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Home / HT School / Valentina Tereshkova: First woman to travel in space

Valentina Tereshkova: First woman to travel in space

In 1963, this pioneering cosmonaut from the former Soviet Union became the first woman to fly in space. A staunch Communist Party member, she worked a lot for the betterment of women.

ht-school Updated: Sep 14, 2020 21:01 IST
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Valentina Tereshkova
Valentina Tereshkova

Born to Vladimir Aksyonovich Tereshkov, a sergeant in the Soviet Army, and Yelena Fyodorovna Tereshkova in Yaroslavl Oblast, Russia, on March 6. 1937, Valentina Tereshkova was the second among three children.

Tereshkova’s father died in the Finnish Winter War during World War II, when she was two years old. After that, her mother moved the family to Yaroslavl, seeking better employment opportunity and took up a job at the Krasny Perekop cotton mill.

Tereshkova enrolled at school in 1945 at the age of eight. In 1953, she left school and began working but continued education by correspondence courses.

Later, she lived with her grandmother in Yaroslavl and worked as a trainee in a tyre factory.

In 1955, to help her family further, she started working as a loom operator in a nearby textile mill. During that time, she graduated from the Light Industry Technical School.


Tereshkova developed interest in parachuting quite early and trained in skydiving at the local aeroclub, making her first jump at age 22, on May 21, 1959.

While still working as a textile worker, she trained as a competitive parachutist. She also joined the local Komsomol (a Communist Youth League) in Yaroslavl and serving as its secretary in 1960 as well as in 1961. She became a member of the Communist Party in 1962.

Rendezvous with space

Thanks to her training in parachuting, Tereshkova was among the five women who were selected for the cosmonaut programme in 1961. After Yuri Gagarin’s historic space trip, the Soviet government was keen to send women to space. Tereshkova fitted the bill despite the lack of any training for the space programme.

In 1963, Tereshkova was part of a second double flight which involved handling spacecraft like Vostok 5 and Vostok 6s.

She attended an extensive 18-month programme wherein the candidates learned the nuances of space travel.

She was chosen to pilot Vostok 6. Cosmonaut Valery Bykovsky took off on Vostok 5 on June 14, 1963 and two days later, Tereshkova too blasted off.

She logged more than 70 hours in space and made 48 orbits of the Earth. On June 19, 1963, Tereshkova’s spacecraft re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere and she successfully parachuted for 20,000 feet.

After her tryst with space, she studied at Zhukovsky Air Force Academy. She graduated as a cosmonaut engineer and earned a doctorate in engineering. From 1966 and 1991, she remained an active member of the USSR Supreme Soviet.

Tereshkova worked for Soviet Women’s Committee for many years and then was a member of Supreme Soviet Presidium.

In 2011, she was elected to the national State Duma as a member of the United Russia party and re-elected in 2016.


Tereshkova was honoured with the titles Hero of the Soviet Union, Order of Lenin and the Gold Star Medal. She received the United Nations Gold Medal of Peace and was made the honorary citizen of many countries.

Personal life

On November 3, 1963, Tereshkova married fellow cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev. Their first child, a daughter named Elena, was the first child born to parents who had both been exposed to space.

Tereshkova and Nikolayev divorced in 1980. In 1982, She then married Yuliy Shaposhnikov, a surgeon.

Interesting facts

A lunar crater and a minor planet were named after space pioneer Valentina Tereshkova. Several monuments, schools and museums also bore the name of the cosmonaut who had made history.

In 2017, London’s Science Museum opened a temporary exhibit called Valentina Tereshkova: First Woman in Space, which celebrated her contributions through artifacts as well as photographs.

Tereshkova carried the Olympic torch in 2008 during the St Petersburg leg for the 29th Summer Olympics in Beijing, and in 2014, ahead of the 22nd Winter Olympic Games that were held in Sochi, Russia.

Now aged 83, she has evoked varying degrees of dislike among sections in Russia for her decision to support a constitutional amendment that could allow President Vladimir Putin continue in power until 2036. During the historic mission, she spoke to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, who said: “Valentina, I am very happy and proud that a girl from the Soviet Union is the first woman to fly into space...”

Source: wikipedia,,

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