Before her selection for the Soviet space program, Tereshkova was a textile factory worker and an amateur skydiver. She joined the Air Force as part of the Cosmonaut Corps and was commissioned as an officer after completing her training. After the dissolution of the first group of female cosmonauts in 1969, Tereshkova remained in the space program as a cosmonaut instructor. She later graduated from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy and re-qualified for spaceflight but never went to space again. She retired from the Air Force in 1997 having attained the rank of major general.
Valentina Tereshkova was born on 6 March in 1937 in the Bolshoye Maslennikovo, a village on the Volga River 270 kilometres (170 mi) northeast of Moscow and part of the Yaroslavl Oblast in central Russia. Her parents had migrated from Belarus. Her father, Vladimir Tereshkov, was a former tractor driver and a sergeant in command of a tank in the Soviet Army. He died in the Finnish Winter War during World War II when Tereshkova was two years of age. He and her mother Elena Fyodorovna Tereshkova had three children. After her father's death, her mother moved the family to Yaroslavl, seeking better employment opportunity, and became employed at the Krasny Perekop cotton mill.
Tereshkova was first enrolled in school at age 10 and graduated at 17. She began working at a tyre factory, and later at a textile mill, but continued her education by correspondence courses to graduate from the Light Industry Technical School in 1960. Tereshkova also became interested in parachuting from a young age, and trained in skydiving at the local Aeroclub, making her first jump at age 22, on 21 May 1959. While still employed as a textile worker, she trained as a competitive parachutist, which she kept a secret from her family. Tereshkova also joined the local Komsomol (Communist Youth League) in Yaroslavl, serving as the secretary of the organisation in 1960 and 1961. She became a member of the Communist Party in 1962.
Tereshkova had not held any previous desire to go to space, and it was her experience in skydiving that would contribute to her selection as a cosmonaut. After the flight of Yuri Gagarin in 1961, Nikolai Kamanin, director of cosmonaut training, read in American media that female pilots were training to be astronauts. In his diary, he wrote, "We cannot allow that the first woman in space will be American. This would be an insult to the patriotic feelings of Soviet women." Approval was granted for five female cosmonauts in the next group, which would begin training in 1963. To increase the odds of sending a Soviet woman into space first, the women cosmonauts began their training before the men. The rules required that the potential cosmonaut be a parachutist under 30 years of age, less than 170 cm (5 ft 7 in) in height, no more than 70 kg (154 lb) in weight. By January 1962, the All-Union Voluntary Society for Assistance to the Army, Air Force and Navy (DOSAAF) had selected 400 candidates for consideration. After the initial screening, 58 of those candidates met the requirements, which Kamanin reduced to 23. On 16 February 1962, Tereshkova was selected along with four other candidates to join the female cosmonaut corps.
Since they had no military experience, they started with the rank of private in the Soviet Air Forces. Training included isolation tests, centrifuge tests, thermo-chamber tests, decompression chamber testing, and pilot training in MiG-15UTI jet fighters. Tereshkova underwent water recovery training at sea where several motorboats were used to agitate the waters to simulate rough conditions. She also began studying at the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy and graduated a few years after her flight. The group spent several months in basic training and, after they finished their training and passed an examination, Kamanin offered them the option to be commissioned as regular Air Force officers. With advice from the male cosmonauts, they chose to accept Kamanin's offer, as it would make it harder for the program to get rid of them after the first flight. All five women became junior lieutenants in the Air Force in December 1962.Tatyana Kuznetsova became ineligible for the first flight due to illness and Zhanna Yorkina was performing poorly in training, leaving Tereshkova, Irina Solovyova, and Valentina Ponomaryova as the leading candidates.
Originally, a joint mission profile was developed that would see two women launched into space on solo Vostok flights on consecutive days in March or April 1963, and it was intended that Tereshkova would launch first in Vostok 5 while Ponomaryova would follow her into orbit in Vostok 6. However, this flight plan was altered in March 1963. Vostok 5 would now carry a male cosmonaut, Valery Bykovsky, flying alongside a woman aboard Vostok 6, both to be launched in June 1963. The State Space Commission nominated Tereshkova to pilot Vostok 6 at their meeting on 21 May. Kamanin called her, "Gagarin in a skirt."Soviet PremierNikita Khrushchev was happy with the propaganda potential of her selection, since she was the daughter of a collective farm worker who died in the Winter War, and confirmed her selection. Solovyova was appointed as her first backup. Tereshkova was promoted to lieutenant before her flight and to captain mid-flight.
After the successful launch of Vostok 5 on 14 June, Tereshkova began final preparations for her own flight. On the morning of 16 June 1963, Tereshkova and her backup Solovyova were both dressed in spacesuits and taken to the launch pad by bus. Following the tradition set by Gagarin, Tereshkova also urinated on the bus tire, becoming the first woman to do so. After completing her communication and life support checks, she was sealed inside the Vostok. After a two-hour countdown, Vostok 6 launched faultlessly, and Tereshkova became the first woman in space; she remains the only woman to fly to space solo, and the youngest at 26 years of age.[a] Her call sign in this flight was Chaika (Russian: Чайка, lit. 'Seagull'), later commemorated as the name of an asteroid, 1671 Chaika. After her launch, she radioed down:
It is I, Seagull! Everything is fine. I see the horizon; it's a sky blue with a dark strip. How beautiful the Earth is ... everything is going well.
Vostok 6 was the final Vostok flight and was launched two days after Vostok 5 which carried Bykovsky into a five-day mission. The two vessels spent three days in orbital planes 30° apart and, during Tereshkova's first orbit, approached each other to within 5 km (3.1 mi). Although they were able to communicate via radio, neither could be sure if they saw each other. Cameras placed inside both the spacecraft transmitted live footage that was broadcast on Soviet state television. Tereshkova also maintained a flight log and took photographs of the horizon, which were later used to identify aerosol layers within the atmosphere.
With a single flight, she logged more flight time than the combined times of all American astronauts who had flown before that date. Her mission was used to continue the medical studies on humans in spaceflight and offered comparative data of the effects of space travel on women. Although Tereshkova experienced nausea and physical discomfort for much of the flight, she orbited the earth 48 times and spent 2 days, 22 hours, and 50 mins in space. As planned in all Vostok missions, Tereshkova ejected from the capsule during its descent at about four miles above the Earth and made a parachute landing 620 km (385 mi) north-east of Karaganda, Kazakhstan at 8:20 am UTC on 19 June. Bykovsky landed three hours after her.
Later on, Tereshkova revealed that she had difficulty controlling the parachute due to strong winds. However, she landed safely but received a bruise on her nose, then she had dinner with some local villagers in the Altai Krai who helped her to get out of her spacesuit.
According to the Russian newspaper Pravda, one million flowers were brought in to celebrate the success of the dual flights and greet the cosmonauts in Moscow. On 22 June 1963, Khrushchev greeted Bykovsky dressed in his uniform who saluted while Khrushchev hugged and kissed Tereshkova who was dressed in civilian attire. In front of the thousands in attendance, the Premier also announced that both the cosmonauts were awarded the Hero of the Soviet Union medal. All three made speeches from atop Lenin's Tomb on the Red Square; Tereshkova said, "my father perished defending our country and my mother brought up her three children. We know the bitterness of that war. We don't need war," referring to the anniversary of the German invasion of Russia that began 22 years ago that day. Sometime after her mission, she was reportedly asked how the Soviet Union should thank her for her service to the country; Tereshkova requested that the government search for and publish the location of where her father was killed in action. This was done, and a monument was erected at the site in the Lemetti, Karelia—now on the Russian side of the border. The evening of 22 June, a reception was held in the Kremlin in which both Bykovsky and Tereshkova were awarded the Order of Lenin.
Less than a week after her return from space, Moscow hosted the International Women's Congress on 24 June where Tereshkova and Bykovsky were greeted by a gathering of about 2,000 women from 119 countries. Of all the Russian cosmonauts, Tereshkova received the most requests to visit foreign nations. Her trips in particular required pre-approval from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Defense, and the KGB and were ultimately authorized by the Presidium of the Central Committee of the Communist Party, the highest political bureau in the Soviet Union.
All the Vostok cosmonauts toured extensively, but Tereshkova most of all; she made 42 trips abroad between 1963 and 1970. On 1 October 1963, Tereshkova arrived in Havana, Cuba, and met Fidel Castro. She toured the country which at the time was dealing with effects of Hurricane Flora. The following month she presented a silver cup, which went to the team from the Soviet Union who won gold in all five boat classes, at the women's 1963 European Rowing Championships held in Khimki near Moscow. By February 1964, Tereshkova was pregnant when she visited Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom who was also pregnant at the time. Except for a few-months break that year, Tereshkova went on a continuous and exhausting world tour, returning to her public duties only two months after the birth of her daughter.
After her spaceflight, Tereshkova became a national and international role model. She received "congratulatory telegrams and letters... from around the world." These telegrams express the impact that Tereshkova had on other countries, outside the Soviet Union. Women were particularly excited about her flight. For example, in New Delhi, Tereshkova was a "feminist standard bearer bringing a message of hope for 'enslaved' Indian womanhood."
Although she desired to continue pursuing a career as a cosmonaut and engineer, her superiors had a different plan for her in politics. Following Gagarin's death, the Soviet space program was not willing to risk losing another hero. Against her wishes, she was appointed as the leader of the Committee for Soviet Women in 1968. A few months after she graduated with honours from the Zhukovsky Air Force Engineering Academy in October 1969, the team of women cosmonauts was disbanded and a woman would not go to space again until Svetlana Savitskaya in 1982.
Valentina married cosmonaut Andriyan Nikolayev on 3 November 1963 at the Moscow Wedding Palace with Khrushchev presiding at the wedding party together with top government and space programme leaders. The marriage was encouraged by the Soviet space authorities as a "fairy-tale message to the country". General Kamanin, head of the space program, described it as "probably useful for politics and science". On 8 June 1964, nearly one year after her space flight, she gave birth to their daughter Elena Andrianovna Nikolaeva-Tereshkova, the first person with both a mother and father who had travelled into space.
Later in their marriage, the couple grew apart and refused to even stand next to each other in photographs. Tereshkova told the biographer Lady Lothian that the marriage ended in 1977; she and Nikolayev divorced in 1982 and Tereshkova married Yuli Shaposhnikov, a surgeon she had met during her medical examinations to re-qualify as a cosmonaut.[b] They remained married until Shaposhnikov's death in 1999.
Participant of the Military Operation in Syria Medal [ru] (2016)
Strengthening the Military Community Medal [ru] (2018)
Certificates of appreciation from the Government of the Russian Federation;
3 March 1997, – for the contribution to the development of space, the strengthening of international scientific and cultural ties and years of diligent work
12 June 2003, – for large contribution to the development of manned space flight
16 June 2008, – for long-term fruitful state and public activities, considerable personal contribution to the development of manned space flight and in connection with the 45th anniversary of spaceflight
Gold Medal of the British Society for interplanetary communications "For achievements in space exploration" (February 1964)
Novopromyshna Square in Tver was renamed Tereshkova Square in 1963.
In 1967, Gregory Postnikov [ru] created a sculpture of Tereshkova for Cosmonaut Alley in Moscow. There is a monument in Bayevsky District of Altai Territory, Siberia, close to her landing place of 53°N, 80°E. In August 1970, Tereshkova was among the first group of living people to have a lunar crater named after them.Tereshkova crater is located on the far side of the Moon.
None of the other four in Tereshkova's early group flew and, in October 1969, the pioneering female cosmonaut group was dissolved. Even though there were plans for further flights by women, it took 19 years until the second woman, Svetlana Savitskaya, flew into space.
In 1997, London-based electronic pop group Komputer released a song entitled "Valentina" which gives a more-or-less direct account of her career as a cosmonaut. It was released as a single and appears on their album The World of Tomorrow. The 2000 album Vostok 6 by Kurt Swinghammer is a concept album about Tereshkova. The 2015 album The Race for Space byPublic Service Broadcasting also has a song featuring the Smoke Fairies entitled "Valentina". In the same year, Findlay Napier's album VIP: Very Interesting Persons included a song "Valentina", written in her honour by Napier and Boo Hewerdine. In 2015, a short film entitled Valentina's Dream was released by Meat Bingo Productions. The film stars Rebecca Front as Tereshkova and is based on an interview by the former cosmonaut where she expressed a desire to journey to Mars.
Streets in Ukraine that bore Tereshkova's name have been renamed due to her support of Russia's military actions against Ukraine and it was done in accordance with the country's 2015 decommunisation law. A proposal was also brought forward in 2015 to move a monument to Tereshkova in Lviv, Ukraine to the Territory of Terror Memorial Museum. Monuments of communist leaders are removed from the public and placed in the museum as a part of decommunization efforts. In January 2021, 24 Ukrainian streets were still named after Tereshkova; including a street in Busk, located in the same province as Lviv.
^Gerovitch 2011, p. 94. "During the years 1961–70, the cosmonauts made two hundred trips abroad; Tereshkova alone made forty-two foreign trips. She received by far the most invitations among the cosmonauts."
^Oller, Jorge Oller (4 April 2019). "Glorioso abril de 1961" [Glorious April 1961]. Cubaperiodistas.cu (in Spanish). Unión de Periodistas de Cuba. Retrieved 26 June 2019.