On June 16th, 1963, aboard Vostok VI, textile worker, parachutist and Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova became the first woman to travel into space. Tereshkova was always interested in skydiving and at a young age joined a group of amateur parachutists. She made her first jump on May 21st, 1959, at the age of 22, and that became one of the factors that determined her choice of career. Around the same time, she organized the Amateur Parachute Club at the factory where she was working, and became its president. In 1961, at the age of 24, when the Soviet space program director Sergei Korolev announced the idea of sending a woman into space, Valentina began preparing to become a cosmonaut. Her dream came true in 1962 when she and four other women were selected to receive training from Yuri Gagarin, the first man to go into space.
Her trip took place during the space race between the United States and the Soviet Union, making 26-year-old Valentina the first and, to this day, only woman to make a solo flight into space. The cosmonaut orbited the Earth 48 times in 71 hours, almost three days, having logged more time alone in orbit than the combined total of all American astronauts to that date. However, her flight back to Earth wasn’t a smooth one. After being ejected from Vostok VI, she was heading for a splashdown in a large lake, but a high wind blew her parachute to the shore resulting in a harsh landing, which left her with a big bruise on her nose.
Back on Earth, Tereshkova was celebrated and honored by the Soviet people and government. In 1969, at the age of 32, she graduated from the Zhukovsky Air Force Military Academy where she majored in Engineering. After graduation, she officially retired from the space program to enter politics, and was granted Honorary Commission from the Russian Air Force, leaving at the rank of Major General. Valentina Tereshkova was a prominent figure in the public life of the Soviet Union, serving as chair of the Soviet Women’s Committee and a member of the Supreme Soviet, the USSR’s national parliament. Active in politics to this day, Valentina is a congresswoman in her native country and has been an inspiration to women all over the world, an example of courage and a reminder that everything is possible when one has determination.