilots would be astronauts and women were excluded from those ranks.
The order of sending Russian Women to Space came straight from the top from Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev, it doesn’t matter whether it was just to stick another finger in the eye of Americans after successful flight of Yuri Gagarin or they really want women to be part of this epic race to space.
The Final Selection-
As it was very difficult to expand the pool female candidates, the Soviet Union turned to an unlikely source which was skydivers, they thought women falling from an airplane showed daring and that’s what they wanted. Soon the word went out that the Space Agency wanted candidates who do skydiving, at least 400 skydivers enrolled and finally 5 candidates were selected for the mission among them was a 25 year old girl who started her skydiving at the age of 22 and made over 150 jumps named Valentina Tereshkova. Valentina who worked as a textile worker did parachute training on weekends which she kept a secret from her parents. As the qualifications for the cosmonaut training included experience in professional parachuting under 30 years of age, she was chosen. Then began the intense training which included weightless flights, isolation tests, centrifuge tests, rocket theory and her favourite one which was 120 parachute jumps.
Originally the mission was to send 2 females into space in the spacecraft’s Vostok 5 and 6, but just before a month of launch it was decided that Valery Bykovsky a 29 year old male cosmonaut was chosen. Two days after the successful flight of Vostok 5, on the morning of 16th June 1963, 2 hours of final checks Valentina was sealed into Vostok 6 spacecraft. As the rocket took off Valentina was heard saying “Hey, sky! Take off your hat I’m on my way!” She began the mission which was of 3 days in which she had to photograph the atmosphere which later helped in finding the aerosol layers in our atmosphere. While she was in her capsule for 3 days, Valentina maintained a flight log too, during her three days orbiting Vostok 5 and Vostok 6 came as close to 5 kms to each other where Valentina and Valery communicated on radio.
Valentina experienced nausea and physical discomfort during her flight, she was also disappointed with her mission planners as they forgot to pack her toothbrush for the 3 day trip. This doesn’t end here the story of the first woman in space would have ended in a tragedy when the mission control discovered that the engineers have just programmed the spacecraft to go up and not come down. This huge error was soon resolved as the programmers uploaded the new program which allowed the spacecraft to safely land back on Earth.
When Valentina reached Earth, Jerrie Cobb would be happy but at the same time she was disappointed for her to be in USA and not Russia. Valentina was well received by the whole world but Americans quoted her to be just another blonde in space when in fact she is not a blonde. Even after this achievement the involvement of females in space missions plummeted to zero until 1982 and then finally Americans learnt that they need to send a female which they did.
Valentina Tereshkova became a woman who inspired many of the women to dream big and made women realize that they too could be a part of this never ending space exploration.