(from an article by Fredo Darling · Posted April 15, 2018 on

In 1937, on a small farm nearly 200 miles from Moscow, a woman was born who would inspire billions – her name was Valentina Tereshkova.

In 1937, the Soviet Union along with the rest of the world was embroiled in World War II. Valentina’s father, a tractor driver before the war died a hero, one of the 20 million Soviet casualties. From the age of two, Valentina Tereshkova was raised by her widowed single mother.

She learned early the virtues of sacrifice, tenacity, gratitude, and community. At 16, a young Valentina abandoned formal schooling to work at a textile factory just to help lessen her mother’s financial burdens.

Not having some manner of education was out of the question so Valentina enrolled in correspondence learning with her mother helping her with her school work as much as she could, as did their friends and neighbors in their small village.

Typical Russian farm in the 1930’s

Beating the Best

In 1962, Valentina was now 25. Aside from her work and her continued assistance to her mother, she was also an accomplished amateur skydiver. She had 126 jumps to her name already, more than twice the boys’ average.

She had heard the news of Gagarin’s first space flight and the space race that had captivated the world. Being a cosmonaut looked hard, demanded sacrifice, and the training required was rumored to be near impossible. Just the type of challenge she was raised for.

Despite having no degree in technical sciences, engineering, or mathematics and no military service, her consistently flawless performance in skydiving caught the attention of Soviet officials.

At the time, space capsules did not hit the ocean gently or land smoothly on some palm-tree lined runway. The early capsules fell straight to the ground from space.

To escape the all-metal human-made meteor, pilots had to blow the escape hatch, eject in their seat wearing their stiff space suits, orient themselves correctly, and open their parachutes – all in a matter of seconds to avoid crashing into the Earth in what was basically a huge tin can.

By the end of her rigorous, nearly impossible training, Valentina had bested over 400 applicants and 5 other female trainees. She would be the first woman (and first civilian) in space.

She was not allowed to tell anyone however. Her “white lie” to her mother was that she was “being recruited to be a parachutist on the Russian national team”.

Photo of Valentina in training

The Mission

On June 16, 1963, 26-year-old Valentina Tereshkova made history blasting off in Vostok-6 and completed 48 orbits over 70 hours – longer than all U.S. solo male astronauts had spent in space combined.

Her callsign was “Chaika”, or Seagull, and on her way up she could be heard on the radio chanting triumphantly “Ya Chaika! Ya Chaika!” (I am Seagull

While in space, the Soviet government broadcasted a live dialogue with Valentina on public radio, celebrating the mission’s success and touting the bravery of Cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first ever woman in space.

In her small village some 200 miles north of Moscow, her mother happened to hear the broadcast. It was only then that she realized her little Valentina was not quite “just going skydiving”. She listened in disbelief as her daughter was introduced to the world as an international hero, live from off this planet.

Vostok- 6


Finally time to return home, Valentina noticed something terrifying. Her capsule was not descending back to Earth, but ascending into outer space.

She radioed in her observation and began working with the science teams on the ground. She quickly helped calculate the necessary data in her head, wiped the old data from the computer, and manually input the new data along with the algorithm dictated to her from the ground.

There was only one catch. She could no longer reach the original landing site in Kazakhstan. Her new trajectory had her landing somewhere in remote Siberia far from any rescue teams or recovery equipment. And she would have to land alone.

At 4.3 miles from the ground, with the capsule still nearly 3,000 degrees fahrenheit (1650 Celsius), Valentina blew the hatch.She catapulted out the capsule and landed safely.

Bostock after re entry

Celebrating landing

Upon landing, Valentina took a deep breath and looked around. Beyond the fields and the billowing parachute (and much to her surprise), she saw people running towards her. She had landed near a small Siberian village, not unlike the one she grew up in. They had seen her landing and had dropped everything to come help.

As they helped her break free and brought her to the village, they insisted that she stay for dinner. Remembering her mother and everyone else in her own farming village and thinking back to their hospitality, community, and generosity, she accepted the villagers’ “request” that she join them for dinner despite heavy bruising from her parachute and the immense physical toll of having just landing in their backyard after 70 hours in space. It was their backyard, after all.

It was an simple, ordinary village meal of eggs, milk, bread, honey, and leftover space food Valentina contributed, and it was a supper they would all remember for the rest of their lives.

Valentina Tereshkova, First Woman in Space, STEM, Space Exploration, Space Race
Valentina Tereshkova, 1963. Photo: Memorial Museum of Cosmonautics, Moscow

Author: Breda Fay

I'm retired since end August 2016 and loving the new life! More time now for family and friends and to explore craft, history, travel and certainly more of a chance for, me-time. To paraphrase Seuss: I've no tears that (teaching) is over; but many smiles that it happened!

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