The Seagull that Went to Space

On this day in 1937 one of the most key figures in the history of space travel and the Soviet Union was born, helping to change the perception of women in science and bringing to life a national hero.

Valentina Tereshkova is a Soviet woman from a poor family who up until her early 20’s had spent her life working in a tyre factory before seven years in a spinning mill. Her parents migrated to central Russia from Belarus whilst her father was killed in the Second World War. Yet with what was a common troubled life for women in her country at the time she went on to become the first female cosmonaut in history.

Tereshkova always had an eye for the spectacular, having left school aged 16 with a minimal education she began night classes as a technician whilst working in the mill but her more daring side veered her towards what would become her more adrenaline fuelled activity, sky-diving.

Her thirst for heights intensified with every jump and as the Space Race between the Soviets and the United States grew she began to follow a new hero in Yuri Gargarin. In 1961 he became the first man in space in what was a huge triumph for the country, and now she set her sights on the ultimate trip. After over 100 sky-dives she applied for the Space Agency.

At the time the SU were looking to bring in female Cosmonauts and Tereshkova was one of four chosen for the gruelling training programme. In what was at times a hellish regime she came through successfully, the only one of the four and was now set for the Vostok 6 craft to launch her into the unknown.

With no prior piloting or university education she was sent into space solo with nothing but a small capsule and the code name ‘seagull’.

 

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She departed earth on June 16th 1963 and orbited earth 48 times in the space of 72 hours, returning on June 19th as a national hero.

A landmark occasion for women in science and a key moment in the space race, we today celebrate her 82nd birthday. Awarded the ‘Hero of the Soviet Union’ award shortly afterwards, she appeared as a national hero before moving into politics later in life.

However, she would never see out another mission opting to leave the agency shortly after the mission.

She remains one of Russia/Soviet Union’s most inspirational daughters and is a pioneer for the cosmonauts/astronauts who followed, with the next woman in space coming two decades later.