This article is the first in a series of articles in which I will profile every woman astronaut, cosmonaut and taikonaut who has been into space. The last time I checked 58 women have travelled into space, by the end of this year there may be a few more! We’re going to start this series at the beginning – with Russian cosmonaut Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space. (The feature image above is a collection of drawings of women astronauts by artist Phillip J Bond. You can find Phillip’s wonderful series on women astronauts here.)
Born in 1937, Tereshkova was a textile worker from Maslennikovo, a small village in the far west of Russia. Tereshkova never yearned to go into space, she left school early to support her family, but continued her education by correspondence. Tereshkova worked in the local textile mill, and earned certification as a cotton spinning technology expert. She went on to become the secretary of the local Komsomol (Young Communist League). Tereshkova’s passion was parachuting. She was introduced to the sport of parachuting by a friend and was so taken by the sport she soon began parachuting regularly and set up the Textile Mill Workers Parachute Club.
In 1962 when the Soviet Air Force advertised for 50 cosmonauts to join the new space program, it included 5 positions for women. At the time Nikita Khrushchev thought that the U.S. was considering sending women from the Mercury Program into space. This spurred the Russians on to select a number of women for their own space program, with the aim of getting them into space before the US. Continue reading