Home - Search - Browse - Alphabetic Index: 0- 1- 2- 3- 4- 5- 6- 7- 8- 9
A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y- Z
Tereshkova, Valentina Vladimirovna
Credit: www.spacefacts.de
Russian cosmonaut 1962-1997. First woman in space, aboard Vostok 6. But the flight was propaganda and future spaceflight opportunities did not develop. Was married to cosmonaut Andrian Nikolayev. Later a leading Communist politician.

Status: Inactive; Active 1962-1997. Born: 1937-03-06. Spaceflights: 1 . Total time in space: 2.95 days. Birth Place: Maslennikovo, Yaroslavl.

Tereshkova was born and raised in Maslennikovo, a small town in the Yaroslavl Region. Her family included a younger brother, Vladimir, and an older sister. Her father, a tractor driver, Vladimir Aksyenovich Tereshkov, went missing in action in the Finno-Russian War of 1939-1940. Her mother, Elena Fedorovna, a worker in a textile plant, was left to raise the three children on her own.

Tereshkova did not begin school until age eight, at the end of the war. But at 17 she had to leave school and begin working at the textile plant in order to help support the family. But she was ambitious, and wanted more from life. She continued her education by correspondence course and learned sky diving through the DOSAAF Aviation Club in Yaroslavl, an auxiliary organization of the Soviet Air Force. Tereshkova made her first jump on 21 May 1959. Thereafter she set up the Textile Mill Workers Parachute Club and became its first head. Two years later she became secretary of the local Komsomol (Young Communist League) and had earned certification as a cotton-spinning technology expert. A month after her 24th birthday, in April 1961, the Soviet Union launched the first man into space - Yuri Gagarin aboard the Vostok-1 spacecraft.

Cosmonaut chief Kamanin had brought up the concept of a female spaceflight to the Soviet Air Force and Chief Designer Korolev immediately after Gagarin's flight. He believed it was their patriotic duty to beat the Americans in putting a woman in space. He wanted to find a female cosmonaut who would be a dedicated Communist agitator in the same class as Gagarin or Titov. Korolev agreed, and in October 1961 included a requirement for five women among the 50 new cosmonauts he wanted recruited for his ambitious new space plans.

Piloting experience was not necessary, since the Vostok was completely automatic and the occupant was considered a mere passenger. However parachuting experience was essential, since the Vostok cosmonaut was ejected clear of the capsule after re-entry and landed on earth under a personal parachute. So the qualifications were: females under 30 years of age; under 170 cm tall; under 70 kg in weight; physically fit; ideologically pure; who had completed parachute training of at least five to six months duration. Cosmonaut chief Kamanin was one of the founders of DOSAAF, so it was logical to search for 'likable girls' with parachuting experience in the Soviet Union's aero clubs. A review of DOSAAF dossiers indicated there were 58 potential candidates, of which 40 passed the paper review and were called to Moscow for interviews and physical examinations in January 1962.

Tereshkova met the requirements, and the only fleck on her record was the fact that her father was MIA as opposed to KIA. This raised the remote possibility he had deserted or fled. However her credentials as a Komsomol leader got her over this hurdle, and Tereshkova was one of five women selected as cosmonaut-candidates on 16 February 1962. She was the least qualified of the candidates selected, with no higher education. The other four women included test pilots, world-class parachutists, and engineers.

All five underwent the complete course of training, including weightless flights, parachute jumps, isolation tests, and centrifuge tests. At the beginning Kamanin found Solovyova, Tereshkova, and Kuznetsova to be the leading candidates for the first female flight. While Tereshkova excelled in the physical training, she had more difficulty with rocket theory and spacecraft engineering. The women then entered follow-on training included 120 parachute jumps and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet trainers. They were commissioned as lieutenants in the Soviet Air Force. During this period Tereshkova also became a full member of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union.

In May 1962 a Soviet delegation, including cosmonaut Gherman Titov and Kamanin, visited Washington. Kamanin and Titov were invited to a barbecue at the home of astronaut John Glenn. Glenn, already politically-connected, was an enthusiastic supporter of the 'Mercury 13' - female pilots who had passed the astronaut physical and were lobbying to be trained as Mercury astronauts. Kamanin understood from Glenn that the first American woman would make a three-orbit Mercury flight by the end of 1962. Armed with the threat that 'the Americans will beat us', Kamanin was able to obtain a decision to go ahead with the first flight of a Soviet woman within weeks of his return - and not just one woman. In August 1962 the Soviets pulled off the first dual manned spaceflight, with Vostok 3 and 4 orbiting in space together, each carrying a Soviet man. Kamanin proposed that Vostok 5 and 6 should orbit two women simultaneously in the following spring. This became the official plan for the 1963 spaceflight series.

On 19 November 1962 selection for the flights took place. Ponomaryova and Tereshkova were the final candidates - but who would be the first Soviet woman in space? Ponomaryova had the best test results, but did not give 'proper' replies in the interviews with the puritanical Communist selection board. When asked 'What do you want from life?' she replied, 'I want to take everything it can offer'. Tereshkova, on the other hand, intoned 'I want to support irrevocably the Komsomol and Communist Party'. Ponomaryova also maintained that a woman could smoke and still be a decent person, and had made 'scandalous' trips unescorted into the town of Fedosiya while there for parachute training.

This dual female flight plan was approved all the way up the Soviet hierarchy until it was killed at the last moment at a meeting of the Presidium of the Communist Party on 21 March 1963 by party ideologue Kozlov and Ministry of Defense Chief Ustinov. Only one female would be allowed to fly for propaganda purposes. A male cosmonaut (Bykovsky) was rushed into final training for Vostok 5, delaying the dual flights for two months.

Korolev proposed Tereshkova for Vostok 6, on the grounds that she was less qualified than Ponomaryova. He planned to fly two women aboard a multiple-crew version of the Vostok, the Voskhod. This would be a much more complex mission, involving space piloting skills and a spacewalk by one of the cosmonauts. For this mission Korolev would need a commander with the skills of Ponomaryova, and a spacewalker with the courage and strength of Solovyova. So Tereshkova, the less skilled of the three, was his choice for the 'spam in the can' Vostok mission.

But it was Premier Khrushchev himself who made the final crew selection. Tereshkova embodied the qualities expected of the New Soviet Woman. She was a reliable communist, a factory worker from a humble background, and a 'good' girl. Most importantly, she had the looks, charm, and attitude necessary for celebrity - Kamanin would later call her 'Gagarin in a skirt'.

The correct propaganda tone had to be set. The female cosmonauts arrived at the cosmodrome for the flight in their military uniforms, but had to go back into the aircraft and change into civilian skirts and blouses for the filming of their arrival.

On June 14, 1963, Vostok 5 was launched with Bykovsky aboard. Two days later, Tereshkova became the first woman in space aboard Vostok 6, with the call sign 'Chaika' (Seagull). There were problems during the flight, unrevealed at the time, but discussed in the memoirs of Kamanin, Korolev, and Mishin published after the fall of the Soviet Union. However Tereshkova did not reveal her side of the story - what really happened - until 2007.

It was said originally that Korolev was unhappy with Tereshkova's performance in orbit and she was not permitted to take manual control of the spacecraft as had been planned. Mishin later claimed she was 'on the edge of psychological instability'. Kamanin reports in his diaries that one official tried to insert a paragraph in the official press release about Tereshkova's poor emotional state while in space. The sentence claimed she experienced overwhelming emotions, tiredness, and a sharply reduced ability to work and complete all of her assigned tasks. Kamanin disagreed, saying this exaggerated her difficulties during the flight. She only had tasks assigned for the first day. When the flight was extended for a second, and then a third day, there was essentially nothing for her to do. The ground command did nothing to support her during those additional days. She certainly was never tired, never objected, but rather did all she could to complete fully the flight program.

Tereshkova's version was that the automatic orientation system of her Vostok capsule was incorrectly set up. She noticed immediately on orbit insertion that her capsule was oriented 90 degrees from the intended direction, which meant that if retrofire was initiated, she would be sent to her death in a higher orbit rather than braked for a return to the earth's atmosphere. She advised a disbelieving ground control team of this. They finally verified it and sent signals to the spacecraft on the second day in orbit to correct the problem. It seems that clearing up this problem may have been what delayed her return to earth.

It was true she threw up in space, and it was said that Korolev wanted to bring her down early because of this. But Tereshkova has reaffirmed that this was not due to space-sickness but rather the poor quality of the space food she had been provided with. The black bread was much too dry. So she ate the few items she found palatable. She was ordered to remain strapped to her seat, evidently to combat her supposed space-sickness, but she developed a cramp in her right shin on the second day. This did not go away and became intolerable painful by the third day. To this was added a sore pressure point where the ring of her helmet pressed on her shoulder, and an itch that could not be scratched as a rash developed under one of the biomedical sensors.

After being ejected from the capsule, Tereshkova saw to her horror that she was heading for a splashdown in a large lake. Exhausted, dehydrated, and hungry, she doubted she would have had the strength to swim to shore. However a high wind blew her over the shore, but also resulted in a heavy landing. She hit her nose on her helmet, making a dark blue bruise. Heavy makeup was needed for the public appearances that followed. She worried that the makeup would conflict with her pure worker girl image.

Whatever the case, Tereshkova had completed three days in space aboard Vostok 6, more than the flight time of all the American astronauts put together. Bykovsky's Vostok 5 had been planned for a record eight days in space, but Bykovsky had trouble with his thermal regulation system and ended up landing after five days, only three hours after Vostok 6.

After her flights certain elements in the Soviet Air Force attempted to discredit her. There were charges that she was drunk when she reported to the launch pad, and that she was insubordinate in orbit, disregarding direct orders from the Center. Evidently they thought she should have accepted death from the incorrect spacecraft orientation rather than embarrass any managers on the ground. In the September after the flight, the militia claimed that Tereshkova was drunk and created a scandal with a militia officer in Gorkiy. She categorically denied being drunk, admitted to having a confrontation with a militia captain. Kamanin defended her against all of these attacks, and in the end it was Tereshkova's opponents who were dismissed.

During the summer of 1963 a joke began circulating that she should marry Andrian Nikolayev, the only bachelor cosmonaut to have flown. Tereshkova revealed in 2007 that she and Nikolayev, both of similar peasant backgrounds, were already attracted to each other before the flight. It was simply untrue, as was the later conventional wisdom, that they disliked each other. Whatever the case, the rumor of their love affair eventually reached Khrushchev. He thought it would be a great idea for them to marry and began applying pressure through Kamanin. They gave in and the marriage ceremony took place on 3 November 1963, at the Moscow Wedding Palace. The wedding party was held at a governmental mansion set apart for state receptions. Khrushchev himself presided, with top government and space program leaders attending.

On 8 June 1964, Tereshkova gave birth to a daughter, Elena Andrianovna, who later went on to become a physician. But the marriage was not happy - Khrushchev's "space family" fell apart within a few years. Nikolayev was a gruff Chuvash, who had time for his male friends and little for his wife. Kamanin was having to constantly contend with disputes. However, as was the case with the American astronauts of this era, to divorce would mean the end of their careers. The couple remained together.

Tereshkova and her fellow female cosmonauts were not truly integrated into the cosmonaut detachment and considered for flight assignments on an equal basis with the 'regular' male cosmonauts. Throughout the Soviet period flights of women into space were considered only for propaganda purposes. Furthermore, since the number of flight slots was always smaller than the pool of cosmonauts, any woman who flew into space was taking the place of a man. The all-female Voskhod flight was canceled, at first under pressure from Gagarin and the other male cosmonauts, finally in order to concentrate on development of the Soyuz spacecraft.

Tereshkova obtained a graduate level engineering education at the Zhukovskiy Military Air Academy from 1964 to 1969. After her graduation, in October 1969, the female cosmonaut detachment was disbanded. Tereshkova was pushed into a hectic life as a prominent Communist politician and international representative.

It was only in the late 1970's, with impending flights by American women on the space shuttle, that the Soviet government again recruited a new group of woman cosmonauts. Tereshkova hoped to fly again, and submitted herself to review by a medical commission in 1978. It was during these reviews that she met Yuliy Shaposhnikov, a physician working at a military medical academy. The couple fell in love, and Tereshkova separated from Nikolayev in 1979. Tereshkova was told she had not passed the tests and would not be allowed to fly in space again. She applied for divorce from Nikolayev, but it required the personal permission of Soviet Premier Brezhnev, which only came in 1982.

Tereshkova and Shaposhnikov lived happily together for twenty years until his death in 1999. Tereshkova's image in these years was of a prim, perfectly coifed, but cold and iron-willed Communist apparatchik. But she personally felt that all of the party obligations were an unfair burden. She was not compensated for the work, but rather continued on the payroll of the cosmonaut center. All the while she still dreamed of returning to space, particularly being part of the first expedition to Mars. This dream of getting to Mars was shared among the first cosmonauts. Some were even willing to go on a one-way mission, including Tereshkova. Furthermore, although called the 'iron lady' by some, the constant good works Tereshkova accomplished revealed her true soul. These ranged from incessant assistance to citizens with problems, to personally supporting several orphanages.

During Soviet times Tereshkova was a prominent member of the Communist Party and a representative of the Soviet government to numerous international women's organizations and events. She was a member of the World Peace Council in 1966; a member of the Yaroslavl Supreme Soviet in 1967; a member of the council of the Union of the Supreme Soviet in 1966-1970 and 1970-1974. She was elected to the presidium of the Supreme Soviet in 1974. She was the Soviet representative to the UN Conference for the International Women's Year in Mexico City in 1975. Through the 1980's she continued as a Deputy to the Supreme Soviet , Vice President of the International Women's Federation; and several other international positions.

Svetlana Savitskaya became the second Russian woman in space in 1982, and the first woman to walk in space in 1984. A planned all-female Soyuz flight, planned for Soyuz T-15 on International Women's Day in 1985, was canceled due to problems with the Salyut 7 space station. Only after the fall of the Soviet Union would Russian women begin flying to the Mir and ISS space stations as regular crew members, not as propaganda objects.

After the death of her life companion, Tereshkova retired to a small brick dacha on the outskirts of Star City. The house was topped with a seagull weathervane, commemorating the call sign of her flight in space. She enjoyed visits from friends developed over a long and full life, and from her daughter, and grandsons Andrei and Aleksei.

As memories she had the many medals and distinctions she received, including two Orders of Lenin; recognition as a Hero of the Soviet Union; the United Nation Gold Medal of Peace; the Simba International Women's Movement Award; and the Joliot-Curie Gold Medal.

More at: Tereshkova.

Family: Cosmonaut. Country: Russia. Spacecraft: Vostok. Flights: Vostok 6. Projects: Venera. Agency: VVS. Bibliography: 6092.
Photo Gallery




Tereshkova bids farewell to Korolev prior to her flight

Tereshkova aboard Vostok 6
Credit: RKK Energia

Soyuz 9 CommSoyuz 9 Comm
Tereshkova and daughter and Khrunov communicate with Nikolayev during Soyuz 9.
Credit: RKK Energia

1937 March 6 - .
1961 October 24 - .
1962 January 16 - .
1962 January 18 - .
1962 February 16 - .
1962 February 28 - .
1962 June 23 - .
1962 August 25 - . 02:18 GMT - . Launch Site: Baikonur. Launch Complex: Baikonur LC1. LV Family: R-7. Launch Vehicle: Molniya 8K78. FAILURE: At T+60 min 50 sec one of the four solid motors of the escape stage's BOZ unit did not fire. The resulting asymmetric torque caused the stage to lose correct attitude and three seconds after ignition of the main engine S1.5400A1 it began to tumble.. Failed Stage: U.
1962 November 19 - .
1963 March 2 - .
1963 April - .
1963 April 19 - .
1963 May 4 - .
1963 May 11 - .
1963 May 14 - .
1963 May 21 - .
1963 June 3 - .
1963 June 4 - .
1963 June 8 - .
1963 June 11 - .
1963 June 14 - .
1963 June 16 - .
1963 June 16 - . 09:29 GMT - . Launch Site: Baikonur. Launch Complex: Baikonur LC1. LV Family: R-7. Launch Vehicle: Vostok 8K72K.
1963 June 19 - .
1963 June 19 - .
1963 June 20 - .
1963 June 21 - .
1963 June 22 - .
1963 June 24 - .
1963 June 25 - .
1963 June 29 - .
1963 July 2 - .
1963 July 3 - .
1963 July 7 - .
1963 July 10 - .
1963 July 12 - .
1963 July 13 - .
1963 July 16 - .
1963 July 17 - .
1963 July 19 - .
1963 July 27 - .
1963 August 2 - .
1963 August 11 - .
1963 September 6 - .
1963 September 7 - .
1963 September 30 - .
1963 October 4 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1963 October 7 - .
1963 October 9 - .
1963 October 29 - .
1963 October 30 - .
1963 October 31 - .
1963 November 2 - .
1963 November 3 - .
1963 November 5 - .
1963 November 16 - .
1963 November 21 - .
1963 November 28 - .
1963 December 7 - .
1963 December 16 - .
1964 January 16 - .
1964 January 23 - .
1964 January 30 - .
1964 February 6 - . Launch Vehicle: Saturn I.
1964 February 18 - .
1964 March 21 - .
1964 April 8 - .
1964 June 8 - .
1964 August 17 - .
1964 August 18 - .
1964 November 3 - .
1964 November 4 - .
1964 December 24 - .
1965 January 9 - .
1965 January 11 - .
1965 March 5 - .
1965 March 29 - .
1965 April 2 - .
1965 April 16 - .
1965 April 20 - .
1965 September 22 - .
1965 October 14 - .
1965 November 16 - .
1965 November 22 - .
1966 January 4 - .
1966 January 14 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.
1966 March 29 - .
1966 April 22 - . Launch Vehicle: R-7.
1966 April 29 - .
1966 August 10 - .
1966 October 13 - .
1968 January 19 - .
1968 February 27 - .
1968 May 24 - .
1968 May 28 - .
1968 September 20 - .
1968 December 15 - .
1969 June 2 - .
1969 June 9 - .
1969 July 5 - .
1969 August 30 - .
1969 September 3 - .
1969 September 12 - .
1969 October 27 - .
1969 December 31 - .
1970 February 19 - .
1970 March 18 - .
1970 May 5 - .
1970 May 7 - .
1970 May 19 - .
1970 June 2 - .
1970 June 4 - .
1970 June 5 - .
1970 June 7 - .
1970 June 8 - .
1970 June 9 - .
1970 June 26 - .
1970 June 30 - .
1970 July 10 - .
1970 September 16 - .
1970 September 25 - .
1970 November 16 - .
1970 November 26 - .
1970 November 27 - .
1971 January 23 - .
1971 March 4 - .
1971 March 31 - .
1971 July 4 - . Launch Vehicle: N1.

Back to top of page
Home - Search - Browse - Alphabetic Index: 0- 1- 2- 3- 4- 5- 6- 7- 8- 9
A- B- C- D- E- F- G- H- I- J- K- L- M- N- O- P- Q- R- S- T- U- V- W- X- Y- Z
© 1997-2019 Mark Wade - Contact
© / Conditions for Use